Just as a sturdy foundation is essential for a towering skyscraper, the validation period serves as the cornerstone for every successful progressive design-build (PDB) project. In fact, in late 2023, the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) defined and recommended the validation period as a best practice based on its use in successful projects.

There are several reasons for the recent growth in popularity of the PDB project delivery method in the water industry. Results from a study by the Construction Industry Institute show design-build projects have a 33.5% faster delivery speed compared to traditional design-bid-build projects. Additionally, DBIA reports that design-build projects have a 6% lower cost growth rate than traditional projects. Both of these statistics illustrate the point that design-build project delivery can help control schedules and costs effectively, making it a favorable approach for water project owners.

The Validation Period, Explained

Launched at the beginning of a project, the validation period gets work started on a strong foundation. All interested parties participate in planning to align on scope, schedule and budget, clearing a path for smooth collaboration throughout the remainder of the project. The collaboration that takes place during this phase allows for the creation of the most accurate project cost estimates, reasonable schedules and risk assessments. By addressing potential issues upfront, through the institution of a validation period, project teams can mitigate potential risks and avoid costly delays down the road.

When working on a PDB water project, the validation period encompasses a series of key steps. Critical components addressed during this period include establishing clear goals, implementing protocols for effective communication among stakeholders, and confirming or redefining project expectations.

The validation period should fall shortly after the project kickoff but before the preconstruction phase, and it plays a key role in the management of projects from an estimating and construction execution perspective. By fostering a collaborative environment between the project owner and the design-builder, the validation period allows for early identification of constructability issues and risks, guiding projects in a direction that aligns with realistic goals.

Defining Success

A validation period done haphazardly can result in uninformed decisions with detrimental effects on a project’s cost and schedule. By engaging all project participants, the validation period sets the stage for a smooth progression into preconstruction, design and construction. For projects to be guided through this period properly, working with an experienced PDB team that has demonstrated best practices is imperative.

For PDB water projects, it is important to identify early factors that can affect costs and schedule, such as site conditions, regulatory requirements and material availability, in order to accurately plan for these variables. Validation periods set in place a solid and reliable framework for project teams to address these and other key variables from the beginning. Success during this phase can be achieved by implementing these key strategies:

  • Determine a realistic budget. Develop an acceptable conceptual project cost and identify factors that could affect costs throughout. This involves creating a budget that aligns with the project scope and client's goals, while also accounting for potential changes and contingencies like labor force and supply chain challenges.
  • Develop a proper timeline. Creating a suitable project schedule requires coordinating with all project stakeholders to establish key milestones and dependencies so that the project can be completed efficiently and on time.
  • Identify preliminary risks and potential mitigation measures. Determining risks and developing ways to address them involves conducting thorough risk assessments that anticipate and address potential challenges, allowing for proactive planning and problem-solving.
  • Establish accountability. Agreeing upon which project stakeholder is most suited for managing various tasks and risks involves assigning roles and responsibilities based on knowledge and experience. Seeing to it that risks are effectively addressed and mitigated throughout the project life cycle is vital.
  • Build trusted partnerships. Establishing trusting and transparent relationships with clients is essential as this fosters open communication, collaboration and accountability, ultimately leading to a more positive and productive project experience.

When working through the validation period, it is crucial to have clear expectations for the project team. Bringing to the table a diverse group of dynamic professionals with varying specialties who can assess all facets of a project is essential. It’s important to assemble a team that includes estimators, designers, project managers, project controls and builders. Together, this multidisciplinary team can evaluate all aspects of the project and bring this knowledge to bear during the validation period.

The validation period is not just a box to check off on a project checklist — it is a fundamental building block that sets the stage for successful PDB water projects. By embracing this critical step, project teams can navigate challenges with confidence, deliver results that exceed client expectations and, ultimately, unlock the keys to project success.


To speed up projects and save costs, it is becoming increasingly popular in the water industry to use progressive design-build project delivery.

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Kevin Waddell, PE, Assoc. DBIA, leads preconstruction and estimating services for design-build and construction management at risk (CMAR) contracts for water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the U.S.