ConsensusDocs Standard Form Contract for Design-Assist Services

By: Joseph M. Leone

As project owners continue to see increasing value in collaboration between designers and constructors during the preconstruction phase, techniques such as design-assist, Lean Design and Construction, and integrated project delivery (IPD), are being used more frequently.  Last year, the ConsensusDocsTM Coalition published the first standard form contract document incorporating the design-assist process into a construction contract.  The ConsensusDocs Design-Assist Addendum (CD 541) is an addendum to the ConsensusDocs’ CM at Risk contract forms (ConsensusDocs 500/510) and the standard form Owner – Design Professional Agreement (ConsensusDocs 240).  The purpose of the Design-Assist Addendum is to establish the duties and relationships between the owner, design professional, construction manager, and key trade contractors for the performance of design-assist services which support the design process. 

For those not familiar with ConsensusDocs, it is a set of standard form construction contracts available by subscription similar to the American Institute of Architects’ standard form contracts.  The ConsensusDocs contract forms are written and supported by a coalition of dozens of design and construction industry organizations.  ConsensusDocs standard form contracts address all project delivery methods and because the contact forms are written by representatives of multiple industry organizations, they attempt to incorporate fair risk allocation. 

Design-Assist is loosely defined in the industry as a process by which the constructors collaborate with the project owner and the design professionals starting from the design development phase to assist all parties in meeting the owner’s project objectives.  The construction manager and its key trade contractors use their expertise in planning, scheduling, estimating, logistics, production, and project management to assist the project owner and design professional in improving the project design to maximize the value the owner receives for the resources it expends on the project.    

The ConsensusDocs 541 Design-Assist Addendum creates a contractual structure which identifies the roles, duties, tasks, deliverables, rights, and remedies of the owner, design professional, construction manager, and key trade contractors in developing the design documents. The range of services include some traditional construction management preconstruction services, such as review of the owner’s program, constructability reviews, recommended procurement of materials, cost estimating, value engineering, and scheduling.  However, the Design-Assist Addendum also includes roles and tasks which go way beyond traditional preconstruction services, such as prefabrication recommendations; integrated value analysis, design-build packaging, life cycle cost analysis, risk analysis, and production planning.  By gaining the early involvement of builders’ expertise and coordinating those efforts with design teams, greater project cohesion and efficiency is achieved.

Before incorporating design-assist into a project, the most important consideration that the project team must evaluate is whether the project participants are committed to collaboration and have the corporate culture necessary to make a collaborative process work.  The collaborative design process, whether Design-Assist, Lean, or IPD, requires a completely different environment, culture, attitudes, and mind set than other traditional project delivery methods.   However, when implemented properly, the overwhelming evidence is that projects which use collaborative techniques produce better project outcomes than projects that do not.

For those interested in additional information, following is a link to the Design-Assist Addendum Guidebook from ConsensusDocs.