Building and Expanding Upon Collaborative Delivery Methods

Three women huddle around computer screens showing a building model.
A design-to-build approach to project delivery expands on both design-build and IPD contracting and can apply to any project regardless of size, type or contract mechanism. Courtesy of Mindy Hetman
What is design-to-build and how does it differ from design-build and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) project delivery methods?

A design-to-build approach expands upon both design-build and IPD contracting to deliver a framework that can apply to any project regardless of size, type or contract mechanism.


Design-build, an umbrella term for contract types that involve early team formation and single point owner contracts, combines design and construction services to create a single point of accountability. Design build encompasses a number of sub-types, including competitive design build, design-build-operate-maintain, and public-private partnership (P3) versions.

While beneficial in its potential to accelerate or overlap phases and streamline contracting, the growth of design-build has been hampered (especially in the U.S.) by perceptions of inherent conflicts of interest and lack of transparency as evidenced by the fact that design-build is not a fully permitted form of contract in all 50 states. Additionally, there has been some anxiety over whether design-build limits owner input on design, which has influenced its use for complex projects

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

With a desire to improve the performance of the AEC industry, early proponents of IPD drew from the principles of integrated practice and Lean construction. IPD is based on the involvement of all participants (people, systems, business structures and practices) through all phases of design, fabrication and construction. In an effort to eliminate conflict and improve performance, IPD emphasizes forming a collaborative endeavor to achieve shared project goals, which in turn enables individual success.

There have, however, been some limits to the implementation of IPD, depending on who’s involved and the size of the project. In practice IPD can involve significant front-end investment, both financial and ideological. The usual preference for co-location can pose both logistical and cultural challenges especially in a post-pandemic world. It’s also an approach that does not scale down easily, and as a result, tends to be most effective on large complex projects.


The design-to-build process evolved from the benefits of design-build as an approach to delivering projects that spans the whole design and construction process. Unlike design-build, the structure is provided by a framework process and defined goals in lieu of reliance on contracts and is applicable on all kinds of projects regardless of contract mechanism. Borrowing from the relational alignment focus of IPD and supported by a greater emphasis on process and tools, design-to-build ensures the expertise driving a particular part of the process is available to the entirety of the process, facilitated through a rigorous process of alignment, assessment and evaluation to ensure that expertise is applied where value is added. For example, the project team working on life sciences project was able to achieve zero RFIs on their foundation scope by bringing together all design and engineering partners together to streamline the foundation design, leverage prefabricated components and meet local building code.

A commitment to consistent process enables a data-driven feedback cycle that informs process improvement over time, streamlining the process, supporting earlier and more informed decision making. Design-to-build drives greater ownership and control of outcomes in aesthetics, cost, safety, schedule and quality throughout the project lifecycle. In addition, the design-to-build approach seamlessly integrates a construction technology led methodology by bringing prefabrication and self-performed work expertise forward into conceptual design to enable optimization of the principles of design for manufacturing and assembly (DfMA), leading to higher quality implementation, and better alignment with project goals.

Written by Laurel Harrison, design-to-build strategist.