There are a lot of lessons to be learned from projects that go smoothly and according to plan and budget. But what about those projects that don’t go so well? The lessons gleaned from budget mishaps, contract issues, and first-time design-build experiences can be just as valuable. While not easily covered in 700 words or less, let’s look at a few of the reasons we have seen DB projects go wrong.
“Can we fix it? Yes, we can!”
If you raised a child in the early 2000s you may be hearing the enthusiastic proclamation from the popular animated children’s series Bob the Builder echoing in your ears at this very moment. The series featured Bob, the resident builder, his partners, and a fleet of talking yellow iron. Bob the Builder was my daughter’s favorite show – her favorite character was Scoop, a backhoe loader, or an “I-Dig-Dirt,” as she called it. As a descendant of a proud line of craft laborers including legacy carpenters, crane operators, and yes, even a large backhoe operator, I entertained the thought that maybe, just maybe, my daughter might land in the construction industry, spurred by her admiration of the determined and optimistic Bob and his talking fleet of yellow iron.
For owners considering collaborative delivery approaches for water and wastewater projects, such as progressive design-build (PDB) or construction management at-risk (CMAR), one of the biggest impediments to acceptance is the perception that the final cost of the project would be larger than a traditional design-bid-build and cannot be controlled. Based on our research, there are two primary reasons this stumbling block exists. One relates to the owner’s belief that their initial cost estimates are correct and that the project can be designed and constructed within their budget. A second, and perhaps more important issue, is that many owners still do not understand how the collaborative process evolves and how to reach a final acceptable price on the project, primarily because they are only familiar with the design-bid-build pricing process that uses the low-bid approach.
The questions most often raised by utilities or agencies who want to pursue design-build delivery for their pending project range from “What are the decisions I need to make in the procurement process?” to “How do I prepare my organization to make the right decisions about the best collaborative delivery approach for my project?” Answers to these questions, which were addressed recently in an education session with a large metropolitan utility, also provide the opportunity for us to share the results of WDBC’s 2017 research on what public officials say they have learned from pursuing a design-build project.
The water design-build industry defines collaborative delivery methods as approaches to procuring and delivering a capital project that involve close collaboration among the owner, the designer, and the contractor—from design through completion. These include construction management at-risk(CMAR), both fixed-price and progressive design-build, design-build-operate (DBO), and public-private partnerships (P3).
The visible power of collaboration in a design-build delivery is never more evident than in the final phase of the project -- the startup and commissioning. Raise your hand if you can share a story about a startup that went wrong in a design-bid-build (DBB) contract—I bet most of you have your hands up!
In April 2016, the design-build team of Foley Company and Black & Veatch was awarded the Blue River WWTP Odor Control Phase 1 design-build contract for Kansas City, MO, Water Services Department. The proposal submitted contained two parts: 1) technical proposal and 2) lump sum fixed price with a 20-year life cycle cost analysis. The criteria for selecting the design-build team was a point system developed to evaluate the team’s technical background, experience, project approach, lump sum fixed-price construction and engineering work, and the life cycle operation and maintenance cost analysis.
There are varying definitions of a public-private partnership (P3) in the North American water sector, and each definition can impact the design-build contractor and their commercial relationships.
Last week I reviewed a presentation featuring design-build concepts and methodology. Actually, I had to read it twice, because most of the terms in the document are no longer being used – and I was stymied as to how to approach the author with constructive feedback. While startling coming from a government official, it is not an unfamiliar situation. I hear similar outdated language and address questions about the terms used for design-build delivery methods at WDBC’s education sessions all the time.
Findings in the research study of "Lessons Learned from Owners Using Design-Build Project Delivery" emphasizes that the key to successful design-build projects is an active and continuous collaboration between an owner and the selected project team.