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Design Build: Analyzing Expectations vs Deliverables

To protect margins on design-build projects, integrators can enlist these four tips for managing the expectations versus deliverables gap.


Integration firms who spend the vast majority of their time on the design-build side of the industry understand its advantages.

Regardless of product margin-related point and counter-point articles from Commercial Integrator, it seems safe to say that most firms prioritize holding component margins. 

Keeping control of the reigns on what technology to deploy is also a priority.

From my vantage point, most integrators continue to spend the bulk of their time on this side of the business. We all are very well aware of the challenges and potential pitfalls of responding to bids all day. There are dealers that do it—and do it very well—and I applaud them.

Having owned my own integration firm for a number of years, I acutely understand the real world challenges of managing the sometimes unmanageable gap between what the client expects you’re going to do for them versus what you actually will do. I am a firm believer that those who are highly effective at managing and ultimately minimizing the space of this gap are the companies that are the most profitable.

The list is longer I’m sure, but here is what I believe are the four general “absolutes” for effective deliverables gap management:

Choose Wisely—Be selective with who you choose as your client. I get that this is easier said than done. I urge you to listen to your gut and resist the temptation to let financial fears dictate who you do business with.  At the top of the priority list in the selection process should be a certainty that the stakeholders and decision makers will reciprocate your level of engagement on the project. 

Dot i’s, Cross t’s—Be scrupulous with the level of detail on the system design side. Staff your company with system designers who are meticulous with paying attention to detail. When the design phase slides to the implementation phase, gaps almost always manifest themselves. As part of this deliverables gap management theme, resist the temptation of making assumptions in attempts to close these gaps. If assumptions start taking place and you have a client who will not engage, you are left vulnerable. Vulnerability translates into profit loss almost every time.

Hand Baton Effectively—Nail down your process for project deployment from contract consummation to project hand-off and do not be afraid to lay the law down with those in your company who don’t abide. This is crucial with gap management so that when you do experience it (and you will), your internal efficiency will minimize its impact.

Mind Scope Creep—Be aware of the end-of-project “feature creep” monster. Be painstaking about contractually binding your project scope, in writing. Emulate something similar to an AIA contract document in defining scope. By no means is it necessary to break a project into divisions, but take templates such as this that define project specifications and use them. End-of-project scope sliding happens inevitably, but in doing this you protect yourself contractually by specifically defining what constitutes contract fulfillment.

There are certainly additional considerations with design-build project management best practices and their impact on deliverables gap management, but these four represent what I experienced as sticking points on a regular basis.

I spent most of my time implementing internal solutions to fend off gap creation. I’d be remiss if I said it was easy, because it was not, but to the extent that I followed through on managing these absolutes effectively is to the extent that we were fiscally profitable.

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