To test how far the water and wastewater market has evolved in accepting different project delivery methods, my firm conducted a comprehensive survey of water and wastewater utility executives across the country. The goal  of the independent study is to understand what owners really want when it comes to completing water/wastewater capital projects.

The obvious conclusion of the R. W. Beck survey is that the use of progressive project delivery methods for water and wastewater utility capital projects is here to stay. The study shows that more than 54% of the nation’s major water/wastewater utilities have now tried alternatives to the traditional design-bid-build method. Remarkably, 96% of those utilities, large and small, that have used a progressive project delivery method, such as design-build or construction management at-risk, would do it again. A significant majority of survey respondents (85%) agree that the use of progressive project delivery methods will stay the same or increase in the future. Clearly, this level of endorsement from a broad cross-section of water and wastewater utility managers underlines a continuing upward trend of routine use of non-traditional project delivery methods among the nation’s water and wastewater utilities.

Why Switch?

Nearly all of the owners surveyed say time savings was the most important reason for their decision to use progressive project delivery. While the conclusion by owners that the design-build delivery method also saves money is not as strong a reason for switching, a significant majority of owners (close to 70%) say that cost savings was important to them as a reason for considering the use of progressive project de-livery. Accepting conventional wisdom that “time is money,” one concludes that project delivery methods that shorten project schedules also provide opportunities for owners to reduce project costs.

From our experience, progressive project delivery is attractive to owners because it leverages the benefits of good teamwork. And, when procurement is structured well, progressive project delivery uses the competition inherent in a free market to inspire design and construction innovation that would not otherwise happen using conventional delivery.

With project delivery methods such as design-build, the project stakeholders, especially designers and builders, work together as a single, integrated project delivery team. We have seen remarkable examples of design and construction innovation resulting from integrated project teams associated with progressive delivery projects, providing owners with tremendous benefits in time and cost savings. 

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  • The nation’s utility executives were also keen to share lessons learned from successful completion of progressive delivery projects. For one, careful attention must be given to managing inherent project risks from the outset. Owners acknowledge that it is only after they have understood specific project risks and have developed an effective plan to thoughtfully allocate the risk to project stakeholders, that they can form a solid basis for determining the appropriate method for project delivery.

    Progressive project delivery is not always the best choice, but it offers advantages on many projects. It is important to make a comprehensive assessment of alternatives in the early stages of project development, evaluate the pros and cons of the several project delivery methods available and then decide which one best achieves owner objectives.

    Owners sometimes find it useful to obtain an independent view so they can make good project delivery decisions, considering the many risk management issues.

    Likewise, when reviewing the lessons learned on the completed projects, more than 90% of owners surveyed agreed that the following points are critical to project success using progressive project delivery methods:

    • The owners must have a strong internal advocate/leader for progressive project delivery.
    • Someone on the owner’s team must have a detailed understanding of progressive delivery.
    • Procurement and project delivery documents must clearly define the roles of project participants.

    Having a Plan

    Most importantly, a successful project must begin with developing a good project plan. Regardless of the delivery method chosen, projects fail when they are not planned well or when a good plan was ignored during completion.

    Owners also noted the benefit of evaluating the qualifications and experience of the project participants during contractor selection for progressive delivery projects. Practitioners  generally agree that successful project completion requires unique skills. It is specialty construction work, and not all engineers and contractors succeed in this type of construction.

    Not surprisingly, owners like being able to consider the directly related qualifications and experience of the proposing engineers and builders and their key personnel during team selection. This is not possible using traditional low-bid construction.

    As owners gain experience and share their lessons learned in progressive project delivery, their confidence grows and we will continue to see the expanding use of it to meet water and wastewater utility objectives for efficient capital project completion.

    Stephen R. Gates is senior vice president of the Water and Waste Resources Sector for R.W. Beck, Framingham, Mass. For a free copy of the study contact or 508-935-1600.