Need for Speed Beats a Great Deal

Posted on August 22, 2011


Car analogies are usually helpful.

I was discussing design-build (DB) with an architect colleague who was playing devil’s advocate for design-bid-build (DBB). He said DBB was superior to DB because the DBB building price is “competitively derived” as opposed to design-build’s “non-competitive” arrangement. To him, design-build had some mystery in its sum that he could not get over, despite the fact that my company for example, provides an open-book arrangement and offers to negotiate shared savings with the owner depending on the fee percentage. Still, he was skeptical for some reason.

So I offered this analogy. If design-bid-build was a car, it would be a family sedan; it gets you where you want in the time expected (speed), for the price expected (value). He may have really beat the dealer down in the purchase price (hard bid), for which he seems really proud. But the lifecycle cost is high:  the car breaks down every so often (low bidder quality), and it can only go 60 mph (long delivery), so it takes a while to get where he need to go.

Design-build is a sports car. I paid sticker price for it (negotiated fee), but it has superior performance for the price (value). Its gas mileage is not great, but it is not an exotic import (high cost design) and rarely breaks down (client-spec’d quality). More importantly, its engine allows me to make up a lot of time (speed), which means less time on the road (risk) and more productive time for me at work or play (efficiency).

I argued with my buddy that, yes, design-bid-build is a lower first cost for a project, but design-build’s higher first cost is more than offset by its savings in speed of delivery and higher quality.

Incidentally, this is the same argument put forth by most any flooring manufacturer when trying to sell their product versus VCT: yes, VCT is a low cost first price, but it will eat up those initial savings and then some over the life of the product. Likewise, the joy of a great haggle at the dealership is more than lost due to the additional resources—time, money for gas, risk on the road—to get where the driver need to go.

Time and time again, retailers confirm that customers choose performance over price. How do you shop for your project team?