Design-Build and Design-Bid-Build: Differences to Consider Before Taking on Your Next Project

Whether you are building a new sports facility or updating an existing one, there is a lot to consider before your team can set the process in motion. One of arguably the most important decisions is the approach you will select for the project. The design-bid-build (DBB) approach selects the lowest bid contractor to perform your project while the design-build (DB) approach selects a master builder based on experience and qualifications. Below are some of the noticeable differences the industry has seen between these two approaches.


DB – Single Source

When you select the design-build approach, the contract states that the contractor accepts full responsibility for project mistakes and correcting them. This results in a significant reduction in the time needed to coordinate between the parties involved and reduces potential team conflict. The DB approach will also virtually eliminate change orders because the selected team is responsible for developing drawings/specifications as well as the construction of the whole project. 

DBB – Complex Accountability

In the design-bid-build approach, there are multiple points of contact which can create multiple points of conflict. It’s common that when a problem arises, the architect will hold the contractor responsible for issues and vice versa. If other consultants are working for the owner, problems may become compounded, often resulting in wasted time and money. Typically, to resolve the issues the owner pays for expensive change orders. 

Design-bid-build is a method to deliver a project in which the agency or owner contracts with separate entities for both the design and construction of a project. This method of project delivery has three main sequential phases: the design phase; the bidding phase; and the construction phase. The owner takes responsibility for the communication, coordination, contracts, and administrative tasks for the project.
Design-build is a method in which the design and construction services are contracted by a single entity. This approach relies on a single point of responsibility contract, minimizing risks for the project owner and reducing the delivery schedule by overlapping the design phase and construction phase of a project. The construction firm takes responsibility for the communication, coordination, contracts, and administrative tasks for the design-build project.


DB – Local Involvement

The design-build approach allows the owner to support the local community as they can select specific contractors or require the contractor to use local teams to work on the project. Thus, the hard-earned money will flow back into your community and support local businesses. 

DBB – Out-of-Town or Out-of-State Involvement

When your project is design-bid-build, you will be working with whoever provides the lowest price. This can mean you will work with a contractor from out of town who selects their preferred subcontractors (likely from out of town), so the money for your local project is spent elsewhere. 

Working Environment

DB – Established Relationships

The design-build approach selects the general contractor and the design team at the same time, leading to strong teamwork through established relationships and past project experience. These positive relationships remove conflict and make the project run much smoother for the owner.  

DBB – Pre-determined Partnerships

The design-bid-build approach has a separate selection process for the design team and the construction team who may not always get along or trust each other. This can lead to frequent disputes over the design and specifications the owner must intervene in to resolve. 

Cost Transparency

DB – Present Value Budgeting

The selected design-build general contractors have historical costs to pull from along with competitive quotes from available subcontractors. This gives them access to current construction costs allowing them to plan for projects within budget using the most cost-effective materials and methods. The staged contracting design-build process also allows for many “stop-go” decision points during the design ensuring the proposed project team has hard knowledge of total costs. 

DBB – Flexible Total Cost

If you select the design-bid-build approach, architects and engineers estimate the cost of your project without having the above resources to pull from for an accurate present value cost. This can lead to more uncertainty about the final project cost. 

Flexibility & Choice

DB – More Customizable

Because all teams work simultaneously to develop the project plan there is more flexibility and choices for the materials, products, and contractors for your project. 

DBB – Fixed Design

Because the project design is established before the bidding process it does not allow you the same flexibility. If changes to the plan occur, they are usually in the form of costly change orders that can draw out the construction timeline. If an item’s bid comes in high, your only option is to then remove pieces of the project to stay within budget. 

Quality & Value

DB – Reviewing All Options

You have a much higher chance of having the best quality and value when you take the design-build approach because you can select from all the products available and not just the lowest costing items. 

DBB – Preselected Materials

As mentioned, this process selects the lowest bid, which means your materials are based solely on meeting the specifications. Unfortunately, over the years, the development of a “cheaper is better” mentality amongst the general contractors bidding on the project can surface so there is the tendency to seek out the lowest-cost subcontractors in the given market. When the general contractor is brought to the team after design, there is little opportunity for input on effective alternatives being presented. 


DB – Ability to Choose

This approach allows you to fully evaluate the general contractors available for the job, which often provides comfort and peace of mind in knowing that they have the experience needed to not only complete but excel at the job. 

DBB – Up to Chance

When you put your project out to bid, you may have a contractor who is not as experienced in the areas needed for your project but meets the general requirements. This can result in many change orders and unintentionally poor workmanship. 

While it is common for schools, municipalities, and other local entities to proceed with the design-bid-build approach, often for budgetary reasons, we have seen a shift in design-build popularity over the past decade. Overall, what owners are finding is that the design-build approach gives you more flexibility in the materials used, what can be included in your project, and reassurance that the project will be in good, experienced hands.

If you’re planning your next sports facility project and want to discuss which option may be right for you, contact our team today.