Progressive Design Build Vs Design Build

Progressive Design Build Vs Design Build

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Progressive Design Build Vs Design Build

Hey there! If you’re involved in the world of construction and development, you’ve probably heard about design-build as an alternative to the traditional design-bid-build approach.

With design-build, one single team handles both the design and construction of a project under a single contract. This integrated method can help speed up project delivery compared to having separate contracts for design and construction.

But not all design-build is created equal. There’s a newer approach called progressive design-build that puts its own spin on the model.

In this guide, we’ll break down the key differences between traditional and progressive design-build. You’ll walk away with a clear understanding of when each excels so you can make the best choice for your next project!

Traditional Design-Build Model

What is Traditional Design-Build?

First, let’s look at the traditional design-build approach that has been used for decades:

  • Involves a single contract covering both design and construction
  • Owner holds separate contracts with design team and construction team
  • Lack of contract integration between the two teams
  • Owner serves as intermediary between teams
  • Teams selected primarily based on bid price

The traditional model came from the industrial and manufacturing worlds where owners wanted fast turnarounds on new plants and facilities.

They brought on a design-build team under one contract to handle the design work separately from the construction itself. The focus was on speed and low cost rather than collaboration.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Design-Build

This traditional design-build approach offers some benefits but also some downsides:


  • Faster schedule combining design and construction
  • Single point of accountability under one contract


  • Misalignment and lack of collaboration between teams
  • Owner forced to serve as go-between teams
  • Owner gives up control over design
  • Emphasis on low bid price over value

As you can see, while traditional design-build can move faster than separating design and construction, it lacks incentives for alignment and collaboration between the players involved.

The owner also loses a certain degree of control by handing over both design and construction to a single entity.

Progressive Design-Build Model

What is Progressive Design-Build?

Progressive design-build emerged as an alternative approach that aims to maximize the benefits of integration while promoting collaboration and owner involvement.

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Here are some core characteristics of the progressive model:

  • Phased, multi-step approach
  • Teams selected using qualifications-based selection
  • Early collaboration between design and construction teams
  • Owner heavily involved throughout design process
  • “Off-ramp” exit option before contract finalized
  • Commercial terms negotiated later in process

Instead of handing everything over upfront, progressive design-build brings teams together early but allows flexibility before finalizing the full contract.

How Progressive Design-Build Works

Progressive design-build splits the project into two distinct phases:

Phase 1:

  • Preconstruction services
  • Initial design development
  • Regular cost modeling to inform design
  • Hands-on owner input into design

This first phase focuses on collaboratively advancing the design while keeping an eye on budget constraints.

The owner plays an active role in making design decisions alongside the builders and designers.

Phase 2:

  • Complete final design
  • Actual construction of facility
  • Builder provides guaranteed maximum price

Once the design has been developed to a sufficient level, the builder provides a commercial proposal with a final price for construction.

If the owner accepts, the project proceeds to completion. If not, the owner can walk away before committing fully.

Pros and Cons of Progressive Design-Build

Like the traditional approach, progressive design-build also has its advantages and disadvantages:


  • Promotes early collaboration between teams
  • Gives owner control during design process
  • Provides flexibility via “off-ramp” exit option
  • Focuses on value over lowest cost
  • Driven by mutual trust and respect


  • Complex, multi-phase procurement process
  • Risk of not reaching final commercial agreement
  • Less emphasis on full price competition

The phased format and qualifications focus aims to produce better outcomes through collaboration rather than lowest cost. But it requires more upfront coordination and the risk of never making a final deal.

Key Differences Between the Two Methods

Now that you understand the basics of traditional and progressive design-build, let’s examine some of the major differences between the two project delivery approaches:

Procurement Process

  • Progressive uses qualifications-based selection
  • Traditional weighs bid price as major factor

The procurement stage sets the tone for everything that follows. Progressive focuses on choosing the right team over the lowest bid, while traditional emphasizes competitive pricing.

Contract Approach

  • Progressive utilizes phased contracts
  • Traditional uses single contract for full project

The phased progressions allows flexibility compared to having all terms locked in upfront under a single agreement.

Team Integration

  • Progressive promotes early alignment of teams
  • Traditional misaligns design and construction teams

Bringing the players together early allows progressive design-build to get everyone on the same page. Under traditional, the designer and builder can remain siloed.

Owner Involvement

  • Progressive enables owner input into design
  • Traditional minimizes owner design role

Owners have a seat at the table for design decisions under progressive, while traditional gives the owner less control.

Design Process

  • Progressive develops design collaboratively
  • Traditional design performed independently

Joint design efforts characterize progressive, while traditional keeps design isolated from construction considerations.

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Change Management

  • Progressive allows flexibility for changes
  • Traditional restricts design changes

Progressive supports changes as needed through its phased nature, whereas traditional “locks-in” the design upfront.

Risk Profile

  • Progressive has risks of unfinished design
  • Traditional has risks around change orders

The two methods transfer risks differently. Progressive carries unfinished design risk into later phases while traditional contains more change order risk during construction.


  • Progressive focuses on overall value
  • Traditional zeroes in on lowest cost

You can see how the structures incentivize different outcomes, with progressive promoting long-term value and traditional driving toward low cost.

When to Use Progressive Design-Build

Now let’s get into when progressive design-build is the optimal choice for a construction project:

Owner Prioritizes Design Control

Progressive gives owners a much larger role in shaping design compared to traditional. If you value design oversight, it provides that avenue.

Scope Requires Flexibility

When requirements are likely to change, the phased approach and “off-ramp” capability of progressive makes it easier to pivot.

Project Contains Major Unknowns

For complex projects rife with uncertainties, progressive allows you to collaborate through challenges as they arise.

Non-Price Factors Are Important

If experience, culture fit and team dynamics are critical, then use the progressive qualifications-based selection.

Value Outweighs Low Cost

To focus on long-term value like sustainability rather than just lowest first cost, progressive encourages that mindset.

Trusted Working Relationships Exist

Progressive requires mutual trust and respect between owner, designers and builders. It works best with teams that have rapport.

When to Use Traditional Design-Build

In contrast, here are situations better suited for the traditional design-build approach:

Fast Project Delivery is Crucial

Traditional consolidates design and construction into a streamlined sequence for speed.

Scope is Clearly Defined Upfront

For basic projects with no surprises, locking in design and pricing upfront through traditional is feasible.

Price is Major Factor

If budget is the top priority, traditional’s bid price focus helps secure the lowest costs.

Minimal Owner Design Input Desired

Some owners are happy handing off design fully. Traditional limits owner involvement by design.

Strict Change Control Needed

For projects requiring rigid change control, the traditional single contract makes this easier.

Bottom Line Rules All

To drive out all possible costs, traditional design-build’s low-bid DNA gives it an edge.

Wrapping Up

While both integrate design and construction, progressive focuses more on collaboration and owner involvement during design development. This phased format provides flexibility but requires careful coordination.

Traditional consolidates design and build into one streamlined sequence but provides less incentive for alignment. And it transfers more control away from the owner entity.

There’s no universally superior option. You need to weigh the benefits and downsides compared to the unique needs and priorities of your project.

The most important tip is to select the delivery method that best aligns with your goals around schedule, budget, control, and quality. Get these wrong, and it won’t matter which option looks better on paper!

Hopefully this overview has provided a useful side-by-side look at these two flavors of design-build. Now you’re equipped to determine which approach makes the most sense to generate successful outcomes for your next capital project.

Good luck and feel free to revisit parts of this guide anytime you’re weighing options for project delivery approaches!

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