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Zhang 2019 Effect of Level of Owner Provided Design on Contractor's Design Quality in DB EPC Projects

Effect of Level of Owner-Provided Design on Contractor’s
Design Quality in DB/EPC Projects
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Shuibo Zhang 1; Xinyan Liu 2; Ying Gao, Ph.D. 3; and Pei Ma 4
Abstract: Although previous studies have suggested that the level of owner-provided design can influence the performance of design-build
(DB) projects, few have explicitly and empirically investigated the effect of the level of owner-provided design on the contractor’s design
quality. This paper fills this gap by empirically investigating the effect of the level of owner-provided design on the design quality of contractors in DB projects. Questionnaires were collected from 243 Chinese project professionals and hierarchical regression analysis was
conducted. Empirical results reveal that the level of owner-provided design negatively affects design innovation and positively affects design
change. The contractor’s competence strengthens the effect of owner-provided design level on design innovation. A minimum proportion of
owner-provided design can improve design quality. It is also necessary to ensure the clear articulation of requirements in the request for
proposal (RFP). The findings contribute to the understanding of the relationship between the level of owner-provided design and the contractor’s design quality in DB projects. These findings also give owners insight into the preparation of the RFP with regard to the optimal level
of design. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)CO.1943-7862.0001587. © 2018 American Society of Civil Engineers.
Author keywords: Owner-provided design; Design quality; Contractor’s competence; Design-build; Request for proposal (RFP).
Design-build (DB), sometimes called engineering, procurement,
and construction (EPC) in some industrial sectors in which
tailor-made plants and equipment are often involved, is an integrated project delivery approach in which the owner enters into
one contract with a single entity that performs both the design
and construction. Much research has been conducted to examine
the effectiveness of DB projects and has found that, because of
the single point of responsibility, shortened duration of construction
projects, and other advantages (Hale et al. 2009; Konchar and
Sanvido 1998; Molenaar et al. 1999), DB has become increasingly
popular all over the world (Wardani et al. 2006; Xia and Chan
2008). However, quality performance in DB projects is still unclear
and under debate (Akintoye 1994). In the engineering sense, quality conveys the concepts of compliance with defined requirements,
value for money, fitness of purpose, and client satisfaction (Ashford
2002; Hellard 1993). Because design is the initial phase of a
project, design quality is the most fundamental aspect of quality
and becomes the foundation of subsequent phases. Design quality
represents the degree to which the design of the facility conforms to
the client’s needs and satisfaction (Basu 2014); design quality can
be divided into expected design quality and exciting design quality
(King 1989).
Professor, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin Univ.,
Tianjin 300072, P.R. China. Email: zhangshuibo@tju.edu.cn
Postgraduate, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin Univ.,
Tianjin 300072, P.R. China. Email: liuxy_07@163.com
Assistant Professor, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin
Univ., Tianjin 300072, P.R. China. Email: ygao@tju.edu.cn
Ph.D. Candidate, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin
Univ., Tianjin 300072, P.R. China (corresponding author). Email: mapei@
tju.edu.cn; mapei_tju@163.com
Note. This manuscript was submitted on January 17, 2018; approved on
July 12, 2018; published online on November 10, 2018. Discussion period
open until April 10, 2019; separate discussions must be submitted for
individual papers. This paper is part of the Journal of Construction
Engineering and Management, © ASCE, ISSN 0733-9364.
Design plays an important role in the success of construction
projects (Dulamimi et al. 1995), and it gradually becomes clear
and certain as the project proceeds. Although the contractor in a
DB project assumes the design responsibility, this does not mean
that the owner is free from any involvement in the design. In most
cases, the owner is required to accomplish a certain level of design in
the request for proposal (RFP) in order to articulate the project requirements and convey the scope of the project to the contractor
(Janssens 1991; Konchar and Sanvido 1998). Deciding on an appropriate level of design in the RFP is the first step forward when an
owner initiates a DB project. Based on the characteristics of the
project, owners can complete any amount of design for their unique
design needs (Fredrickson 1998). The report Design-Build Environmental Compliance Process and Level of Detail: Eight Case Studies
published by AASHTO notes that the level of design completed in
the RFP can influence the performance of the DB project. An appropriate level of owner design is enough to describe the owner’s
requirements but not so much as to discourage the contractor from
offering innovative design solutions (Xia et al. 2012). When much
owner-provided design is conducted before contractor selection, the
design and construction phases are fragmented and are more like the
traditional Design-bid-build (DBB) procurement method. The contractor’s low level of involvement in design and limited responsibility
for only the execution of the project may have a negative impact on
subsequent quality (Heravi et al. 2015). In addition, there will redundant work completed, because the owner and the contractor are not
coordinated (Fredrickson 1998). Although the contractor is able to
systematically focus on optimizing the design and construction process when there is a lower level of owner-provided design, the main
concern of the owner is the quality of design and the final building
(Preece and Tarawneh 1997). Shane et al. (2013) used an empirical
survey to determine that there is no significant difference in construction project quality between DB and DBB projects. These studies
lacked both a clearly expressed theoretical model of the linkage
and a systematic empirical investigation to identify the relationship
between the level of owner-provided design and design quality in DB
projects and did not consider the concept of quality specifically.
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The best-value method, which gives a contractor’s competence
more weight than price, is used primarily in the selection of DB
contractors (Abdelrahman et al. 2008; Scott 2006), because the
contractor’s competence plays an important role in the quality of
the whole project (Xia and Chan 2008). Inappropriate contractors
increase the chances of the expected construction project failing
to be executed (Hatush and Skitmore 1997). Projects with the competent contractors will most likely achieve higher quality and create
more end value. This suggests that there is a place for systematic
research in the context of contractor competence.
Therefore, this paper aims to fill the aforementioned research
gaps and address the following research questions. First, how does
the level of owner-provided design in DB projects influence the
contractor’s design quality? Second, how does the contractor’s
competence moderate these influences?
This study extends the insights of the underlying mechanism
through which the level of owner-provided design affects the contractor’s design quality based on an empirical investigation. Unlike
previous studies, this paper presents the concept of a spectrum of
owner-provided design rather than two discrete levels represented
by the DB and DBB methods. The findings of this paper may help
project owners to prepare RFPs for DB projects.
Theoretical Background and Hypotheses
Contractor’s Design Quality
There is no unified measurement system for quality. Good quality
means that facilities, the end products of construction, should be
tested and inspected to conform to project specifications and standards (Yasamis et al. 2002). Recently, more research on quality has
focused on the satisfaction of the owner and conveyed the concepts
of compliance with defined requirements, value for money, fitness of
purpose, and client satisfaction (Ashford 2002; Chan et al. 2002;
Hellard 1993; Lam et al. 2008; Molenaar et al. 1999). Quality also
encompasses how efficiently the project management process has
been, which can be indicated by change and dispute (Arditi and
Lee 2004; Baccarini 1999; Cserhati and Szabo 2014). The indicators
of product (or facility) and process quality include conformance,
serviceability, accessibility and convenience, accuracy, and others
(Al-Momani 2000; Idrus and Sodangi 2010; Lee and Arditi 2006).
From the owner’s perspective, King (1989) divides quality into expected quality and exciting quality. Expected quality is quality that
meets the conditions stipulated in the RFP, which must be achieved
by the contractor. Exciting quality is the element of the product or
service that goes beyond the owner’s requirements, can surprise the
owner, and increases owner satisfaction.
A construction project is a complicated and difficult undertaking
that involves many participants and goes through many development stages. The output of one phase is the input of the next phase
and will influence the final quality of the project (Heravi et al.
2015; Tan and Lu 1995). Barrie and Paulson (1992) concluded that
design quality is the foundation of subsequent phases and has the
greatest influence on a construction project. Design quality represents the extent to which the design of the facility conform to the
client’s needs and satisfaction (Basu 2014).
Design quality is not an end in itself but is a means to achieve
the final quality. Project management must shift from product creation to value creation (Musawir et al. 2017). In order for owners
to receive more value, the definition of design quality must expand
to include the innovative practices, or value engineering, of the contractor, because client satisfaction is derived from that innovative
performance (Yasamis et al. 2002). Analyses based on different
quality dimensions can achieve significantly different results
(Garvin 1984). This study focused on design quality, which can
be classified into two basic categories: (1) conformance quality and
(2) performance quality (Hendricks and Singhal 1996; Yu et al.
2017). Conformance quality emphasizes the control of defects
and conformance to quality standards, which can be measured
by indicators such as incidence of defects, conformance to quality
requirements, extent of callbacks, frequency of defect occurrences,
and elimination of failures. Design change and design dispute are
used to measure conformance quality (Sullivan et al. 2017). By
contrast, performance quality represents a consumer-oriented viewpoint that focuses on providing valuable construction attributes for
consumers (Desai 2001; Garvin 1984; Hendricks and Singhal 1996)
and is measured by design innovation in this paper (Mallon and
Mulligan 1993; Ngacho and Das 2014).
Combining quality performance indicators from previous
works, this paper selects design innovation, design variation or
change, and design dispute as the three dimensions of the contractor’s design quality in order to highlight the objectives of the design
process and its impact on the later phases of a construction project.
Design Innovation
The construction industry is often criticized for its lack of innovation. Innovation is a construct borrowed from economics and
organizational behavior. Innovation is defined as an idea, practice,
or material artifact perceived to be new (Zaltman et al. 1973). Innovation can be either a hardware change (a change in a product,
plant, or equipment) or a software change (a change in ideas, processes, or systems) (Marcus 1981). Innovations vary in the degree of
novelty to the adopting party, and there is a continuum of innovations that ranges from radical to incremental (Dewar and Dutton
1986; Hage 1980). In the construction industry, there is no general
definition of innovation. Some characteristics of innovation in construction have been accepted, such as something new, efficiency,
and satisfaction (Murphy et al. 2008; Slaughter 2000). Therefore,
the design innovation definition in this paper includes some new
ideas, materials, practices, or methods encompassed in the design
solution that will improve construction efficiency and increase the
value of the whole project if they are adopted. We refer to other
industries and borrow the meaning of innovation to generalize
one dimension of design quality. Design innovation is a deeper
level of design quality than the premise of conformance to the basic
requirements of the owner. It is more critical to the performance of
construction projects, yet is often neglected.
Level of Owner-Provided Design
In DB projects, the owner needs to communicate requirements to
potential contractors in a RFP. The design information is documented in terms of program, performance, plans, and specifications. In
most cases, owners also resort to drawings to fully convey their intentions (Ndekugri and Turner 1994). The amount of information
needed in a RFP is the practical problem of owners in DB projects.
Instead of considering DB as just one thing, owners should consider
DB as a spectrum according to the operational variations of designbuild, which can be categorized as direct design-build, the design
criteria method, and preliminary engineering (Beard et al. 2001). For
example, owners can immediately contact a design-builder, or they
can select a design-builder after producing a conceptual design with
consultants. There are different impacts on project outcomes among
the DB delivery methods. As AASHTO (2005) notes, decisions regarding the level of owner-provided design can influence the degree
of a project’s success. In the 1999 International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) Silver Book Conditions of Contract for
EPC Turnkey Projects (FIDIC 1999), the owner is suggested to
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complete approximately 10% of the design. Different organizations
and institutions suggest various levels of owner-provided design, but
there is no consensus on the appropriate level (Xia et al. 2012).
Level of Owner-Provided Design and Design Innovation
The level of owner-provided design is the contractor’s criteria for
the design development phase. If owners provide a lot of design
before engaging a suitable design-builder, there will be many prescriptive requirements rather than performance requirements
(Slaughter 1998). The contractor’s lack of control over the design
prevents the production of alternative design solutions. With a detailed design from the owner, the contractor’s goal shifts from satisfying the needs of the owner to constructing the project according
to the owner’s design criteria, because the owner is responsible for
the correctness and quality of the provided design information.
Therefore, the contractor may have limited and superficial influence on the final design (Beard et al. 2001). In addition, if more
design is provided by the owner, the owner is inclined to place
a high weight on price when selecting a contractor. As a result,
contractors might opt not to use innovative but expensive materials,
equipment, or technical methods in order to win the bid.
As the only entity responsible for the design and construction in
a DB project, the contractor must accept and respond to the owner’s
quality objectives in order to avoid performance failure. Contractors are motivated to input their construction knowledge in the
design process and effectively apply value engineering and constructability reviews (Chan and Yu 2005). The integration of tasks
and human resources in the design process fosters value creation
(Demirkesen and Ozorhon 2017). In line with the self-efficacy
theory proposed by Albert Bandura, consciousness of self-efficacy
is largely affected by the evaluation of surrounding people, especially important people (Robbins 2009). With a lower level of
owner-provided design, the contractor is treated more as a professional by the owner. Dong et al. (2015) recently showed that employee empowerment is positively related to employee creativity.
With a lower level of owner-provided design, the contractor can
provide more positive and innovative design solutions for the
owner, improving efficiency and accountability. It is hypothesized
(Hypothesis 1) that the level of owner-provided design is negatively
related to design innovation on the part of the contractor in DB
Level of Owner-Provided Design and Design Change
In traditional procurement methods, the designer and contractor are
separate entities that have incongruent goals, because the processes
of design and construction are split. According to the concept of
bounded rationality, designers cannot foresee all future conditions
and seldom consider the effectiveness and efficiency of the construction phase, which is beyond their responsibility. This possibly
results in more omissions and errors or infeasible solutions in the
designer’s documents (Anumba and Evbuomwan 1997). However,
it is the owner as the middleman between the designer and contactor that ensures that the drawings and specifications submitted by
the designer are complete and free of errors (Beard et al. 2001). All
errors and omissions will lead to design changes in the construction
phase. As the level of owner-provided design decreases, change
orders due to errors and omissions are eliminated, because correcting these are the responsibility of the design-builder. Additionally, contractors have experience in site work and can input their
own construction knowledge into the design. Therefore, overall
unsuitable practices are also reduced. Shrestha and Fernane (2016)
recently showed that the number of construction change orders
were significantly lower in DB projects than in DBB projects.
Construction is a multistage process that involves many participants, such as the owner, the contractor, suppliers, consultants, and
others. When contractor receives the design from the owner, the receiving entity is a customer (Al-Momani 2000). Every party can be
considered as a customer, and there are transactions in the middle of
the process. If we treat the delivery of the owner’s design to the contractor as a transaction, then design change can be regarded as a
transaction cost. The design process of construction projects is usually characterized by uncertainty and specificity. According to the
logic of transaction cost economics (TCE), high uncertainty and
specificity will internalize the transaction to reduce the transaction
costs (Williamson and Mueller 1986). Therefore, a more integrated
design process will result in fewer design changes. It is hypothesized
(Hypothesis 2) that the level of owner-provided design is positively
related to design change in DB projects.
Level of Owner-Provided Design and Design Dispute
Design liability should be considered in the process of determining
the proper extent of design information to be provided. The two
distinct levels of design liability are “reasonable skill and care”
and “fitness for purpose” (Gaafar and Perry 1999). In DB projects,
with lower levels of owner design, the liability of the contractor is
judged more by the final outcome of the delivered facility. It is the
contractor’s responsibility to ensure that the facility is fit for purpose. The lack of a legal definition of fitness for purpose increases
the ambiguity of design liability allocation and the likelihood of
disagreements between the owner and the contractor, which may
increase disputes after construction. It is hypothesized (Hypothesis 3)
that the level of owner-provided design is negatively related to
design disputes in DB projects.
Moderating the Effect of the Contractor’s Competence
Contractor selection is a critical decision for project owners because the final facility is built by contractors (Migliaccio et al.
2009). The performance of the project is largely affected by the
contractor’s competence, especially for DB projects, in which
the contractor provides almost all of the construction service. The
two-phase best-value selection process is often used in DB projects
(Migliaccio et al. 2009; Ramsey et al. 2016; Xia et al. 2012).
If the owner provides a large amount of design information, design innovation may be discouraged, because the contractor has no
room to apply his experience to the design. All the contractor has to
do is to comply with the design in the RFP. The contractor’s competence in finalizing such a design may not make much difference.
However, if the owner provides less design information, contractors
can propose alternative design solutions. In such circumstances, a
contractor with a high degree of competence may perform better
than another with a low degree of competence. Thus, when the contractor has a high degree of competence, it is obvious that the level
of design innovation will decrease as the level of owner-provided
design rises. It is hypothesized (Hypothesis 4) that a higher degree
of contractor competence will strengthen the negative influence of
the level of owner-provided design on design innovation.
Under a low degree of contractor competence, a contractor’s
final design may fail to satisfy the owner’s needs because of the
contractor’s limited ability and experience. Design change in a DB
project may not be reduced when an owner provides comparatively
little design information. A high degree of contractor competence
with less owner-provided design information may result in more integration and reduce design change. It is hypothesized (Hypothesis
5) that a higher degree of contractor competence will strengthen the
positive influence of the level of owner-provided design on design
The proposed hypotheses are summarized in Fig. 1.
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survey. In the CFA model, an unmeasured latent method factor
was connected to all items with multiple-item variables to calculate
the model goodness-of-fit indices. The results showed chi-square
χ2 =df ¼ 9.589 > 5; comparative fit index ðCFIÞ ¼ 0.553 < 0.9;
and root mean square error of approximation ðRMSEAÞ ¼ 0.188 >
0.08, indicating that the model did not fit the data well. There was not
a single factor that could explain most of the variance and was not a
serious disturbance of CMV in this research.
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Fig. 1. Theoretical model.
Sample and Data Collection
This research used a questionnaire (survey) method. First, questionnaires were distributed to professionals and practitioners working
in large contracting enterprises and to project management companies involved in several training programs on project management
at the university. During training programs on project management
at the university, participants were invited to fill out the electronic
questionnaire on site. Second, electronic questionnaires were sent
to construction professionals in DB projects through contact information provided by part-time lecturers on construction industry
practice engaged by the university. The survey lasted two months
and an estimated total of 1,000 electronic questionnaires were distributed through the aforementioned two methods. A total of 294
electronic questionnaires were collected. After deleting responses
with missing data, outliers, and unmatched data, 243 valid responses were obtained, resulting in a total valid response rate of
24.3%. Demographic information of the sample is presented in
Table 1.
Concerning potential common-method variance (CMV) in the
survey methodology, the questionnaire contained a statement that
all the responses would be confidential and used only for academic
research purposes (Podsakoff et al. 2003). An exploratory factor
analysis (EFA) was performed on all items with multiple-item
variables to assess the CMV in this survey. The results of the EFA
showed that there were four factors whose eigenvalues were above 1;
these factors explain 66.91% of the total variance. A confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA) was also performed on all items with
multiple-item variables in the same data to assess the CMV in the
Table 1. Demographic information
Work experience
Project party
≤5 years
5–10 years
>10 years
Senior leader
Project manager
Contract administrator
DB contractor
To find appropriate questionnaire items to measure the constructs
included in the empirical model, the scales of all constructs were
based on the views and measurements of previous research and
were modified according to the needs of this research. The questionnaire was carried out in Chinese. Ten Chinese-speaking professionals in related fields were interviewed to make sure the validity.
Some of the wording in the questionnaire was revised according to
their advice in order to reduce the deviation derived from language.
A seven-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7
(strongly agree) was applied to scaled items to evaluate the extent
of respondents’ agreement. Table 2 presents the measurement
Design Innovation
Design innovation begins with problem recognition and the generation of ideas or solutions, either novel or adopted. Based on the
scale used by Scott and Bruce (1994) and Zhou and George (2001),
a seven-item scale was developed for the present study that incorporated the constructability practice measurement proposed by
Trigunarsyah (2004).
Design Change
Design change is a variable that is more objective than subjective.
The authors developed only one item to measure it. The item was:
“Design change frequency is high in this construction project.”
Design Dispute
Conflict emerges when there is a difference between two views,
ideas, or interests (Conlin et al. 1996). A dispute occurs when a
conflict becomes an explicit situation. One party makes a claim or
assertion that is rejected by another party, and this rejection is not
accepted by the former party (Kumaraswamy 1998). Dispute is the
manifestation of conflict and can be measured by its frequency and
severity. Based on Aibinu et al. (2008), design dispute was measured on a three-item scale with appropriate modifications.
Independent Variable
The level of owner-provided design can be measured by the amount
of design carried out by the owner before the contractor’s involvement. Most studies have used a percentage to quantify the amount
of design provided by the owner. According to the formatted content of a RFP, owner-provided design was measured through three
kinds of owner-provided design requirements conveyed in terms of
program and performance (the description of the project’s function), plans and specifications, and layout and drawings (Beard
et al. 2001).
Moderating Variable
To select the proper contractor to perform a DB project, an owner
will be inclined to conduct a prequalification to access potential
contractors (Wardani et al. 2006). In the prequalification, the contractor’s competence is evaluated by reputation, past performance,
contractor resources, and other specific criteria (Plebankiewicz
2010). In this research, contractor competence was measured by
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Table 2. Validity and reliability assessment of measures
Design innovation: α ¼ 0.903; AVE ¼ 0.574; CR ¼ 0.904
Contractor used proper techniques, equipment, and materials in the final design
Contractor used new techniques, equipment, and materials that can satisfy the owner in the final design
Contractor considered the convenience of scheduling people, materials, and machines
Contractor considered major construction methods (utilized optional preassembly) for complicated
structures in the final design
Contractor’s experience was input into the final design
Contractor’s final design makes construction easy and convenient
Contractor proposed a new design solution
Design dispute: α ¼ 0.793; AVE ¼ 0.580; CR ¼ 0.802
Frequency of disagreements related to understanding the requirements is high
Frequency of disagreements related to the contractor’s design and construction is high
Extent to which disagreements cause negative effects is high
Contractor’s competence: α ¼ 0.766; AVE ¼ 0.541; CR ¼ 0.774
Contractor’s design and technique competence are high
Contractor’s financial competence is high
Contractor’s management competence is high
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Construct and measuring Items
Level of owner-provided design: α ¼ 0.897; AVE ¼ 0.747; CR ¼ 0.900
The functional description of the project in the RFP is detailed and exhaustive
The plans and specifications in the RFP are detailed and prescriptive
There are detailed drawings and a site layout in the RFP
Note: α = Cronbach’s alpha; AVE = average variance extracted; and CR = composite reliability.
three dimensions based on design and technique, finance, and
Control Variables
To remove the influence of other variables on design innovation,
design change, and design dispute, project type and RFP clarity
were selected as control variables. Different project types have
unique features and properties. Thus, design quality is different
among different types of projects. Project types are also significantly related to the level of owner-provided design (Xia et al.
2012). A clearer RFP results in better design quality. If the owner
is very clear about the project’s goals, scope, and expected outcome, then the DB system will work to the owner’s benefit. It can
be very harmful if incorrect information is provided by the owner to
the contractor at the outset of the design build process (Mogaibel
1999). Each control variable was measured by one item. Project
types were classified as residential/commercial, industrial and
processing, infrastructure, municipal engineering, and other.
Table 3. Descriptive statistics and Pearson’s correlation matrix
Standard deviation
−0.113 0.757
−0.007 −0.209 0.762
0.090 0.553 −0.162
Note: Bold values are square roots of AVE.
the correlation coefficients of the same row and column, which demonstrate adequate discriminant validity of the scales.
Cronbach’s alpha value of all the multiple-item scales was then
calculated using statistical product and service solutions (SPSS)
23.0 to assess the internal consistency and reliability of the measurements. As Table 2 shows, the Cronbach’s alpha values of all
constructs reached the basic threshold for reliability (0.7), indicating that all the multiple-item constructs used in the measurements
had high internal consistency and reliability (Robinson et al. 2013).
Construct Validity and Reliability
Amos 24.0 was used to perform a confirmatory factor analysis at the
first-order level to test construct validity. The model showed chisquare χ2 =df ¼ 2.269 < 3; CFI ¼ 0.938 > 0.9; and RMSEA ¼
0.072 < 0.08. The goodness-of-fit indices of the structural equation
model (SEM) in this research showed a sufficient and satisfactory fit
to the collected data. In the SEM, standard factor loading (SFL), construct reliability (CR) and average variance extracted (AVE) are regularly used to assess the convergent validity (Bagozzi and Yi 1988).
As shown in Table 2, the results of the CFA showed that all the SFL
values were above 0.5, the AVE values of all constructs were above
0.5 (Fornell and Larcker 1981), and the CR values of all constructs
were above 0.6, indicating a good convergent validity of the scales.
To test the discriminant validity, the square root of AVE was compared with the offdiagonal correlation coefficients. As Table 3 shows,
the square root value of the AVE for each construct was higher than
Analysis and Results
Hierarchical regression analysis was conducted to analyze the collected data. Because design quality comprise three dimensions—
design innovation, design change, and design dispute—three
models (Models 1, 2, and 3) were developed, respectively, to verify
the effect that the level of owner-provided design has on each of
these three dimensions. The results of the hierarchical regression
analysis are shown in Table 4.
Models 1a, 2a, and 3a examined the effects of control variables,
and indicated that RFP clarity is positively related to design innovation on the part of the DB contractor and negatively related to design
change and that project type is related to design dispute. Model 1b
showed that the level of owner-provided design (β ¼ −0.156,
p < 0.05) is negatively related to design innovation of the DB contractor, which supports Hypothesis 1. Model 2b showed that the level
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Table 4. Results of hierarchical regression analysis
Design innovation
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Control variable
Project type
RFP clarity
Independent variable
Level of ODL
Contractor’s competence
Design change
Design dispute
Model 1a (β) Model 1b (β) Model 1c (β) Model 2a (β) Model 2b (β) Model 2c (β) Model 3a (β) Model 3b (β)
p < 0.10.
p < 0.01.
p < 0.05.
Fig. 2. Graphical representation of contractor’s competence.
of owner-provided design (β ¼ 0.158, p < 0.05) is positively related
to design change, which supports Hypothesis 2. However, Model 3b
showed that the coefficient between the level of owner-provided
design and design dispute is not significant, which fails to support
Hypothesis 3. Model 1c showed that the interaction between the
level of owner-provided design (ODL) and contractor’s competence
(ODL × CC, β ¼ −0.789, p < 0.05) is significant, which supports
Hypothesis 4. The effect of the contractor’s competence as a moderating variable is shown in Fig. 2. As Model 2c showed, the moderating effect of the contractor’s competence on the effect that the
level of owner-provided design has on design change is not significant. Hypothesis 5 is not supported.
The results of the hierarchical regression analysis support Hypotheses 1, 2, and 4, but Hypotheses 3 and 5 are not supported. Previous
studies have indicated that DB projects can generate more innovative designs than DBB projects and that design-build promotes
constructability and innovation in the same manner as a value engineering plan if used correctly (Levy 2006; Songer and Molenaar
1996). Furthermore, in this study DB was considered as a spectrum
of possible arrangements rather than a single model; as such, it can
involve different levels of owner-provided design. High levels of
design input/prescriptive specifications in DB projects cause less
extensive design innovation to increase design innovation in DB
projects, owner-provided design input and specifications should
be decreased (Park et al. 2009). The findings empirically reinforce
the fact that less owner-provided design information can promote
more design innovation on the part of the contractor. This results
from the early involvement and single-point responsibility of the
contractor for both design and construction (Korkmaz et al. 2010).
DB by definition creates a contractual environment in which the
builder is directly involved with the design (Gransberg and Windel
2008); the contractor is motivated to emphasize quality throughout
the design and construction process and to provide constructability
input, which is consistent with self-efficacy theory.
In addition, the results show that the level of owner-provided
design is positively related to design change in construction process. With less owner-provided design information, the owner has
reduced administrative tasks and faces fewer risks (Park and Kwak
2017; Songer and Molenaar 1996). As a result, design changes in
the construction process are reduced (Shrestha and Fernane 2016).
In DBB projects, the owner is the arbiter between the designer and
the constructor (Beard et al. 2001), so any disagreements between
the designer and constructor must be resolved through the owner by
change orders. The fragmentation of design and construction processes increases the likelihood of change orders in conventional
project procurement methods (Hsieh et al. 2004). The owner is the
most influential factor related to the occurrence of design changes
(Yana et al. 2015); an owner’s appropriate and effective design
management avoid the necessity for design changes. Omissions
and errors in design documents are reduced with less owner-provided
design information, because they are solely the responsibility of the
design-builder, not the owner (Songer and Molenaar 1996). A study
done by Yates and Battersby (2003) concluded that early construction contractor involvement in design development could minimize
preventable errors as well as produce a constructable final design.
The results of this study show that a higher degree of clarity in RFPs
can reduce design changes. Clear statements promote mutual understanding and lead to fewer design changes.
Contrary to the original hypothesis, the empirical results failed
to support the posited relationship between design dispute and the
level of owner-provided design. This research started with the
assumption that design dispute is more frequent when there is less
owner-provided design information because of ambiguity in design
liability. However, owners and contractors in DB projects communicate more than they do in DBB projects (Xia and Chan 2008).
The contractor’s design development and construction documents
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J. Constr. Eng. Manage.
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must be reviewed and approved by the owner in order to conform to
contract requirements in DB projects. The owner’s comments and
instructions, if any, from reviews of design development documents
can be reflected in the DB contractor’s final design. It is not common
for a contractor to fail to meet the fitness for purpose criterion because of the close communication with the owner (Anumba and
Evbuomwan 1997). Meanwhile, passing the buck for design errors,
omissions, or delays, which may result in design disputes, tend to
disappear (Beard et al. 2001). Because of the owner’s responsibility
for the construction documents, project owners in cases with more
owner-provided design apply contractual governance to ensure their
own interests, and design dispute is more frequent (Beard et al. 2001;
Lumineau and Henderson 2012). Considering the two opposite explanations, the relationship between design dispute and the level of
the owner-provided design is not clear.
A contractor’s competence can strengthen the negative relationship between design innovation and the level of owner-provided
design. When more design information is provided by the owner,
all the contractor needs to do is build the facility according to the
owner’s design plans and specifications. These contractors cannot
fully take advantage of their experience in the design development
phase. As the contractor gains more control over the design, the
contractor’s competence strengthens design innovation. The moderating effect of the contractor’s competence on the relationship
between design change and the level of owner-provided design
is not supported by the empirical results. Design change is the owner’s behavior to change the content of documents offered by the
owner (Wu et al. 2005). The design development documents are
not the owner’s responsibility, and there is no need for the owner
to make changes. Therefore, the moderating variable did not have
an effect.
The operational variations of the DB delivery system have been
classified into three types (direct design-build, the design criteria
method, and preliminary engineering) in previous research (Beard
et al. 2001; Xia and Chan 2008); this provided a suggestive framework. DB in this study was regarded on a continuous spectrum that
was closer to reality in order to reach a deeper understanding.
Appropriate Level of Owner-Provided Design for
Design-Build Procurements
The empirical results of this study show that lower levels of ownerprovided design could lead to higher design quality, that is, greater
design innovation and fewer design changes. The original hypothesis that design dispute is negatively related to the level of ownerprovided design is not confirmed. These conclusions are consistent
with the findings of the Federal Highway Administration’s DesignBuild Effectiveness Study (Federal Highway Administration 2006),
which stated that project quality was higher for lower levels of preliminary design completed before the design-build contract award.
The higher design quality can be attributed to a contractor’s ability
to influence the project design earlier in the process.
Less detailed criteria result in more innovation and fewer design
changes. Owners should avoid completing as much design as possible on their own in order to reap the true benefits of DB (Chan
et al. 2001). The use of performance specifications not detailed by
standards and prescriptive specifications is increasing as a way to
articulate project quality requirements and to promote greater innovation on the part of contractors. When the DB approach is suitable, owners should provide less design information on the basis
that the requirements of the owner are clear.
Contractor is Important: Pay Attention to the Selection
of the DB Contractor
When the owner provides less design information, the final design
is more innovative with a competent contractor. This study reinforces the conclusions of related literature that contractor characteristics play an important role in the success of DB projects (Ling
2004). The outcome of the final facility has much to do with contractor characteristics (Hatush and Skitmore 1997; Ling 2004).
Experienced DB contractors work better with less owner-provided
design information (Molenaar and Songer 1998). In DBB projects,
low bids are always used in the evaluation process. While costs
remain the primary factor for awarding contracts, in DB other factors should be included in the selection of a proper contractor.
It is sensible for owners of DB projects to apply the best-value
approach in selecting contractors rather than focusing only on
price. For DB project contractors, it is necessary to improve competence in order to be able to complete integrated design and construction work. Emphasizing the importance of the contractor’s
characteristics can raise the bar for expertise and experience among
contractors in the DB approach and increase their comfort in applying DB approach.
Clearly Articulating Owner Requirements
This paper did not find a relationship between the level of ownerprovided design and design disputes. The findings from the empirical analysis suggest that design changes and disputes are largely
reduced with a high degree of clarity in RFPs. High-quality RFPs
ensure that the scope of the work is rigid and clear. The disputes
encountered in DB projects are mostly concerned with deviations
from the owner’s requirements in the RFP, conflicts derived from
differences between the RFP and the contractor’s proposal, and abortive work, among others. The clarity of the RFP is an important prerequisite for project success. This research highly recommends that
owners of DB projects possess enough knowledge and experience to
produce an RFP that is comprehensive and understandable. Owners
that do not have this capacity could have a consultant assist in preparing their RFPs.
The extent to which DB works to the owner’s benefit depends on
the clarity and conciseness of the RFP. It can be very harmful for
project outcomes if the information provided by the owner to the
contractor at the outset of the design-build process is incorrect. The
contractor is inclined to undertake opportunistic behavior.
Limitations and Further Research
First, in this paper the level of owner-provided design was measured empirically, not involving specific content analysis of ownerprovided design documents. This is a limitation of the quantitative
methods this research used. Further research could examine the
level of owner-provided design based on case studies in order to
give greater insight. Second, this research divided design quality
into three dimensions, taking into account the previous literature.
Further research could apply different classification methods in
order to provide evidence to reverify the conclusions of this study.
Also, because the hypothesis regarding the level of owner-provided
design and design dispute was not supported, this paper excluded
the hypothesis that the competence of the DB contractor has moderating effect on their relationship. Further research could explore
the effect of the contractor’s competence on DB design quality
based on other sets of data or using another research method. Third,
this study only examined the effect that the level of owner-provided
design has on design quality. Further studies are suggested in order
J. Constr. Eng. Manage., 2019, 145(1): 04018121
J. Constr. Eng. Manage.
to explore suitable decision-making mechanisms for appropriate
levels of owner-provided design in DB practice.
Data Availability Statements
Data generated or analyzed during the study are available from the
corresponding author by request. Information about the Journal’s
data-sharing policy can be found here: http://ascelibrary.org/doi/10
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This research was financially supported by the National Natural
Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 71572124 and
71231006). The authors would like to thank the interviewees
and respondents who participated in the survey.
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