Today’s dynamic world of civil infrastructure presents many complex construction challenges. Project timelines can be extremely tight. Supply chain disruptions can cause budgets to spike. Arduous material procurement can derail project schedules. To meet these new challenges, traditional project delivery methods need to evolve — and the progressive design-build method, which addresses these challenges by redefining how projects are planned and executed, is at the forefront of this evolution.

Progressive design-build departs from conventional project delivery methods by using qualifications-based criteria as a starting point. Once a team is awarded a project, the owner collaborates directly with the design-build team to finalize both the design and contract price. Progressive design-build fuses the design-builder element from traditional design-build with the collaborative pre-construction element of Construction Management At-Risk, creating a comprehensive model for a project.

Much like traditional design-build, the progressive design-builder directly contracts with the design consultant and manages design costs. This shift in responsibility effectively transfers certain project risks from the client to the design-builder. Progressive design-build allows clients to have a higher level of input throughout the later stages of the design process. The client also benefits from stronger financially secure project pricing as the progressive design-build price is developed with a greater level of design certainty and a higher level of project planning compared to traditional design-build delivery.

Progressive design-build also borrows principles from the Construction Management At-Risk (CMAR) delivery method, particularly in the context of pre-construction services. In CMAR, the construction manager provides pre-construction services, such as planning, scheduling, risk management and estimating. Progressive design-build similarly emphasizes a collaborative preconstruction phase where the design-builder works closely with the owner and stakeholders.

One key feature that distinguishes progressive design-build is its inclusion of the contractor from the project's inception. The progressive design-build model assembles the right blend of expertise at the outset to tackle front-end design, planning, budgeting, and scheduling collectively. This allows for early and sustained collaboration, ensuring that project stakeholders do not operate in isolation. Instead, they come together as a cohesive team, investing time upfront to identify project milestones and secure an accurate project price.

Across the United States and Canada, PCL Construction has successfully executed numerous progressive design-build projects within civil infrastructure sectors such as water, transportation, and mining. These projects stand as a testament to this innovative approach, providing evidence of its effectiveness in overcoming procurement challenges and optimizing supply chain management and schedule. 

Supply chain disruptions are significant impediments to construction project timelines and budgets. According to recent industry data, 63% of contractors say their biggest concern is project delays due to supply chain issues. The innovative approach of progressive design-build, however, can effectively navigate the turbulence of procurement and supply chain management.

Progressive design-build projects give design-builders early access to data on lead times, which allows them to identify constraints and coordinate with stakeholders early on. The progressive design-build method empowers project teams to identify high-risk items and establish robust processes for monitoring and follow up.

“It goes beyond simply awarding a project to a subcontractor with the expectation that they will handle procurement,” says Ryan Andrews, PCL construction manager based in British Columbia. “As the design-build lead, we have some influence on the materials and equipment being specified, and we can make informed decisions that include delivery details. Once awarded, it is our responsibility to our clients to ensure that trades are being held accountable by proactively checking the status of long-lead items ourselves.”

By developing these processes at the outset, teams can identify mitigation measures as things change.

To monitor supply chain and procurement challenges in the market, PCL leverages its global procurement group, which consolidates and shares data with teams to help guide decision making across the United States and Canada.

On many projects across North America, extended lead times for procurement continue to pose challenges. For example, on the Tucson Airport Remediation Project, the procurement of pipe, estimated to take up to six months, threatened to significantly disrupt the project schedule. However, before the design phase reached completion, PCL ordered the pipe early based on its anticipated length and alignment. Through coordination with the project's designer, PCL successfully ensured that this early procurement decision seamlessly integrated with the evolving design and the project stayed on schedule.

Progressive design-build proves to be the ideal solution for clients whose projects are strongly schedule-driven and who seek contractor responsibility for the design. Take one of PCL’s projects in British Columbia for example. This $470 million mining operation on the side of a mountain presented a significant challenge — a tight 24-month timeline for completion.

The client, accustomed to the traditional Engineer, Procure, Construction Manage Model, initially put a Request for Proposal out for various scopes of work. However, based on the submissions received, the client soon recognized these traditional approaches were not yielding the desired outcomes. Recognizing the need to align with their scope, budget and schedule requirements to sustain their operations, the client strategically pivoted towards a progressive design-build model, and PCL was awarded the job.

“This transition proved instrumental in expediting the project's progress,” says Andrews. “Within a mere six months, our team transitioned design from zero to 100% Issued for Construction documents. Construction efforts proceeded concurrently with the ongoing design phase and as of today, the project stands at its halfway point, on track to meet the challenging two-year completion target. The team has embodied a ‘one team’ approach where the client and PCL are integrated and working in unison.”

The progressive design-build model also offers a level of flexibility to help accelerate schedules. The team can identify scopes of work that can advance sooner than others. For instance, on the Luke 303 Water Reclamation Facility in Arizona, the PCL team had electrical panels delivered early to the site and installed, although the panels were missing components due to supply chain delays. This approach allowed PCL’s subcontractor to complete the field installation on schedule; then, once the missing components were delivered, the manufacturer sent a representative on-site to install and complete required factory testing.

“Strategically using time not only expedites the project but also enhances cost-effectiveness. Progressive design-build contrasts with the traditional model that often front-loads time and resources in the pursuit of a final price and award, potentially overlooking opportunities for optimal solutions along the way,” says Ken Slota, Civil director of design build and non-municipal water.

The ability to self-perform a substantial portion of the work in progressive design-build projects adds another layer of control and efficiency. PCL typically self-performs 50-60% of scope on its projects, providing the project team with a greater degree of schedule management. This approach allows critical aspects of the project to stay on track, making it an invaluable asset for schedule-driven projects.

Although the progressive design-build approach may not be as widely recognized and used, it addresses many challenges that clients encounter. Project owners seeking early collaboration with contractors and innovative project delivery should consider progressive design-build for their next project. PCL’s expertise will guide them through this delivery method and offer solutions to supply chain and procurement challenges, ensuring on-time project delivery.