The Pros and Cons of Progressive Design-Build

We’ll explain what progressive design-build is, the advantages, and the disadvantages so you can determine whether it may be a good fit for your project.

When it comes to building, there are a variety of approaches to the process. One that offers a significant opportunity for collaboration is Progressive Design-build (or PDB for short). This method is similar to traditional design-build, with some slight variations, and is best suited to public institutions, manufacturing, and high-tech environments.

industrial educational building exterior

What is progressive design-build?

Progressive design-build is a type of project delivery method. Through the progressive design-build model, the owner selects a design-builder primarily based on qualifications (solicited through testimonials, portfolio, interviews, and the like), in the earliest stage of project development.

A key distinction of PDB from traditional design-build is the collaboration of the owner, builder, architect, and engineer during the preliminary design phase to establish the project scope.

As the project advances, work is awarded progressively to additional trade partners based on the scope jointly agreed upon by the owner, builder, and designers.

What are the phases of progressive design-build?

Phase 1: Preliminary design & land use/entitlements, early budgeting
Phase 2: Design completion, early procurement & final budgeting
Phase 3: Construction

Project Example: Portland Community College ThinkBIG Center

Here are some insights into what may be presented in response to an RFP for a progressive design-build project:

We presented a portfolio of team members along with a project approach and complete work schedule that aligned with the specifications in the RFP. Additionally, we provided costs for the first phase of design (30% of completion), the construction fee, and cost control methods. Actual numbers, in alignment with the budget set by the owner, were prepared and presented by the architect and engineer, as well.

Aerial of education building

What are the advantages of progressive design-build?

A fundamental advantage of progressive design-build is early collaboration with key partners. Builder, engineer, and architect cooperation at the beginning of the project enables them to uniquely work together to identify hurdles from the start, helping to reduce risk for the owner.

Additionally, engagement between the professional services team and the owner can inspire innovation and better bake the needs of the end user into the building.

Key benefits of progressive design-build include:

  • Streamlining the procurement process and saving time
  • Procurement relying primarily on qualifications and value rather than cost alone
  • Allowing opportunity for trade coordination
  • Inspiring innovation
  • Giving the team a chance to find anything in misalignment ahead of time, avoiding added costs
  • Giving the owner more say in the design and buyout
  • Allowing for more transparency around costs
  • Giving the owner flexibility to make adjustments to the building program and budget after Phase 1
Overhead shot of construction crew at site

What are the potential disadvantages to progressive design-build?

While clearly a valuable delivery method for many project types, progressive design-build isn’t a good fit for every project.

For one, procurement regulation varies by jurisdiction, and public projects in particular may be disqualified from using the PDB model.

An additional drawback to PDB is that it may be impractical for the owner to select a builder without complete cost considerations.

Key disadvantages of progressive design-build include:

  • Selecting the design-builder without seeing full project price
  • Requiring significant owner involvement
  • Preclusion of the progressive design-build delivery method due to procurement regulation
Side view of orange hard hat on asphalt

How does PDB differ from design-build and CMGC?

While each delivery method accomplishes nearly the same thing, the process and approach will vary. Here’s a brief summary of each delivery model:

Traditional design-build

An owner contracts a design-builder for a project based on complete costs, as well as their qualifications. The design-builder hires and oversees the architect and engineer and any necessary subcontractors according to the project scope. The builder and designer work together to satisfy the project requirements.

Progressive design-build

The builder is selected mainly based on qualifications rather than sticker price, and brings in an architect and engineer to collaborate with the owner during the design process.

Construction management/general contractor or CMGC

The architect and builder are contracted separately by the owner. The builder executes the architect’s designs with little collaboration.

Artistic black and white shot of circular bike rack

To Recap:

  • Progressive design-build creates the opportunity for meaningful collaboration between the owner, design team, and builder.
  • Owner involvement is inherent in the progressive design-build delivery method
  • Owner, builder, architect, and engineer collaboration begins at project inception rather than further down the road.
  • The end user can benefit from early cooperation between the owner, designer, and builder.
  • Early procurement and professional services team collaboration helps control costs and schedule.
  • PDB may not be the right fit depending on procurement regulations and interest in owner involvement.

Is progressive design-build right for your project?

We believe progressive design-build allows for a better relationship between all parties involved. Owners looking to be involved in the design process in a significant way will find great value in the PDB delivery method. Having a team of professionals invested in working together toward your vision can create a healthy and inspired working environment rooted in trust and transparency.

Learn how we can work together on your next project.

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