Preparing for the Project
Regardless of which project delivery method an owner is contemplating, it is always useful to assess an organization’s readiness for a project and the internal resources available to commit to it. In addition to identifying an owner’s roles and responsibilities, an organizational assessment should identify an internal leadership team that will champion the project and chosen delivery approach. For organizations with schedule-critical projects and scarce internal resources, progressive design-build can be a strong choice.
Most of the significant benefits of progressive design-build project delivery originate in the foundational work completed in the preconstruction phase of a project. To understand these benefits, let’s first consider how traditional design-build procurement works.
It typically begins with an owner hiring a consultant to assist in defining the project, developing bridging documents and assisting with the procurement of the design-build team. The drawback to this approach is that it excludes the design-builder from early project development. Opportunities to add value and streamline the schedule, for example, could be missed.
With progressive design-build, preconstruction begins with the owner identifying project goals and objectives, desired outcomes or output specifications and other critical attributes of the project’s structure and organization. At this very early stage, the owner also selects its design-build partner.
Before initiating the selection process, however, the owner should first contemplate and define the key attributes to be sought in a partner. Owners should look for previous design-build, regulatory and permitting experience, as well as an ability to create a collaborative and inclusive working environment. The owner’s own prior experience with a potential partner, including the dynamics of their previous interactions, can also be an important consideration. Owners need a team they can trust and with whom they feel comfortable collaborating.
Design-Build Partner Selection
As with traditional design-build, the selected partner in progressive design-build is generally the one that delivers the highest value, as measured by its qualifications and/or a combination of qualifications, cost and noncost factors. Noncost factors include the aforementioned key attributes, along with the design-builder’s past success with similar projects, financial stability, claims and litigation history, and demonstrated ability to meet schedule and budget constraints.
With progressive design-build, a guaranteed price for the entire project has not yet been developed, so it is not considered at this stage of the evaluation. Rather, if an owner chooses to include cost in the selection criteria, it is generally limited to the design-builder’s cost for delivering preconstruction phase services.
Phase 1: Preliminary Design and Preconstruction Services
Once a design-build partner is selected, the collaborative and creative processes that will further define the project can begin. Working as an integrated team, the owner’s management, engineering and operations staff join the design-build partner in considering technical approaches, treatment processes, process equipment, permitting, constructability, construction means and methods, and preliminary design, all of which factor into the development of the project’s guaranteed cost.
To maintain a competitive cost environment, the design-build team will solicit competitive pricing for major subcontracts and equipment packages. In a transparent, collaborative and open book process, the design-builder and owner evaluate market pricing and make selections using an approach that identifies the greatest value.
In this phase, the owner and design-builder also develop the project’s risk profile, identify risk mitigation and management strategies, and allocate project risk to the party most equipped to manage and control it. Cost efficiencies result when the team shares a clear understanding of project risks and employs risk management strategies to reduce contingency and overall costs.
The Phase 1 Endgame
By the completion of Phase 1, the team not only will have preliminary designs but also have a clear understanding of what is to be constructed, boundary conditions for schedule and budget, and clear expectations for startup, commissioning and warranty management.
Phase 1 culminates with the design-builder tendering a proposal for Phase 2 to complete the detailed design and construction developed by the team. This Phase 2 proposal generally consists of documents that memorialize the project development process and collaborative decisions made by the project team, including basis-of-design documents, preliminary designs, line-item specifications, a detailed construction schedule, proposed contract terms and a guaranteed price to deliver the project.
Unlike conventional design-build, a progressive approach leaves the owner in control by providing a project off-ramp. After the Phase 2 proposal is submitted, the owner can pause and thoroughly evaluate whether the proposal meets its goals and objectives at a competitive price. While rarely exercised, this mechanism allows owners to maintain control of the Phase 2 outcome and overall project direction, with a minimal investment. It also serves as a powerful motivator for the design-builder to perform in a way that meets owner expectations.
Phase 2: Detailed Design and Construction
In Phase 2, the collaborative process resumes. The design-build team moves on to detailed design and construction, acquires construction related permits, secures regulatory approvals, and develops early procurement packages for equipment and materials with long lead times. To accelerate the overall project schedule, the design, design reviews and approvals proceed ahead of construction.
Once construction is underway, collaboration between the owner and design-build team continues. This is particularly important when the design-build team is working in and around facilities that must maintain operations during construction. Careful coordination and constant communication with operations staff is essential, as is a culture of communication, collaboration and cooperation.
In most cases, Phase 2 continues even after construction is complete. As the single point of project accountability, the design-builder is responsible not only for design and construction but also for confirming the completed facility meets the owner’s output requirements. In practical terms, that means the design-builder is responsible for managing the startup, commissioning and performance testing of the competed project. To provide the owner’s staff with the tools needed for successful long-term operation and maintenance, many design-builders also offer training and operations assistance following project completion.