Water Design-Build Council Blog

Giving Collaborative Delivery Advice to First-Time Water/Wastewater Owners

advice-knowledge-design-build-water-wastewaterOwners considering collaborative delivery frequently reach out to experienced owners and practitioners to gain information about best practices.

This sharing of knowledge contributes to an increased probability of success and helps get a project started on the right track. While questions and input are wide and varied, I always start with the basics of collaborative delivery and what is most important for a successful project based on my experience.


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One of the first factors owners should consider with an open mind is which delivery method is best suited for their specific project. Every project starts with the establishment of objectives – what the project must achieve – and those objectives feed into determining the best delivery method. So, the owner should really begin with the end in mind and decide from there which delivery method will best meet all project objectives.

Thoroughly understanding the pros and cons of the various delivery methods will help guide this process. The options include construction management at-risk (CMAR), design-build (DB), design-build-operate (DBO), progressive design-build (PDB) and public-private partnerships (P3). Seeking out information from other owners who have used these methods is encouraged. Collaborative delivery practitioners can also offer solid advice based on experience with similar projects.

Understanding the local market conditions is also important. Are there enough qualified and interested delivery teams with adequate available capacity?

Getting the word out about the project helps attract high-performing teams. Involving the industry early and often as project planning proceeds can lead to “free” advice about what may or may not work in terms of scope, risk sharing, schedule, and cost.

Keep in mind that state and local enabling procurement regulations, ordinances, and laws often govern project delivery. Not all states or local jurisdictions allow complete license to choose any project delivery method. Selecting collaborative delivery may require special considerations or legislation.

Engaging internal and external project stakeholders early in the process is crucial when considering delivery methods. It is particularly important to form an alliance with the procurement and legal staff. These groups may have long-standing delivery preferences so securing their support early can make or break implementation of a collaborative delivery method.

The next word of advice is to carefully select project team members. As Jim C. Collins writes in his book Good to Great, it is vitally important to project success to get the right people on the bus and in the right seat. Every successful collaborative delivery project has a passionate owner “champion” behind it. Identify this person early and support his or her endeavors to reach the end zone.

Just as important is ensuring project team members are thoroughly educated about the selected collaborative delivery method. The Water Design-Build Council and the Design-Build Institute of America both offer excellent training programs and educational opportunities. Collaborative delivery project success hinges largely on having a team in place that is willing to set aside the thinking associated with a traditional project delivery method and embrace the true meaning of collaborative delivery.

Once the owners and their project team thoroughly understand collaborative delivery options and the importance of having the right team, we can talk about risk. Some owners view project risk as being purely the responsibility of the collaborative delivery team. This can generally be true, but is not a best practice for very good reasons. Transferring risk comes with a cost. The responsibility for certain risks should be assigned to the party that is best able to manage and mitigate that risk.

For example, the owner may require the collaborative delivery team to take full responsibility for subsurface conditions. The team may accept this risk but would likely include substantial contingency dollars in their cost proposal to cover unanticipated problems. Therefore, it may be better (and less costly) for the owner to carry subsurface conditions risk.

And finally, depending on your level of collaborative delivery familiarity, knowledge, experience, and sophistication, owners may want to consider retaining the services of an experienced collaborative delivery advisor. Firms that offer these services can help the owner develop a project acquisition strategy that covers delivery method selection, risk assessment and assignment, professionally administered procurement and competitive selection, contract negotiations, and project execution.

For those who have never been involved with a collaborative delivery project, it can be quite a shift from traditional design-bid-build project delivery. However, with the entire team educated and on the bus, the resulting benefits far outweigh the initial jitters.

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Topics: design-build, Collaborative Project Delivery