What are the Differences Between Collaborative and Design-Bid-Build Delivery?

The water design-build industry defines collaborative-delivery methods as approaches to procuring and delivering a capital project that involve close collaboration among the owner, the designer, and the contractor—from design through completion. These include construction management at-risk(CMAR), both fixed-price and progressive design-build, design-build-operate (DBO), and public-private partnerships (P3).


Collaborative-delivery methods differ from the traditional DBB method in several ways.

First, construction personnel become involved early in the design process.

  • The design-builder’s design engineers and construction team work together with the owner’s team during the design process to proactively identify and resolve potential constructability, schedule, and other issues. Working collaboratively as a single contractual team minimizes the likelihood of constructability problems or design disputes. It also establishes a foundation for maximizing the benefits of collaboration from project award through closeout.
  • While CMAR delivery involves two separate contracts, one for design and one for construction, a best practice is that the CMAR firm be retained early on to provide important input into the engineer’s design process (at least by 30%) and support the development of early cost estimates that aid owners in understanding the project’s overall cost and its specific features.

Second, the collaborative-delivery firm is generally selected based on best value, rather than on just the lowest bid. In contrast to a DBB delivery, the owner specifies a range of criteria in its procurement documents that relate to the organization’s goals, project priorities, and drivers. The most frequently cited criteria, as defined in WDBC’s procurement guides, include:

  • Experience of key personnel with similar projects
  • Collaborative approach to the proposed project
  • Innovative design suggestions and construction ideas to achieve the project’s drivers
  • Effective schedule, transition, and commissioning plan
  • Design-build firm’s approach to collaboratively working as a team with the owner’s staff

A third key difference (and best practice) is the owner’s approach to preparations within the organization from the inception of the project, particularly regarding the attitude toward service providers and an openness to pursue a different procurement method.

  • Collaborative-delivery procurement processes typically select the design-build firm based mainly on qualifications.
  • While procurement regulations in some states follow basic DBB practices requiring that the construction contract be awarded to the lowest bidder, this process can be appropriate for projects with standard designs; however, most water and wastewater projects are not “standard.” Each component in a water or wastewater system is a process unit—which is unique and inherently complex in terms of design, construction, and performance.
  • Collaborative-delivery procurement also requires that owners clearly define the priorities of the organization and the project’s drivers prior to and during procurement. These factors may also be presented as project criteria in the owner’s draft project implementation plan—but without being so prescriptive that they preclude the proposing firms from offering innovative, value-added solutions.

Central to a successful project are the attitudes of owners and design-build delivery firms toward the project and each team. For example, acknowledging the benefits of a compressed schedule requires that owners and the design-build firms validate and respect the importance of communication to achieve timeliness of deliverables during various aspects of the project. Teamwork, collaboration, integrity, mutual trust, and respect—rather than control issues found in DBB projects—are the roadmap to success throughout a collaborative project.

Not to be forgotten is the important task of defining the project’s transition process. Previous practices in an organization that has relied on the DBB approach is to attend to this task during the project’s implementation. In collaborative delivery, a best practice is engaging in an upfront process of establishing a plan, together with the education process for operators and maintenance staff, which is also emphasized in the Water and Wastewater Design-Build Handbook, and thoroughly discussed in WDBC’s education programs.

To learn more about the best practices for collaborative delivery and “How to Select a Delivery Method,” contact the WDBC office or go to the website to request an education session for your area or organization.

About Linda Hanifin Bonner, Ph.D, Executive Operations Manager of Water Design-Build Council

With nearly 30 years of experience in the water/wastewater industry, Linda Hanifin Bonner provides a unique blend of organization, governance, and financial management experience to the Water Design-Build Council. Dr. Hanifin Bonner’s professional career has been dedicated to developing pragmatic and strategic oriented approaches through education to the factors influencing water and wastewater industry projects. Originally an environmental planner for Montgomery County, MD, her work over the years has been supporting federal, state, and local government agencies, the engineering community, and private industry.
Topics: Collaborative Delivery, Design-Build, Education, WDBC Admin.

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