A recent study by Dodge Data & Analytics provides insights into the impact that delivery systems have on projects from the perspectives of owners, architects and contractors. The research, published in the "Project Delivery Systems SmartMarket Report," primarily focused on three delivery systems: design-bid-build, design-build and construction management at-risk (CM at-risk). The findings reveal that there is no single, well-established delivery system most likely to improve project results across the board.

For example, most owners reported strong performance on budget and schedule for each system, with only minor differences well below the margin of statistical difference.

Architects and contractors perceive the benefits of delivery systems quite differently. For 11 benefits, which ranged from budget and schedule to process improvements and reduced risk of litigation, architects were widely split across delivery systems and their benefits. In fact, less than 40% said that any one of the three systems was better than the others. On the other hand, the highest percentage of contractors invariably chose design-build as the best system to achieve those benefits.

While any major player can lead a design-build team, most D-B projects in the U.S. are contractor-led. This means that contractors are more engaged throughout the life cycle of a design-build project. Architects, on the other hand, are usually involved from the start of a project and therefore did not favor one system over another. They can more easily engage with other partners across the entire project life cycle.

Another finding suggests that the degree to which a system enhances a firm's ability to participate in the project means that the system is more positively perceived. Sixty percent of owners report being highly satisfied with their CM at-risk projects, compared with 40% or less for the other two delivery systems, despite similar findings for performance on cost and schedule among all three systems. This may result from the role of the owner advocate served by CMs, even in a CM at-risk project, which keeps the owner's interests more active throughout a project.

Integrated Project Delivery

The study also looked at the experiences of those familiar with integrated project delivery (IPD), which represented about one quarter of the total participants.

A fully integrated project delivery contract is designed to encourage communication and collaboration throughout the project life cycle for all major players, including owners, architects and contractors. A critical difference from other delivery systems is that IPD seeks to distribute project risks across the entire team, rather than assigning risk by responsibility. While the study does find that many in the industry say the lack of a fair, standardized contract is a top obstacle to wider use of IPD, this distribution of risk rewards intensive collaboration and communication by preventing players from falling back into a blame game when things go wrong.

Among contractors, the degree to which firms report being familiar with IPD is contingent on the size of the firm, with far fewer respondents from construction companies of less than 50 employees reporting being familiar with IPD (9%) compared with those of more than 50 employees (40%).

Given that difference, users of IPD in larger companies also expect to see a difference in its adoption, with more of the larger companies (47%) expecting to see wider use of IPD in the next three years compared with smaller companies (27%).

Benefits of an IPD Contract