The 4Cs of Design Build: Cooperate, Collaborate, Coordinate, Communicate

Posted on September 28th, 2018

From the start of recorded history through the early 1800s, a master builder would design and construct a building in a project delivery process we now call Design Build (DB). Master builders, however, would be perplexed by the terms, collaboration, coordination, cooperation and communication (the “4Cs”), used to describe DB projects today. For all master builders, and everyone else, the following will explain the 4Cs of Design Build.

Design Build Project Delivery

Design Build is expected to be the delivery method for more than 44% of commercial, educational, institutional, hospitality, public service and transportation projects by 2021; with a value of more than $160B. The popularity of Design Build lies in its advantages over the conventional Design-Bid-Build (DBB) delivery method. Numerous studies and surveys conclude that, compared to DBB, DB offers:

  • Faster construction & delivery speed,
  • Lower unit cost, and
  • Less cost & schedule growth.

Nevertheless, Design Build is not without its challenges. The primary obstacles to utilizing Design Build stem from the differences in organization and execution compared to DBB.

In Design-Bid-Build project delivery, the owner creates separate contracts for the design and the construction and then must manage two separate entities that often have conflicting goals. With DB, on the other hand, the owner contracts with a single Design Build entity for both design and construction; just like hiring a master builder. The tradeoff for DB’s simplicity is the requirement that the owner relinquish a degree of control over design details and construction execution. By relinquishing control, owners must rely on the 4Cs, collaboration, cooperation, coordination and communication, among the members of the Design Build entity.

The 4Cs

It’s nearly impossible to read about Design Build project delivery without finding mention of most of the 4Cs. Often, 4C terms are used interchangeably or in combinations that can cause confusion about their meaning regarding Design Build.

As shown in the graphic below, the terms, collaboration, cooperation and coordination, have a hierarchical relationship while the term, communication, has an integral and overarching relationship with all the others.

Coordination is all about efficiency. It is the process of organizing groups so they work together harmoniously and efficiently. It is typically a hierarchical process since each group receives its assignment from a coordinator in order to achieve the common goal. In assigning tasks to groups, the coordinator’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for a group to complete its task.

Groups need not know the overall goal of the coordinator in order to perform their assigned tasks, however, it can be advantageous for groups to understand how their efforts contribute to the overall success.

Consider an example of children at the beach wanting to play in the sand. A parent acts as the coordinator to direct each child where to play, what tools (buckets, shovels, rakes, etc.) to use and what he/she might build. The overall goal of the coordinator-parent is the safety and happiness of the children with the least amount of aggravation to themselves.Cooperation is about avoiding conflict. Rather than having an overseeing coordinator assigning tasks to avoid conflict, cooperation requires the groups to communicate with each other to understand areas of potential conflict and how to avoid them. Despite communicating with each other the groups need not know each other’s goals to cooperate.

To cooperate, our children at the beach would agree to the use of buckets, shovels, etc. and to put tools back in a common area when not actively using them. They might also agree to relinquishing tools when so requested by another child.

Collaboration is about sharing ideation and creation. Collaborating groups not only share the same high-level goals but often work together to define those goals and self-organize to achieve the goals. Ideally, collaborating groups provide each other complementary and synergistic skill sets in order to achieve results beyond the capacity of each group working independently. Collaboration cannot be demanded or assigned as it only works when groups mutually agree to be in an open, mutually-beneficial relationship with each other.

The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) has greatly increased the ability of architects, owners, project managers, contractors and others to collaborate effectively. The BIM/VDC process enables groups to see and share each other’s ideas as well as testing, iterating and refining ideas to improve the delivered project. Email, chat, videoconferencing and other tools have made communications equally fast and effective.

When the children at the beach collaborate, they must decide upon a sand building project everyone likes and in which everyone can have a satisfactorily participate. They then agree upon and divide up the activities to be performed based upon each child’s capabilities. As new ideas or challenges appear, the children must adjust their shared goal and then reorganize themselves to accomplish it.

Communication is integral to successful coordination, cooperation and collaboration in the Design Build process. It must be easy, efficient, fast and flexible to accommodate the changing needs as collaborative groups transform and reorganize.

Choosing a DB Entity

Collaboration is frequently mentioned in connection with Design Build because the ability of groups within the DB entity to be communicative, flexible, adaptable, resourceful and self-organizing is so critical to the successfully delivery of a project. A major challenge for Design Build project owners and suppliers is that open collaboration and goal sharing are not universal characteristics of the building industry.

Because of this, the number of qualified bidders for DB projects will be smaller. Moreover, project owners need to carefully evaluate the experience and success of Design Build entity members with weighting equal to price and capability.

Existing owner’s reps and design teams should not be intimidated by the Design Build process but identify how they can contribute as members of a DB entity. While including owner’s reps or design teams in the Design Build entity is not common, hybrid DB arrangements can be developed to include them.

The Equans MEP Services family of companies has the BIM/VDC capabilities and Design Build success and experience to handle virtually any project. Combined with the financial, energy and power resources of Equans North America, customers can get Design Build project delivery of unmatched value from Equans MEP.

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