Project delivery methods are changing in the construction industry. The long-standing Design-Bid-Build (DBB) method and it’s variations still dominate but Design-Build (DB) and other alternatives are emerging to offer a better experience and more value in applicable projects. Private and public entities, including cities and states in our region, are taking a hard look at alternative delivery methods. Alpha-Omega Geotech is among companies in the construction industry interested in the potential too. Here are a few reasons we welcome new thinking.
We Embrace the Exploration of Innovative Ideas
AOG has always been about doing what it takes to get the job done right and we’re always looking for better ideas, including project delivery methods. Like other contractors, we often find ourselves minimized and caught up in difficult situations created by traditional delivery methods focused on low bidding. These methods usually force owners to manage separate contracts with designers and general contractors and often wind up creating adversaries.
“If circumstances change or something goes wrong, finger-pointing can begin,” says AOG President Allan Bush. “Construction projects are complex and can be full of surprises. When unexpected costs pop up or schedules shift, it can rattle the situation and make things uncomfortable.”
Alternative delivery methods that put the designer and general contractor together as a single point of responsibility appeal to us. The idea positions designers and contractors to work as a team from the beginning, making unified recommendations to match the owner’s budget and project priorities. AOG General Manager Blake Bennett says the arrangement drives results and has the potential to offer cascading benefits across the board.
“When responsibility is shared more and everyone agrees to a maximum project price upfront, the project team is set free to focus on the big picture and the best ways to give the owner what they want. It’s much more about working together to maximize return on investment rather than beating down costs every step of the way and risking conflict.”
Shared responsibility and a set price can set the stage for stronger partnerships and clear the way for the best work possible. We’ve experienced this advantage over the old way first-hand. It gives us a voice in problem-solving and crafting custom solutions throughout a project instead of squeezing us into a sequence on a schedule.
“The old way forces as much as possible into a list of boxes to check off,” says Bush. “We’re excited by new methods that encourage the owner and project team to work better together with our help to elevate quality and efficiency within a realistic budget.”
We Want to Deliver Value Beyond a Report
Geotechnical firms typically perform a general site investigation and issue a report with recommendations for getting a project up and out of the ground. A project delivery method focused on low bids usually doesn’t allow for much more. But at AOG, it’s just the beginning of what we can bring to the table.
“We are a seasoned engineering group with experience and expertise specific to the Kansas City area,” explains Bush. “Our influence can help improve a foundation design, make better use of the budget and provide a higher degree of confidence that a project is being done right. Traditional delivery methods don’t always make room for that kind of additional value.”
Bush says a traditional method’s emphasis on minimizing costs can be short-sighted and even raise the risk of additional costs. For example, excavation following a site investigation might reveal surprises buried deep in the subgrade that trigger a change order or a series of change orders. Costs go up and so does frustration.
“In many projects we’re involved in, what’s in the ground is largely unknown. The investigative process can get tricky and more involved than you might think. You can wind up dealing with all kinds of soil and rock in different states below the surface. Some are hard, some soft and others in between. You’re also trying to match the conditions to methods of removal or repositioning. So if you’re working under traditional delivery method terms, you start small to minimize cost and then increase your effort based on what you find. Those costs can really add up. We’re talking six figures in many cases.”
When a maximum project price is set upfront, the risk of change orders plummets and geotechnical firms are free to simply do what’s necessary to ensure a good project launch. The focus shifts from the cost of geotech work to the benefits of doing the best geotech work possible.
“When the price is already established, why wouldn’t the project team want as much geotech subsurface information as possible to inform decision-making?” says Bush. “They want the most accurate, precise information they can get. But under traditional delivery methods, we typically work from a position of providing only the information the bid will allow.”
We Believe the Best Work is Collaborative
Have you ever been in a business where everyone seemed to work in silos, contributing their piece of the puzzle without much thought to putting the puzzle together properly or the final result? Traditional project delivery methods focused on low bidding tend to keep contractors in silos, offering little incentive for extended collaboration that can save time and money, and improve overall quality. Alternative methods try to remove silos and encourage collaboration, something AOG thrives on.
“So many good things flow from collaboration,” says Bush. “No delivery method is perfect, but newer approaches do foster a more equitable environment for design and construction to take place throughout the project, starting at the very beginning. Quality delivery is the priority in planning discussions. It’s not a room full of people distracted by money. It’s just all in for the common good. Everyone has skin in the game and must lean on one another as opposed to pulling apart.”
“Compare it to the Kansas City Chiefs winning it all in Miami,” Bennett adds. “None of those red jerseys were on the field thinking about themselves. They were playing for the team and that’s the main reason they won. The truth is collaboration just works. It elevates the performance of individual players and the team on the whole. Construction is no different.”
Construction projects rarely end the way they start. Circumstances shift and require adjustments. AOG can give input that helps civil engineers and other partners improve their contribution as the game changes. Traditional delivery methods don’t typically elevate that opportunity. They often limit our scope and prevent us from bouncing ideas off partners throughout a project that can uncover efficiencies and smarter solutions. The usual way of doing things seems to favor low bidders more than experienced engineers capable of making a valuable difference.
It’s important to recognize that collaboration doesn’t come naturally for every firm. Some contractors will want to stick to projects with traditional delivery methods that better match their operation and experience level. Bush says it’s not enough to be put in a collaborative position. You have to know how to walk the walk.
“You need foresight and that usually means the direct involvement of senior staff,” says Bush. “You have to have experience going down these paths to anticipate everything you might encounter from the very beginning. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to control your costs and understand their impact on the rest of the project in a collaborative atmosphere.”
Today’s Alternatives May Become Tomorrow’s Standards
While Design-Bid-Build persists, it’s hard to ignore the potential of Design-Build and other alternative delivery methods to strengthen and streamline project work. As a geotech firm, we see possibilities in these methods for many contractors specializing in subsurface services, including NUCA of Greater Kansas City Region members. They can join us in contributing insights and perspectives that project teams need to make better decisions with valuable overarching benefits.
It’s no surprise that alternative methods are gaining traction. The Design-Build Institute of America says DB is the nation’s fastest-growing project delivery method. As a DBIA Mid-America Region member, AOG takes this evolution seriously and we look forward to being a part of the conversation.