Selecting the BEST Delivery Method: You Can’t Predict but You Can Prepare

“You can’t predict but you can prepare” is a key element Jim Collins’ “Great By Choice”

Design-Bid-Build, CM Multi-Prime, CM at Risk, Lease Lease-Back, and Design Build have been defined many times and are all proven to be effective delivery methods.  But, one size does not fit all.  There are no perfect solutions. 

So, how do you “SELECT” the BEST delivery method for a project?  How do you explain the reasoning behind the selection to the governing board? This blog will present multiple factors wrapped up into 4 categories that MUST be evaluated prior to selecting a delivery method for a project.  We will explore a matrix to allow Owners, Architects, and Contractors to prioritize the 4 categories along with all their characteristics. 

The BEST way to prepare is to start with questions:

  1. Can you always use Hard Bid?
  2. Can you always use CMMP?
  3. Can you always use LLB?


  • Should you always use Hard Bid
  • Should you always use CMMP
  • Should You always use LLB


There is not a perfect, right, or favorite delivery method. There is not one project where one delivery method will apply every time. Delivery methods are a tool… not a solution. . Picking the right tool can help your project… but hard work is what gets it done.:  To illustrate this point:

True or false:

  1. Does one style of education meet the needs of all students?
  2. Does one type of vehicle meet the needs of all drivers?
  3. Does one type of house meet the needs of all families?
  4. Does one type of delivery method need the needs of all projects?

If you answered no to all of the questions you are on the right track.  Why is it so easy to choose an education, a house or a car, but so difficult to choose the best delivery method for our projects?  When we know the right questions to ask its easy.  Construction delivery methods are not any more complex that selecting a car… you just need to know the right questions to ask. 

How Can I Make Selecting Delivery Methods SIMPLE

In his book “Dichotomy of Leadership” Jocko Willink said “…simple, but
not easy” ….  That not only describes construction but it also relates perfectly to selecting the best delivery method.  It takes a great amount of
discipline to take the time to truly prioritize all of the variables that go
into a project.  The constant barrage of issues & the burden to solve them can be overwhelming on any construction site. Disagreements, changes, questions, accidents, delays, deficiencies, conflicts, personnel issues and yes, even selecting delivery methods take their toll.  The stress that creeps in can cloud your mind and judgment like fog rolling across your jobsite. 

But when you simplify the variables, it becomes much easier to see the BEST CHOICE for your project.  Simply put, all variables on a project are tied to 4 categories “Safety, Quality, Time and Cost”

“There is a common thread that runs through every project that will help you to simplify, prioritize, and act:  Safety, Quality, Time, and Cost… (in that order).  When you have a priority to be safe, install things right the first time in the right order, and stay on schedule, the cost will take care of itself.”

There are three principles that must be followed to allow you to select the BEST delivery method for your project

You must have a discovery mindset. The discovery mindset gives you the drive to learn about your project. Every project has a unique set of characteristics. It is your responsibility to ask questions,, dig, and learn about those characteristics

You must use discipline and diligence. You are busy and you have alot going on. Please understand that the time you spend now will be time you do not have to spend later solving problems. Having the discipline to ask the questions and take the time will pay off in the long run. Diligence is the mindset of not giving up until you have found the best answers that will lead to the best solutions. Keep digging to find the best information.

You must set proper expectations. Expectations are the main cause of misunderstanding and problems on a project. Setting the proper expectations with your Architect, Contractor, Inspector, Board, community, staff, and students is critical. Remember, after you have done your due diligence, there is no “bad news”… only facts. They may not be the most desirable facts, but they are “facts”. Selecting the best delivery method is one toll in your tool box to help mitigate problems on your project.

When you have categorized, asked the right questions and prioritized, you will have vetted 90% of the variables and selected the best delivery method to give your project the best possibility of success. 

Ask the right questions

Just as an education must be tailored to each student, delivery methods must be tailored to each project.  Each project has its own unique set characteristics.  There are no less than 20 factors and over 50 characteristics, and each must be questioned, evaluated, and prioritized on a project by project basis. 

As you review your project against Safety, Quality, Time and Cost one or two will become obvious priorities. 

For example, if you are building a casino in Las Vegas, time may become main priority for the facility.  If you are building a clean room for Intel, quality edges out the others to be the priority.  If you are remodeling an operating room in the middle of a hospital, safety will be the main priority. 

Each facility will have different priorities depending on the specific circumstances. The task is to recognize the priorities and then balance the remaining items.  So, although time is the most important to the casino to allow them to open as early as possible and start the flow of revenue, budget will become critical at some point based on the proforma, keeping workers safety to avoid accidents that could slow the project or be bad PR is always important, and the dazzling quality will be showcased to market the facility.  In short, you must find the balance.

Below is the 4×4 Summary to start the analysis. Don’t look for solutions, just tale a moment and think about your project and how the items may fit into the planning.  The initial question is “How will the needs of the project affect:”

This is without a doubt a daunting task.  Looking at the list, the first question that comes to mind is:

“How do you move Mount Fuji?” 

“One shovel at a time…”

Now that you have a rough idea of what the items are, go back and ask this question for each of the items on the work sheet provided.

“How will the needs of our project affect _____?”

Jot down brief notes for each on potential concerns.  But…the toughest part will be to try to solve the problem right then as well.  The power of this exercise is not solving the problem, it is defining the problem.  Your future team of designers, consultants, and contractors are the experts in solving the problem.  You are the expert at how a facility runs and consequently the expert at defining if the characteristics are problems.

Once you have your notes it is time to prioritize the factors.  There is a reason to make three passes through the list:

1) Get a 60,000-foot view of the project and the factors that affect it overall

2) Define which factors cause the biggest challenges,

3) Prioritize those challenges to take action. 

There is no doubt that during the three stages, you will change your perspective on what is impacting the project the most.  It is a process not a snap decision

Then define the priority level with these in mind

3=Low Priority, meaning complexity and variables are low and can be defined easily in the contract documents without the need for early collaboration

2= Mid Priority – meaning there is moderate risk and complexity there may or may not be a need for a collaborative solution

1=High Priority – meaning there is high complexity or possibility of adaptation and needs a team to address

For example if this were a classroom modernization during the school year:

Facility Security:  You know that you have 24 hour security on campus, therefore, having open construction areas will not cause any additional risk of theft on campus.  This would be rated as no low priority

However, under facility impact, you may have a project that is adjacent to two classrooms and the noise would be detrimental to the education process.  Therefore, it would be ranked high priority

In phasing you know that there are no additional classrooms available to move students, therefore the work cannot be done during the school year.

Finally, your architect advises that the market of very volatile due to the amount of work being planned and constructed in the area.  You know your budget is fixed; therefore, it is a high priority to have options when it comes to monitoring budget throughout the design and bidding process.

The scoring for the matrix will depending on the facility and complexity of the list.  The list provided is a basic outline

As a general Rule, scoring can equal the following delivery methods

  1. With a maximum of 48=3×12 categories
  2. 39 to 48 could be a candidate for hard bid
  3. 29 to 38 could be CM Multi Prime
  4. 22 to 28 could be CM @ Risk or Lease Lease Back
  5. 16 to 21 Design Build

Remember, there are always exceptions and some items may weigh more heavily depending on your circumstances.. This is where good non-emotional judgements comes in.

Here are some examples of the use of the matrix and why a delivery method could be chosen

Getting Governing Board Approval

Now that you have your priorities set, it is time to present your findings to the governing board.  What is the best way to inform your board of your decision.

Three things need to be done

  1. Tell the story about the project and what is in the scope. 
  2. Define how it will impact Safety, Quality, Time, and Cost.  Note the priorities that have been developed and the process you went through by showing them the matrix.
  3. Finally explain how the delivery method will help meet the priorities for the project. 

For example,

You might say…”since this is a simple project with few trades, no interaction with the existing facility and staff, in house staff is available and knowledgeable, market is very competitive and hungry at this time and the scope is easily defined in the contract documents, we recommend design-bid-build.”


“This is a complex project with much of the work in proximity to the existing facility, staff and patrons, in house staff does not have expertise in this kind of construction, there will be many phases and utility shut downs and the time frame will be tight due to lead times and availability of trades.  We recommend CM Multi Prime to help better define and coordinate the project to get the best results”

Have your data ready and make it about the facts and the priorities.  You should welcome questions to test your results.  If you can’t explain it, more work may have to be done to solidify the right answer.

In the end, you will have chosen the best delivery method for the project based on the best information you have gained by being diligent.

Challenge Yourself to Be Prepared

We are all creatures of habit and we are all busy. The combination of those two things will lead us to make snap decisions before we have all of the facts. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. There are three things to remember:

  • Delivery Methods are a tool not a solution
  • Accept that there is never a “perfect” answer.  Be prepared to adapt
  • Believe that the facts lead you to discover the BEST answer
  • Use Safety, Quality, Time, & Cost to prioritize

Challenge yourself to apply these principles everyday on every project and you will fin the while you cannot predict what will happen, you will be prepared to drive you project to a successful finish.

Following is a PDF of the presentation and materials for the CASH Conference in Long Beach California 2020.

PowerPoint File

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