Project delivery is the process that includes the planning, design, and onsite building required to complete a construction project. Choosing a project delivery method is one of the most important decisions an owner makes during preconstruction.

If you specialize in a certain construction sector, chances are you’ve encountered one of these methods more often than others. However, with the rise of newer, more collaborative project delivery methods like Design-Build (DB) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) in North America, it’s good to always stay on top of your game. Here, we’ve broken down the most popular project delivery methods in construction today.

The most common project delivery methods

1. Design-Bid-Build (DBB)

The most traditional project delivery method used in North American construction (and the most familiar to U.S. or Canadian builders), DBB involves three distinct project phases: the design phase, in which a “designer of record” is chosen for the project; the bid phase, when a general contractor is selected through an RFP process; and build phase, when the project is built by the selected general contractor and subcontractors.

Best used on: Projects that are relatively simple, tight on time, and have a limited budget.

2. Construction Management at Risk (CMAR)

The CMAR delivery method is built upon a commitment by the chosen construction manager to deliver the project within a predefined schedule and price, either a fixed lump sum or a guaranteed maximum price (GMP). The construction manager provides construction input to the owner during the design phases and becomes the general contractor during the construction phase.

Best used on: Projects that have a large, undefined scope and are under pressure to be completed in a limited amount of time; projects where the careful oversight of a construction manager is extremely crucial.

3. Design-Build (DB)

One of the fastest-growing project delivery methods today, in a design-build project, the owner hires a company or team under one contract to deliver the construction project from start to finish, including both architectural/engineering design services and construction. Since the same team is responsible for the design and construction phases, design-build helps reduce pricing changes throughout the project; changes are usually isolated to situations where unknown conditions or owner requests require cost increases.

Best used on: Projects in which the owner can establish a firm maximum price of the project early on and wants a significant amount of cost control.

4. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

Integrated project delivery is a relatively new delivery method and has become more popular within the construction industry in the last decade. Using this delivery method, the owner selects an architect, engineer, and construction manager prior to the kickoff of the project. A joint contract is signed between the three entities after goals and objectives are established collaboratively. Integrated project delivery provides opportunities for minimizing project costs and increasing efficiency through the cooperation of the team members.

Best used on: Projects in the private sector that are complex, under a tight schedule, or largely undefined. Public entities normally cannot use IPD as a delivery method due to the lack of a traditional bidding component.

5. Multi-Prime (MP)

Although similar to DBB in that it has three sequential project phases, with MP, the owner contracts directly with separate specialty contractors for specific and designated elements of the work, rather than with a single general or prime contractor.

Best used on: Projects in which the owner wants control over the entire process; public sector projects in states in which this method is required.

Wrap-up

There isn’t a single project delivery method that works best for all owners, project types, and regions. Instead, the project delivery method should be chosen based on the needs of that particular project.

But with the rise of new methods — and methods popular in different parts of the world (like Public-Private-Partnership, or P3) slowly working their way into in North America — both knowledge and flexibility are key to project success now and in the years to come.

Where is the industry headed? See takeaways from FMI's Construction Outlook.