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Progressive Design Build: All You Need To Know

Written By
John Souffront
Last Updated - September 5th, 2023 4:22 PM

In today’s ever-evolving construction industry, innovation and staying ahead of the curve are essential to succeed in the industry.

Traditional construction methods have brought us so far, but that’s not all that they did. They also paved the path for various new approaches that are more efficient, collaborative, cost-effective and impactful.

One of those methods that have been getting traction for the past few years is progressive design build. 

PDB is not just a methodology; it’s a paradigm shift that redefines how construction projects are conceived, planned, and executed. It bridges the gap between design and construction and makes more room for a cohesive and collaborative approach.

In this blog, we will learn more about progressive design-build, its benefits and real-world applications.

So, let us start by understanding what it is.

What is Progressive Design-Build?

According to the Design-Bulild Institue of America (DBIA), progressive design-build is a collaborative construction method for delivering challenging projects because it brings the designer, builder and owner together to identify problems early and resolve them during design, making a construction project go a lot smoother.

In simple terms, in progressive design build, the owner hires a design builder and then we work together to meet our common goals. 

It gives us a lot more open dialogue between the contractor and the owner to figure out what the real critical issues are and how we can appropriately address them.

Typically, progressive design-build projects have the highest risks or the most opportunities for innovation collaboration, not just with the owner but also with the community, and it’s a great way to deliver a project.

A progressive design build model limits the department’s exposure to putting a contract out and gives them the ability to work through a lot of challenges in a collaborative manner. 

You can work together on innovations and even do things that you have never done before, but because of this relationship, you are willing to try.

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Progressive Design Build vs Design Build

Design build is a construction method in which the architect, engineer and general contractor all work together from the beginning of the process, providing one unified team under a single contract.

Unlike traditional design-bid-build for your project, which is handled by multiple parties going back and forth on numerous steps, design-build is a streamlined design budgeting and construction process.

All are delivered by a single point of responsibility. This approach to commercial construction saves money and time and results in fewer change orders.

In Design-Build contracts, decisions involve the whole team, reducing blame and conflicts, but communication sometimes makes a circle to get through the whole organization. 

Furthermore, owners are forced to lose some control over the project. Because of this, sometimes owners face challenges when making changes, as it can be challenging for the design and construction teams to make the required changes. 

To address this, PDB offers a solution that enables collaboration while maintaining owner influence and flexibility.

Unlike design build, progressive design-build is really a straight line. The owner hires a design-builder and then works together to meet our common goals. It gives us a lot more open dialogue between the contractor and the owner to determine the critical issues and how to address them appropriately.

One of the best advantages of using a progressive design-build delivery method is it gives you a way to approach the project that can be centred on the project’s goals. You’re collaborating as a team to achieve a certain goal, whatever goal it is. 

Additionally, the Builder is brought on earlier in the process, so they’re part of developing the goals in a typical design build format.

To get a better understanding of the key differences between PDB and traditional design build method, you can also refer to this table:

Aspect Design Build Progressive Design Build
Design Build Approach Design-Builder introduced after developing basis of design Design-Builder introduced at an early stage, works with owner to create design basis
Collaboration Limited collaboration Fosters collaborative environment early in the project
Pricing Model Lump-Sum Price Proposal Open-Book Accounting
Decision Making Owner makes decisions based on documents and consultant input Owner makes value-based decisions supported by builder’s cost and schedule models
Risk Allocation Owner retains Spearin liability Transfers risk from owner to Design-Builder
Subcontractor Selection Owners are not involved in procurement and selection of subcontractors Owners can choose to be actively involved in subcontractor procurement and selection
Selection Methodology Price-Based Selection Qualifications-Based Selection
Change Orders Susceptibility Susceptible to Change Orders Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) ensures Cost Reliability
Off-Ramping Easier Off-Ramping Riskier Off-Ramping


Features of Progressive Design Build

Here are a few features that make PDB the optimum choice for your project:

1. Continuous Communication Between Owners and Design Builders

A PDB model allows the owner and the design-builder (typically representing both design and construction teams) to maintain ongoing communication and collaboration throughout the project. 

It ensures that the project stays on budget and is aligned with the owner’s expectations. 

This continuous collaboration allows the owner to actively participate in decision-making and project progress, which provides a more tailored and satisfactory outcome.

Additionally, the owner enjoys a higher level of control and oversight compared to a traditional Design-Build project. This ongoing contact gives the owner greater influence over the project, allowing them to address any concerns or changes promptly.

2. Qualifications-Based Selection

In PDB, the selection of the design-builder is primarily based on qualifications rather than the bid price

This means that the design-builder is chosen based on their skills, expertise, experience, and capability to deliver the project successfully. 

The primary focus on qualifications ensures that the highest possible value is delivered to the owner. 

By prioritizing qualifications over bid price, the focus is placed on the design-builder’s ability to meet the project’s unique requirements and quality standards.

3. Two-Phase Project Completion

PDB divides the project into two separate and distinct phases. 

Phase 1: Design and Collaboration

The design-builder starts designing the project while staying in touch with the owner. They keep adjusting the design as needed to meet the budget and owner’s wishes. When the design is about halfway done, and the owner is satisfied, they write a formal project proposal.

It focuses on establishing a solid foundation for the project by refining design ideas and addressing any early challenges.

Phase 2: Design Completion and Construction

The design and construction teams finish their work as per the project’s commercial contract. Sometimes, work in Phase 2 can begin even before the contract is fully settled to speed things up. The owner can switch to a different contract strategy if there are issues with agreeing on contract terms.

It focuses on turning the approved designs into a physical reality, managing construction activities, and making sure that the project is built according to the specifications and expectations established in the earlier phase.

This two-phase approach helps facilitate a well-coordinated and controlled project delivery process, enhancing the likelihood of successful project outcomes.

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Advantages of Progressive Design Build

For many reasons, owners would prefer a progressive design build instead of a typical one. Some of its benefits include:

1. Collaboration and Risk Transfer

Enhanced Collaboration: PDB encourages collaboration among all project stakeholders, including owners, consultants, and contractors, during the design phase. 

This collaborative approach promotes sharing expertise, ideas, and creative solutions to optimize the project’s design and maximize its value.

In addition to that, it also reduces risk. PDB’s collaborative environment allows us to identify and mitigate risks in the early stages.

Risks can be allocated to the party that is best equipped to manage them, reducing the likelihood of disputes and claims later in the project. This risk transfer promotes a smoother project execution.

2. A Shorter Procurement Cycle

PDB saves time and resources for design consultants because they don’t have to invest significant effort in preparing a response for a Request for Proposal (RFP) that may not lead to a contract. 

It allows them to focus on tailoring the project design to meet specific requirements and minimize risks, improving project outcomes.

3. Increased Competition

Inflation and supply chain challenges have made it crucial for project owners to get the best value for their investments. 

PDB eliminates the need for lengthy RFP processes, which makes it more attractive for a wider pool of contractors and consultants to participate in the project. 

This increased competition can lead to competitive pricing and higher-quality proposals.

Furthermore, PDB allows pricing to be developed gradually throughout development. This approach ensures that the final project price aligns with the owner’s target budget while still accommodating any necessary adjustments or optimizations as the project evolves.

4. No Honorarium

PDB is much simpler and cheaper because the owner does not have to make any special payments for the design work during the project selection process. 

Only the team that gets chosen for the project gets paid for their design work, which makes things much less complicated and cheaper.

5. Accommodation of Third-Party Agreements

There are many parties involved in a PDB project, like government authorities and utility companies. And when this many parties are involved, the project sometimes affects how they do their job.

That isn’t the case here. PDB makes sure that everyone works together and creates a plan that does not cause any problems for anyone involved in the project. This approach helps save money and time, as it prevents delays and unnecessary arguments.

6. Getting Consultants on Board

Consultants are the experts who help with the project, like coming up with responsive design solutions. In a PDB model, the consultants don’t have to spend a lot of time and money to submit their ideas, which may never move past the RFP. Instead, consultants are essentially paid in full for their design.

Additionally, due to the collaborative nature of PDB, they can better understand the project’s requirements, as well as the expectations of the owner and stakeholders.

This way, they can create a design that specifically meets the needs of the project, minimize risk, and save time and money along the way. 

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Drawbacks of Progressive Design Build

Even though PDB offers a wide range of benefits, there are still some reasons that might demotivate owners to use PDB in their projects. These drawbacks include:

1. Awarding Contract without Full Competition

Some owners find it politically impractical to award a contract without full price competition on the overall design build contract. 

Even if that isn’t the case, they might have some constraints that require them to display transparency and fairness in their selection process, which they can get with full competition.

In some cases, owners might not be comfortable with negotiating the commercial terms of the agreement without factoring in the price in the selection process.

2. Subcontractor Procurement Challenges

Another thing that the owners need to keep in mind is that rules for buying things might require them to use a competitive method to find subcontractors.

This is done to make sure that things are fair to everyone and done by the book. However, it can sometimes stop us from getting the benefits of teamwork that we can get from PDB.

When subcontractors have to compete, it might mean that they don’t get as involved in the design part, and we might miss out on their helpful ideas.

3. Exercising the “Off-Ramp” Option

Some owners might not like the “off-ramp” option that PDB offers. The off-ramp options give the owner the authority to terminate the contract if they can’t get on a agreement on commercial agreement with the design builder.

Even though this option works in the owner’s favor, using this option can also lead to delays in project or cause problems if negotiations don’t work out, which can make some owners uneasy.

4. Unfamiliar Project Delivery Method

One more reason that some owners might not want to use the PDB method is simply because it is not as well known as other traditional methods. Owners and other involved parties often prefer to use the methods they have used before, are familiar with and know very well. 

People don’t always like to change what they are used to, and that is a big part of how most of us make decisions.

Because of this, they might be hesitant to use something new like PDB, something they are unfamiliar with, even though it has some very clear benefits.

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Some Tips For A Successful Project

Here are some tips for you to successfully integrate PDB into your project:

1. Let Objective Drive the Project

Set clear, performance-based goals and incentives that promote innovation and align with your project goals. Also, make sure that every step taken in the project directly contributes to achieving your goals.

2. Realistic Budget Development

You should develop realistic project budgets and clearly communicate the restrictions of the budget to all the stakeholders. This helps everyone avoid unrealistic expectations and save themselves from cost overruns.

3. Collaborative Risk Identification

You must collectively identify all the project risks with all the contracted parties involved. This helps you address all these risks proactively before they become serious issues during the execution of the project.

4. Emphasize Collaboration

During the beginning stages of the project, establish a culture of collaboration and problem-solving among all team members. 

The success of a progressive design-build method-based project immensely depends on effective communication and everyone’s willingness to work together.

7 Useful Tools for Progressive Design-Build

Here are the 7 tools that you can implement into your project to boost efficiency and productivity:

1. Daily Huddles and Big Room Meetings

By scheduling daily huddles with all the relevant project team members, you can discuss project updates and set tasks to be completed before the next meeting.

Big room meetings are similar, but these are scheduled with key stakeholders to discuss the scope of the project as a whole.

With this approach, you make sure that everyone knows what they need to do and everyone is on the same page and aware of the current status of the project.

2. Last Planner System

The Last Planner System (LPS) is a method that improves teamwork and problem-solving and makes projects more predictable and efficient.

With LPS, you can foster regular, productive conversations among team members, which leads them to identify and resolve problems before they hinder project flow.

3. Target Value Delivery

Target value delivery is a disciplined management practice used throughout a project and divides the project into various phases. 

 With this, you can constantly consider and satisfy project needs, make sure the facility stays within budget and foster innovation to reduce waste.

4. Gemba Walks

In layman’s terms, Gemba walks means going to the site and observing the progress of the project.

By using Gemba walks, you can observe the progress on-site, see the workflow, and eliminate waste. It improves the likelihood of delivering the project on time. 

5. 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain)

As described by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the 5S system is a mindset that reduces waste, optimizes overall productivity, and helps you organize your workplace. 

It makes sure materials and information are delivered to the team when they need it, helps you save time, and makes the workplace safer for everyone involved. 

6. Value Stream Mapping

The value stream mapping is a series of steps that involves the flow of materials and information needed to create and deliver a product or service.

It helps you analyse workflow processes and identify the steps that add value to the project and the simply wasteful steps that can be eliminated to optimize the project’s workflow.

7. 5 Why Analysis

5 Why is a systematic method of root cause analysis that helps you identify the underlying cause of a problem.

By implementing this approach, you can identify the root cause of the problems occurring on-site and guide your team members to collaborate and devise effective solutions.

By implementing these tools into your project, you can improve the outcome of your project by making your approaches more efficient, cost-effective, and better aligned with the goals of your project.

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Wrapping It Up

Anyone who has been involved in the construction industry long enough knows that you need fresh, innovative ideas to keep up with the changes, especially in this ever-evolving industry.

With all that we have learned, it is sufficient to say that progressive design build is an innovative idea.

We all know that PDB is fairly new in the industry, and there is a reason why it is getting so much traction and getting updated in a relatively short time.

It is all because is not just a method; it is a new way of doing things. It essentially eliminates the cons of traditional methods and makes them much more efficient.

For example, it brings the owner, designer, and builder together early on, which in turn helps spot problems and fix them before they become a headache for everyone.

Other than that, it offers a lot of benefits, like better teamwork, shorter wait times, and more choices for who can join in.

If you are intrigued but not sure how to go about it, we at Souffront Construction & Engineering can give you a helping hand.

Our team of experts can get you started, leverage all the benefits that PDB has to offer and mitigate any issues that you face along the way.

Like PDB, our work is tailored to deliver nothing less than perfect results that meet your goals and expectations.

Contact us and use our free initial consultation to learn more about what we have to offer.

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John Souffront

John Souffront is a seasoned leader in the construction and engineering industry, with over a decade of experience at the helm of Souffront Construction & Engineering. Known for his unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation, John has propelled his firm to the forefront of the field, delivering cutting-edge solutions for complex projects around the country.

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