Design-Build Zealots

Oct 16, 2000

I just got back from the Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) (Washington, DC) national convention in San Diego (held October 4-6). What a turnout! Their estimates were that they had somewhere between 1,400 and 1,500 people there, not counting spouses! If that doesn’t confirm that there’s a real interest in design-build, I don’t know what does. On the other hand, Rob McManamy, editor of Design-Build Magazine, the official magazine of DBIA and a McGraw-Hill publication, wrote his October “On the Industry” editorial about our 2000 Design-Build Survey. And it begins, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics…” (a Mark Twain quote). Evidently, he and some members of DBIA’s board of directors didn’t like the fact that our survey respondents (68% A/E firms and 30% integrated design-build firms made up the sample) projected a slower growth in design-build for their businesses than they have in the previous three years we’ve conducted the survey. Since I was quoted in Engineering News-Record (a sister McGraw-Hill publication) saying, “It has its place in the industry, but we can all stop waiting for the time when every job will be completed using the design-build,” they were further upset. I met with the DBIA board while I was there (I was there because they had asked me to be the kick-off speaker for the conference). We had a civil discussion about our firm, our survey, and how I felt about design-build. And while I think most of those in the room probably came out of it feeling better about me, our firm, and our survey, I must say their reaction to the whole thing and the editorial they let their magazine editor print were pretty ridiculous. The facts are that our survey (admittedly based on only one segment of the design-build business and not including pure contractors, but DBIA twice refused to lend us their list for the study) shows a continued increase in the percentage of business that firms will be doing with design-build, but it shows a slowdown in that increase. That’s still an increase, however. We aren’t debating that more jobs are being done with design-build. And no one in their right mind could think that every job will be done by design-build, ever. There’s no way that some people who make up the buying public will believe that it’s not just some way for integrated builders to fleece the public by confusing them about what they are getting for the money. Some people will always want to go design-bid-build, whether the rest of us think (or even know) that’s best or not. Jeff Beard, DBIA’s executive director, Jeff Raday, DBIA’s elected president— and I would guess 99% of DBIA’s membership— wouldn’t disagree. I think it’s odd indeed that people in the design and construction business can get so irrational about any project delivery method and get all upset about any survey data. What’s the problem? My reaction to DBIA’s reaction to our survey is this: Just because you don’t like the numbers that people put on their questionnaires, don’t get upset with us. And don’t ever call us liars— we take great pride in telling the truth and doing the right thing in every dealing. We don’t have any axe to grind about design-build, and in fact, have been supporters of DBIA. We are current members, paying $2,000 a year dues! DBIA is working to educate everyone in our business about design-build, one of many project delivery methods that open up new revenue generation opportunities for our A/E/P and environmental consulting firm clients. That’s good. I would advise them, however, to direct more of their activities toward educating the public at-large, much of which is prejudiced against design-build, about the merits of this delivery method, and less of their energies trying to shoot the messenger (one of their own members) who tells them something they don’t want to hear! DBIA says they want to do their own survey on the subject. Great! My guess is that they will find it’s a more costly and difficult endeavor than they anticipated. If they can get it done, maybe we’ll all gain some new insight into design-build, and that would be good. But what I’m wondering is this: Given their zealous fervor, if the numbers don’t come out the way they want them to, will they share them with the rest of us? Or will they tell “lies, damned lies…” and put their own spin on the data? I sure hope not. Originally published 10/16/2000.

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