What’s So “Progressive” about Progressive Design-Build

It’s political season and the news is filled with commentary on liberals and conservatives and… progressives. So what exactly is so progressive about progressive design-build?

Well, it’s no surprise, but the label for this valuable delivery method doesn’t have any political meaning! Instead, it’s all about evolving the design-build process to meet the needs of owners that could not use – or preferred not to use – fixed price design-build:

The term “progressive” specifically refers to the iterative approach to concurrently progressing the design detail and the construction cost estimate of a project.

Typically, the progressive design and estimate development process starts with a baseline project definition and relatively high-level basis of construction estimates. And the earlier, the better, in terms of the development cycle (the consensus around best practices is to have established this baseline by at least the 30% design milestone).

From that baseline forward, every iteration of the design scope is mirrored in the construction estimate, often with some pre-established milestones to do an even deeper dive into the numbers. For example, a project baseline might be established at the 20-30% level of design. Then, as design detail is increased, each change to scope is progressively tracked and priced. At 40-50%, the current status of all changes from the baseline are totaled into a revised estimate.

The best practice for this progressive iteration of scope and cost development is to never, ever progress to the next phase of design until there is agreement on the current scope and budget. This discipline requires that project features be adjusted, owner preferences prioritized, and construction costs verified. The objective of this process is that you’ll never get to the end of the process with a budget surprise at the finish!

By the way, this process works for CMAR as well, albeit with separate design and construction contracts instead of a single design-build agreement. In either case, you can be progressive without any politics at the family dinner table!


Leofwin Clark, Vice President, Brown and Caldwell

About Leofwin Clark, Vice President, Brown and Caldwell

As a vice president at Brown and Caldwell, Mr. Clark develops market strategy and leads at-risk (construction management at-risk, design-build, design-build-operate, P3, and program management at-risk) pursuits from identification and positioning through the proposal and negotiations processes. In addition to many years of membership on the DBIA Water/Wastewater Committee and as a DBIA Conference Co-Chair, Mr. Clark has served in several officer and board roles for the Water Design-Build Council, most recently as the Education Committee Chair.
Topics: Brown and Caldwell, CMAR, Design-Build, Wastewater Infrastructure/Treatment, Water Infrastructure/Treatment.

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