Robert MacPherson, PE


In nearly 20 years with Prime Engineering, I’ve consulted with dozens of municipal, county, and state leaders to meet their infrastructure needs. In the process, I have responded to hundreds of RFQs/RFPs/ RFwhatevers–necessary evils in public infrastructure, designed to protect both the taxpayer and the owner. They can be onerous to create and to fulfill. But they help to ensure fairness and accountability in the public contracting process.

In recent years, public-sector agencies–especially those dealing with the water and wastewater industries–have begun to embrace the Progressive Design/Build (PD/B) process, something I wholeheartedly endorse… with caveats.

I’ll explain. But first, a brief overview.

What Is Progressive Design/Build?
It’s not Design/Build (D/B) on steroids. But it is a D/B contract with welcome integration and flexibility. Progressive Design/Build combines the benefits of the D/B method–budget management, a faster project timeline, improved communication–with the budgeting discipline of a construction management at risk (CMAR) contract. As you’ll see below, a Progressive Design/Build process offers state and local governments important advantages, causing many to amend procurement laws and regulations to encourage it.

Why is Progressive D/B Advantageous to the Water/Wastewater Industry?
Water/wastewater projects tend to be more distinctive than other types of infrastructure projects. They’re complex and often difficult to replicate from project to project. From the outset, Progressive D/B maintains a single point of accountability for both engineering design and construction and promotes a collaborative environment. Rather than describing a complex project using only the information currently available, Progressive D/B outlines an integrated process that allows costs and project specifications to adjust to changing project information. By actively engaging both the owner and the contractor in solving a challenge, it increases transparency and responsibility in addressing unforeseen revelations.

How Do You Select a Vendor?
While vendor selection is typically tilted toward qualifications, cost naturally factors into selection. A Progressive D/B contract engages the entire D/B team at an early stage and relies upon them to help design solutions. Unlike traditional two-step processes, every stakeholder involved–from the owner to the designer to the contractor–is collaboratively engaged from the outset. Under this process, construction can begin long before designs are finalized, shortening the timeline for most projects.

This more fluid and flexible approach allows owners to fully exploit the creative design solutions to maximize their Return on Investment (ROI). It also allows for the construction process to begin even as designs are being finalized, allowing work to flow more quickly and seamlessly. Once the design phase has developed a clear scope of work (usually 35-65 percent of the way into the project), the D/B team can then supply a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) to deliver the project.

The benefit of this approach is that it more fairly divides the risk between the owner and the D/B team. If the two parties are unable to negotiate a GMP amenable to each, the owner can decide to stop the process and return to a traditional D/B contract without an appreciable slippage in the schedule.

Five Key Advantages
1. Progressive D/B shortens timelines for the procurement process. For complex projects like wastewater treatment, Progressive D/B allows the design process to inform the next phase in a concurrent fashion. It’s not necessary to have answers to every imaginable question before embarking on a complex project. Furthermore, you no longer need to schedule evaluation periods into the contract because evaluation is built in and ongoing.
2. It’s more adaptable to changes in delivery schedules. By allowing the D/B team to use real-time information, it can dramatically increase their flexibility in designing very specific solutions to sometimes unforeseen problems.
3. Progressive D/B improves opportunities for local subcontracting and LSBE participation. Since bottom-line cost and contractor risk no longer solely dictate who is selected, owners can make vendor selections based upon quality and capability, not just deep pockets and risk management.
4. It ensures competitive pricing during the construction procurement phase, empowering both owners and the contractors, who can create their own RFPs/RFQs for sub-elements of the project.
5. Most importantly, Progressive D/B provides the owner greater flexibility, more involvement, and more manageable control of complex and distinctive projects, by allowing challenges to surface before final pricing is completed.

We are assisting Fulton County on the procurement package associated with a major P/DB RFQ/RFP Wastewater Reclamation project. It is the perfect contract for this project, and County officials are extremely excited about the procurement process. I’m sure there will be challenges. It’s out in the field now and we look forward to assessing the results soon.

What’s the Downside?
Make no mistake: No procurement process is perfect, and Progressive D/B comes with some disadvantages. From a taxpayer perspective, the work may not always go to the contract with the lowest bid. Taxpayers are assured, however, that the contract goes to the lowest qualified bidder. Nevertheless, the cost for construction is unknown when the two parties sign an initial contract.

Additionally, not all agencies/owners have experience with this relatively new process, meaning that a certain amount of education and “learning curve” must occur on both sides.

Worth the Investment
But Progressive D/B has real advantages for the agency/owner and the contractor. It ensures that the owner has a single point of responsibility; has the potential to reduce change orders and shrink project schedule; and creates a more flexible and collaborative approach to important, complex projects.

It’s an option for agencies/owners and contractors to consider and (hopefully) embrace if you haven’t done so already.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to share your Progressive D/B experiences with me at

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