As an engineer and salesman with over 26 years experience working for a fully integrated design-build firm, a firm that has been providing professional design, engineering and construction services for over 100 years, I feel compelled to write and challenge the recent viewpoint article by Don L. Short II.

It had a provocative headline, “Fast-track? Design-build? What the Salesmen Don’t Say” , but it didn’t prove its points and they were crudely expressed.

First I’ll discuss the assertion that design-build is more costly, takes more time and has more problems. I refer Mr. Short and any readers to the Construction Industry Institute landmark study (CII Research Summary 133-1) of CM at risk, design-build, design-bid-build. In this study, over 300 projects were analyzed, with no fewer than 20 projects in any one category. The study was conducted by researchers at the Penn State University with no bias toward any delivery system.

Nine metrics were used to assess the projects. In eight of the nine metrics, including cost, schedule and quality, design-bid-build (as seemingly promoted by Mr. Short) under-performed all other delivery methods. Both design-build and construction management at-risk out-performed design-bid-build. Clearly, Mr. Short’s experience as an arbitrator has exposed him only to poorly performed projects. Clearly, there are projects done under every delivery method that have problems.

The question is which delivery method offers an owner the best opportunity for success. Unbiased, university-conducted, owner-Industry sponsored research overwhelmingly disagrees with Mr. Short’s assertion. Projects can cost less, be delivered faster and with a higher level of quality under a design-build delivery method, as opposed to design-bid-build.

Fundamentally, as an owner, do you need a better project, delivered more quickly, at a lower cost? Do you want your architect, engineers and construction professionals collaborating to create the optimal facility for you, or do you want to administer an adversarial environment where your interests are in competition with the professionals’ individual and collective interests?

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  • Fast-track? Design-build? What the Salesmen Don’t Say
    - By Don. L. Short
  • Second, Mr. Short’s opinion piece is an affront to the many sales professionals in our industry who work hard to identify owner needs and respond to them in the best possible way, often building career-long relationships. It is their professionalism that enables them to understand an owner’s needs, interests and requirements. It is the sales professionals who work diligently at customizing a solution-oriented package of services which often becomes a balancing act between a dedicated team of licensed professionals (such as Mr. Short), a marketplace that is consistently trying to commoditize them and the obvious need to make a profit.

    Anyone who is selling design, engineering or construction services in today’s market place had better believe in what they are selling, or they will not be successful. We sell professional services, and the hardworking and very talented project teams that provide them, not snake oil.

    The marketplace is the ultimate decider. Over the past twenty five years, the marketplace has been deciding more and more that design-build is preferred.

    While the men and women sales professionals (not just “salesmen, Mr. Short”) in our industry have clearly become more proficient at selling these services, it’s the marketplace that is clearly stating a preference and buying them. It’s the marketplace that has decided there is a better way than administering individual contracts in an adversarial environment which stifles the opportunity for a better, more efficient, more productive product for their investment.

    Question, Mr. Short? Did you review your article with your sales team?

    Michael G. Pierce is senior vice president for sales and marketing of The Austin Company in Cleveland. Send any comments on this story to ENR_Web_Editors@mcgraw-hill.com.