Lisa Washington is the Executive Director/CEO of the Design-Build Institute of America, where she has worked since 2004. She joined DBIA as vice president of education and conferences and worked to expand the institute’s education and certification programs. A graduate of the University of Maryland with a masters degree in management, Washington was named to her current position at DBIA in 2009. She talked recently with ENR Deputy Editor Richard Korman about design-build’s record on project cost, research on project delivery methods and progress on state-level enabling legislation to allow alternatives to traditional project delivery.

ENR We recently published a story about an ASCE journal article whose authors stated that design-build succeeded in saving time to project completion but that half the projects went over budget. The authors have since backed away from the finding about budget, but what bothered you most  about the study and the article?

Washington Three reasons: The study authors didn’t verify the project information by checking for missing data or exclude projects where the scope was increased. They didn’t discuss or elaborate on the reasons or the cost overruns—a more common determination of cost effectiveness is based on a measure and comparison of cost growth. And there was no consideration given to the fact that owners sometimes change scope. So while the final cost can be higher than the original budget with design-build, it’s not necessarily higher than what the owner agreed to.

Is there any new research that you think does a better job of showing what actually happens?

As a matter of fact, some research by the FHWA will be presented at the DBIA transportation conference starting April 18 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and this research goes further. It shows the basis of cost growth and the researchers found that cost growth isn’t a result of delivery method but instead that a delivery method like design-build could add opportunities for owners to add beneficial scope to the project, often because the project was coming in under budget.

What’s the most reliable way to compare project delivery systems?

Thirty studies in 20 years show that benchmarking is important and that benchmarking is the only way to assess and discover best outcomes. In a nutshell, the studies show that traditional design-bid-build has twice as much cost growth as design-build, and on top of that, more recent research by the Construction Industry Institute found that design-build is twice as likely as design-bid-build to be delivered under budget.

What about CM-at-risk? What do the studies show about that method compared to the others?

Design-build resulted in less cost growth than CM-at-risk, although CM-at-risk does better than design-bid-build. CM-at-risk is obviously more collaborative than design-bid-build so you expect its performance to be better, but design-build still outperforms CM-at-risk, according to the data.

So the implication for owners is...?

It looks like there should be more design-build and CM-at-risk. We never advocated that every project should be design-build but it should be in the toolbox.

And you put out that message.

We’ve had the Design-Build Done RightTM program since 2013. Traditionally design-build has been defined as a single-source contract, but the Design-Build Done Right series of best practices takes into account that there is a unique attitude involved, and that design-build is a highly collaborative and integrated project approach built on trust, respect, teamwork and innovation. It’s not just a type of contract.

Where do things stand with enabling legislation?

Just last month legislation passed in New Mexico expanding design-build authority to transportation projects, and legislation just passed for transportation projects in Nebraska too. There is full authority to use design-build in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and more states are giving the authority in specific sectors as their comfort level increases.