How Upfront Project Planning and a Design-Build Approach Benefits the Customer

The most recent issue of Engineering News Record (ENR) featured two articles that referenced improvements being introduced into the planning of projects. The first article noted changes in the AIA family of contracts, which include terms and conditions that are “designed to protect the Owner’s criteria for a project; [and] enhance the design in design-build, including a requirement for preliminary design by the design builder…”

The second article was the cover feature that reported early planning for construction activities results in productivity gains in the field. Specifically, a study by the Construction Industry Institute and the Construction Owners Association of Alberta suggests that the careful integration of engineering work packages and installation work packages in the up-front planning stages can boost worker productivity by as much as 25%.

As for Austin, as an integrated design builder, we have been practicing this for over a century. This is an integral part of our project delivery method and is a cornerstone of our design-build culture. So when I read that there is a practice beginning to take hold (a practice that we have been practicing for decades), I wonder what has been the delay. Why, all of a sudden, is this idea new to many?

Clearly, culture is a big element to it. Thirty years ago, professional organizations penalized your work experience if you were working for a design-build firm. You had to have a longer period of time practicing before you could take your registration exams. There was an elitist culture in professional organizations that by its nature, erected silos between the architects, engineers and contractors.

The markets, and common sense, began to take hold as the benefits of close collaboration were widely recognized. Fortunately, as more people began to innovate ways to improve project results, the industry started to change. It is encouraging to see this change continuing today and the visions of an English carpenter and his son around the turn of the 20th Century continue to be validated.

In the end, it is all about the purpose of our work.

When more people are dedicated to the end result of the work they do, rather than the prestige or the process of what they do, then they can move ahead. At that point, it is no longer about them, or their company, but about the customer. 

Because in the end, if we don’t have a customer, we don’t have the work. And without the work, what is the purpose?


“It’s amazing what can be accomplished when no one worries about who gets the credit.”

Attributed to a sign on President Ronald Reagan’s desk

“I measure what’s going on, and I adapt to it. I try to get my ego out of the way. The market is smarter than I am so I bend.”

Martin Zweig

“It is the nature of the ego to take, and the nature of the spirit to share.”