The design-build project delivery approach continues to deliver value to utilities and developers. From a single point of responsibility and integration to cost certainty and timely delivery, design-build can help create a more streamlined and seamless project experience.

Design-build planning starts by assessing which project elements will take the longest. Then, the team works backwards to inform sequencing of design and procurement. However, the global supply chain crisis is creating major bottlenecks in the delivery of much-needed equipment for projects in all industries. Some portions of the planning need rethinking accordingly.

In the past, it was common to create a design-build schedule knowing what was needed for procurement — concrete amounts, materials and equipment, etc. — and the team could create schedule logic with a reliable idea of how long lead times would be. With supply chain issues projected to continue well into the next few years, procurement lead time forecasts are scrambled, and completion dates are becoming less reliable.

As a result, it is essential to design not only for constructability, but also for procurement. This means creating technical documents earlier, in addition to communicating early and often with vendors and suppliers. A design-build model allows flexibility in this process as it provides a path to early cost certainty and an accelerated project schedule. Keys to success in designing for procurement include:

  • Delivering up-to-date specifications. Over time, technology changes and evolves, and so do materials and equipment. It’s important to maintain current and up-to-date technical specifications that match current needs. By providing the latest, most timely technical documents to vendors and suppliers, there are fewer questions involved, and the procurement process can be completed at a quicker pace.
  • Engaging suppliers early and often. Understanding lead times and what procurement could look like should be tackled as early as possible. With the current supply chain environment, situational awareness is essential. With early communication, it could be discovered that one vendor has longer lead times or limitations compared to other vendors. Or maybe the manufacturer has some ideas on creating efficiencies where possible.
  • Breaking out long lead items. Another idea to consider is breaking out items with longer lead times into priority design packages. In this scenario, early design would be performed around procurement in order to gather technical data, create preliminary plans and deliver this information to the vendor as soon as possible. That way, the design-build team could collaborate early with the vendor and scope out any possible pitfalls that might present challenges.

The design-build delivery approach provides many benefits for utility projects. Even when global crises arise, steps like designing for procurement and early supplier engagement can be implemented to produce seamless and successful project outcomes.


In the race to remain competitive, industries must continue modifying their approach to the supply chain to address exposed weaknesses.

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published Dec. 20, 2021, and has been updated for context and accuracy.

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.