Water Design-Build Council Blog

What is Construction Management At-Risk?

Posted by John Awezec, HDR Integrated Delivery Director, WDBC Board Member on Wed, Jun 08, 2016 @ 04:46 PM

what-is-construction-management-at-risk.jpgThroughout the North America’s design-build industry, there are a number of project delivery models that are successfully used for the design, construction and operation of water and water reclamation facilities. 

These models include design-bid-build (DBB), progressive and fixed-price design-build (DB), construction management-at-risk (CMAR) design-build-operate (DBO), design-build finance-operate (DBFO) and design-build-own-operate-transfer (DBOOT), and design/construction management at-risk (D/CMAR),  In this context, use of the D/CMAR term specifically notes the designer link to the CMAR in the same way the designer is linked to the builder in Design-Build.

While the work performed in each of these collaborative delivery models involves various combinations of design, construction, operation and finance, a key principle is that owner control and risk can be transferred based on the delivery model.

Owners that are very comfortable with the DBB delivery method and reluctant to use the collaborative delivery methods, express multiple reasons for this hesitancy. These reasons include a lack of prior experience, uncertainty as to how to implement a collaborative delivery project; with the specific concern cited that they may not be able to exercise as much control over the design and construction phases as they are accustomed to with DBB delivery. Assuredly, these are valid concerns for any owner’s whose mission is to cost effectively implement capital projects for their customers.

However, a project delivery method for owner’s consideration in venturing into collaborative delivery with attention given to the desire to maintain high levels of control over both design and construction process. This method is the Design/Construction Management-at-Risk (D/CMAR) delivery method which specifically integrates the designer’s work to the CMAR in the same way the designer is linked to the builder in Design-Build. While CMAR is also referred to as CM/GC (Construction Manager/General Contractor) or GC/CM in certain regions of the United States, the D/CMAR delivery model emphasizes the owners direct contract with a design engineering firm to perform the design.  The owner then also contracts separately with a CMAR who serves as the owner’s construction manager during the design phase, providing constructability reviews, value analysis, cost estimating and scope management.  At the conclusion of the design phase, the CMAR then performs the role of general contractor for construction.

While this contract model allows the owner to maintain a high level of control, it also provides owner’s added flexibility to manage projects that are more complex than their previous DBB projects. Complex projects often have uncertain scopes and construction costs, and require early and ongoing input from stakeholders to arrive at a definitive set of project goals. These complex projects benefit from early builder input in the form of construction costing, resolution of constructability issues, schedule management, risk identification and mitigation during design development.

In this delivery model, there are separate and distinct contract lines between the design professional, CMAR and the owner. However, the usual communication lines between the owner and their engineer and contractor in the DBB model are expanded greatly in the D/CMAR model to include direct communication between the engineer and contractor.  It is this critical communication link that represents a major benefit of the model, integration of the engineering and construction expertise with the owner during the design phase and through construction completion.

In Leofwin Clark’s previous blog, he closed by offering that the progressive iteration of scope and cost development utilized in the progressive design-build delivery model works well for the D/CMAR delivery model.  Leofwin is spot on with this assessment, as almost every D/CMAR project is formulated so that the preconstruction phase is executed in an iterative manner, providing checkpoints to ensure the design scope and construction cost remains aligned.

In addition, the new edition of the Design-Build Handbook for Water and Wastewater Projects further describes the integrated and collaborative role of the owner and CMAR firm in the design process, complete with examples of roles and responsibilities. WDBC is also issuing a new CMAR Procurement Guide to support owners in their preparation to use this collaborative delivery model.


Topics: CMAR