Quite a buzz in the water design-build industry erupted last week from an ENR opinion page report published on January 26 regarding findings from a team of university researchers in China and Australia. Their report, entitled Time and Cost Performance of Design-Build Projects, stated that over half of design-build projects analyzed ran over budget.
After reading it a few times, I found the statements analogous to a "Trump twitter blast," in that there is a lot of hype around what is an attention-grabbing headline, but factual data is still missing in which to state a valid claim. DBIA Executive Director Lisa Washington was absolutely on target to challenge the validity of the researchers reported data and the missing information needed to give the full story.
In addition to not analyzing data regarding intentional modifications to scope and budget, studies like this can misconstrue the actual benefits of design-build delivery for specifc industry projects. They accomplish this because they regularly lump the whole spectrum of design-build projects from roads, bridges, buildings, airports and the water infrastructure into a common bucket of data – and paint this diverse cross-section of variable project types with the same brush!
Now is the time to speak out on the process in which the conclusions drawn in such reports are reached. Moreover, it must be emphasized that design-build projects are industry-specific, as are their results – so there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to reporting on them.
Designing and building a water or wastewater treatment plant to produce a quality product is not the same process as building a road, bridge or building. There are vastly different regulations and compliance requirements within each of the industry specific design-build delivery processes.
The Water Design-Build Council has research data that tells a very different story than that of the China and Australia report. The Council's research data is derived directly from owner experiences over the years in using collaborative delivery methods such as progressive and fixed-price as well as construction management-at-risk.
In fact, owners cite as advantages the ability to maintain their budgets, as well as achieve innovation, quality and schedule control, as their primary reasons for using collaborative delivery.
The water design-build industry has made dramatic gains in the acceptance and use of collaborative delivery models in the past decade, to the point that design-bid-build is now the "alternative delivery method." This use would certainly have not materialized if the data reported by this foreign team had any validity.