Recently I attended the Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) conference in Oxon Hill, Md., outside Washington, D.C. There were a lot of good sessions.

But in one area, I was somewhat taken aback. It happened while listening to complaints about each other by architects and constructors at what was called a Practitioners Session.    

Design-build projects in which I have been involved have all had a strong partnership between the A/Es and GCs. In several cases I have assisted in brokering (or at least introducing) the partnership between the firms. So I was concerned to hear in this session several A/Es and GCs complain of their one-night-stand partners on unsuccessful (and even worse when successful) bids.

Let’s make no mistake here – especially if the bid is successful, the DB partnership is a full marriage with all the trappings – including division of community property if things do not go well. I commented on this, citing the saying that “one should choose your business partner with greater care than choosing a spouse – it is probably easier to get rid of your spouse.”  

I asked the attendees how many typically participate in a partnering retreat with the owner on a new project. A good number of hands went up. I then asked how many participate in a similar partnering retreat with a new design-build partner before preparing their bid to the owner. Only a few hands went up. It became apparent that many felt that they were “still dating,” at least up until the owner bought into their proposal, at which point they would have a marriage of convenience for the duration of the project.   

Now all this is not to say this problem is endemic to the industry. The majority of design-build partnerships are based on lasting relationships that pursue (and hopefully build) many jobs over the years. However, based on the comments of the audience of this one session, I think more emphasis on the pre-marital contract between partners, rather than preferred contract language that these couples want from the owners, should be a focus in a future meeting.

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