The early involvement of the Contractor in the design process of
construction projects has shown to provide benefits for Principals.
What is noticed in this area is that there are well used models but
also possible opportunity for much earlier Contractor involvement
on appropriate projects.
The design and construct contract is well understood and has
been the traditional solution for Principals requiring the
Contractor to develop, complete and be responsible for the design
process as well as construction. The preliminary design prepared by
the Principal's designers becomes the Contractor's
responsibility and the designers who prepared the preliminary
design are novated to the Contractor.
Although design and construct contracts may contain a value
management process and build-ability obligations, there will be
limits to the types of decisions made during the preliminary design
process that can be later 'undone' (for instance, the
resultant delay in re-documenting the project may outweigh the
saving or may not be able to be accommodated by the program).
Therefore, the opportunity to align 'market' construction
experience with project expectations and have positive impacts at
that early stage may have been lost.
In determining when to involve the Contractor in the design
process, a Principal will normally decide when design control can
be handed over to a Contractor and from when it would like the
Contractor to take design, build-ability, time and price risk. Each
project will be different but earlier Contractor involvement in the
design process can facilitate collaboration and innovation on the
project, such as the ability to develop and test material or
assemble prototypes before committing to construction.
Contractors' involvement in the preliminary design process
has so far been uncommon in Australia (particularly on traditional
building projects) but it seems it is the 'final frontier'
of their involvement in this process. Whether the Contractor would
take any price or design process risk in their participation in the
preliminary design process would be separately answered by the
agreement reached on the procurement terms.
Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contracts are a recent
procurement model that has become one possible solution to
involving Contractors in the preliminary design process. They
usually involve a two stage process. In the first stage, the
Contractor is engaged (usually on a time basis) to prepare the
preliminary design with the Principal, using the Contractor's
designers. The second stage is essentially a design and construct
model but the Principal is not obliged to engage the Contractor and
can competitively tender the works to another Contractor.
If Principals have trepidation in giving the design process
control to Contractors or the project is not suitable for
relinquishing preliminary design control, the ECI model could
alternatively be split with the first stage involving the
engagement of a Contractor under a consultancy agreement to provide
construction advice on the design process being undertaken by the
Principal's designers. This may give Principals an easy inroad
into using Contractors more often in the preliminary design phase
without the need to hand over design process control or to
negotiate and agree the entire construction contract at such an
early stage of the project. A design and construct contract could
then be used after the preliminary design has been prepared. Given
that the ECI model has so far mostly been used on projects
involving unidentified risks, this 'construction
consultancy' alternative may suit a broader range of
On appropriate projects in the future, we may more often see
Principals considering the earlier involvement of Contractors in
the preliminary design process.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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