Design-Build Delivers

A Bridge Too Far?: Contextualizing DBIA's New Position Statement on Bridging Documents and Prescriptive Requirements

February 21, 2024 DBIA
Design-Build Delivers
A Bridge Too Far?: Contextualizing DBIA's New Position Statement on Bridging Documents and Prescriptive Requirements
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Last month, DBIA released Prescriptive Design and the Use of Bridging Documents, a new position statement that aligns with DBIA’s Design-Build Done Right® Best Practices. By encouraging Owners to limit prescriptive requirements and bridging documents in favor of requirements based on performance, the guidance provided in the new position statement allows for the flexibility and innovation design-build is known for. 

But how this works in practice can be a bit confusing. What do we mean by “extensive?” What should Owners do instead? Is there a happy medium? 

We invited Bill Kent, LEED AP, FDBIA, and Shailendra Patel, PE, FDBIA, to the February 2024 episode of the Design-Build Delivers Podcast, brought to you by USCAD, to answer those questions and more. Their insights answered several questions about the new position statement and helped illustrate just where it fits into the greater design-build landscape. 


Market Executive

Shailendra Patel, PE, FDBIA
Alternative Project Delivery Division Administrator 
Virginia Department of Transportation 

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Erin Looney, Bill Kent, Shailendra Patel 

Erin Looney  00:09

Last month, DBIA released a new position statement called Prescriptive Design and the Use of Bridging Documents. It aligns with DBIA's Design-Build Done Right Best Practices by encouraging Owners to limit prescriptive requirements and bridging documents in favor of requirements based on performance. Following that guidance allows for the flexibility and innovation design-build is known for. 


Erin Looney  00:30

But how this works in practice can be a bit confusing. What do we mean by extensive? What should Owners do instead? Is there a happy medium? 


Erin Looney  00:38

I am Erin Looney, and I have no idea. But that's why we invited Bill Kent and Shailendra Patel to this episode of the Design-Build Delivers Podcast brought to you by USCAD. They have way more than an idea of how this works. We were lucky to have them in the studio to talk about prescriptive design over coffee one morning during DBIA's annual board meeting. Their insights answered several questions about the new position statement and helped illustrate just where it fits in the greater design-build landscape. 


Erin Looney  01:05

Bill is a market executive with Mortensen, who has been working as a DBIA instructor since 2008. He serves on the Core Curriculum Exam Committee and DBIA Certification Board and National Board of Directors. Shailendra, also on the National Board of Directors, is an alternative project delivery division administrator with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Shailendra is also on the DBIA Transportation/Aviation Markets Committee and Conferences Committee, as well as the Progressive-Design Resources Committee. Welcome Shailendra and Bill.


Erin Looney  01:47

Now I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I can figure out just about anything short of quantum mechanics. But I'm not sure I completely grasp the concept of bridging documents. So let's start with a crash course in what this position statement on bridging documents talks about, what DBIA is position statement says about them and why it's important for DBIA to have a position at all.


Bill Kent  02:14

I think first of all, Erin, is when we're talking about bridging documents, what we're really talking about relates to traditional Best Value design and Price Type competitions, which is one of the very valuable tools we have in our design-build tool belt for Owners to deliver projects. The Owner's major role in that type of procurement is to communicate to the competitors what it is they want out of their project. And there's really two different ways Owners can do that. One is by defining the end result and leaving it up to the design-builder to determine how to, how to achieve that end result. We call that performance-based requirements. The other is prescriptive requirements, where an Owner starts defining what the answers are, telling the design-builders how to do their– complete their project or used on their project. And that's where bridging documents come in. We call that prescriptive design. And that's where an Owner starts mandating or dictating the outcome and the design for their project.


Shailendra Patel  03:09

So, from my perspective, I agree with Bill. And in addition to that the, the really the purpose with this position statement was to share DBIA's perspective on prescriptive requirement and related to breaching document. The position statement clearly indicates that use of extensive prescriptive requirements and bridging documents eliminates or minimizes the inherent advantage offered by design-build project delivery. And I think this is very important for any Owners to understand, by having those prescriptive requirements, what kind of work product or output they get.


Erin Looney  03:57

A little later, we're going to talk a bit about the concept of how making this decision impacts the advantages of design-build. So it's good that you said that and we'll come back to that in a bit. What I'd like to do now though, is talk a little about the recommendation is to avoid extensive bridging documents. Extensive is a subjective term. I could say I have extensive knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or an extensive collection of baseball memorabilia, and you'd both have a different picture in your mind of what that means, right. So when we use that term here, what is considered extensive?


Shailendra Patel  04:34

Now coming back to extensive requirements, right? So when the efforts goes beyond just the NEPA document, and then design development continues to occur, let's say for example, it goes beyond right away plan where you can start right away acquisitions. Instead of focusing on the data like geotechnical data report, which is risk base documents or risk based requirements, risk based assessment, we really go beyond and continue those design efforts that really minimizes or eliminate the advantages that design-build procurement process will offer you through alternative technical solutions, innovative ideas. So that's where I would say extensive for transportation sector is going beyond what is necessary to get us or get Owner to help the process provide benefit of it.


Shailendra Patel  04:34

Before we talk about extensive, I really want to talk about the bridging documents and that prescriptive requirements need changes from sector to sectors. In other words, if I am working in the area of facilities or maybe wastewater –– I'm using that as an example that could use lot more performance base requirement. Whereas when it comes down to transportation, there are certain regulations we have to follow because most of our projects are funded, federally funded. And that comes with all the requirements. On top of that basic requirements for a transportation project is a NEPA document, that's where you begin. And NEPA document requires efforts related to determining the alternatives, alignments for the roadway highway. And then in order to get that place or get to that point, there are specific design development efforts made. And then there is a public hearing aspect of it. So you can't just go out there and build the road wherever you want. Right. So it so basically, what I'm trying to say that even though we have a position statement says less is better, which I agree with completely, but you cannot completely eliminate bridging documents. In transportation, we use certain level of design efforts. 


Erin Looney  07:05

And the definition of necessary– 


Shailendra Patel  07:07



Erin Looney  07:08

–that may change from project to project a little bit, right? 


Shailendra Patel  07:10

Absolutely, absolutely depends on the, the project, the complexity, the size, the magnitude, all those factors comes into play.


Erin Looney  07:19

And Bill on the other side of the coin from Shailendra, you come from the commercial sector. So how are the use of bridging documents and the definition of what's considered extensive versus necessary different for you? 


Bill Kent  07:31

Very different than what Shailendra just divide for transportation. Because our requirements are so much, our sites are much limited and much more constrained. We know the Owners need to define what the site is, what the site we have to work with is and what their desired outcome is for the project. But we don't need them to tell us specifically what products to use or what shape of building they need to have. They should let the design-builder have the ability to innovate and come up with the best idea and best solution they can for that particular– whatever the Owner, that Owner has required. So I'm not saying that can't do any prescriptive specs on the commercial side, because there are some times when when it makes sense for an Owner to specify exactly what they want, but limited to only those categories of things that are that important. And with regards to bridging, there has been a lot of very successful designer price best valued competitions for commercial projects where an Owner has done no design at all. They've just identified this is what we need at the end of the day. And here's the parameters we're working with. And here's our site. And through the competition, they're getting three great teams to create a solution for them and they're getting, they're able to pick from the best of both solutions, which is a huge value to Owners.


Erin Looney  08:37

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Erin Looney  09:02

DBIA only releases a position statement in an area that significantly could impact the potential for successful projects. And listening to this tells me why having a bridging documents-focused position statement is important. Our stance at DBIA: do what you can to avoid their extensive use. So what is DBIA's recommendation in lieu of this? Talk about that.


Bill Kent  09:41

Anytime you see a position statement from the DBIA, it's going to be supporting our best practices. And our best practices clearly identify what our stances on how an Owner should communicate their needs for a project to design-build teams who are competing, so the teams have enough information that they need to run responsibly respond to the RFP and give going to what they're looking for. And an Owner can be assured that they're going to get at the end of the day of a facility or a road or whatever it may be, that's going to perform the way they want it to be. So our best practice summarizes basically saying, we want to limit the amount of prescriptive specs and maximize use of performance based specs, which gives the design-build teams the opportunity to innovate and be creative and use the wisdom of the team that they've created to compete for the project to come up with the best solution for the Owner.


Shailendra Patel  10:30

So I would add to what Bill said, from our perspective, what makes sense from bridging document perspective, not only what is we needed required by NEPA document, but beyond that, I will focus more efforts on providing information that is related to risk that, that project brings right, and we are asking design-builders to bid this job lump sum fixed price contracts, it is very important for them to understand the risk and price the risk accordingly. It benefits Owner, it benefits design-builder and really, really provides the solutions that are not only better than what Owner probably held in vision to the conceptual plan. But it also allows flexibilities. So what we usually try to do, we just try to focus on a geotechnical data report, we focus on a utility survey, right away properties, whatever the impact is going to be. Those information are very important for any offers before they bid the job.


Erin Looney  11:41

Now, Shailendra, you mentioned flexibility –– we do like that word here. Are there exceptions to everything you have just said, the expectations in your given sectors where maybe going –– I don't want to say against –– I don't want to go against our positions. But being flexible within the position statement on prescriptive requirements and bridging documents might better serve the project?


Bill Kent  12:09

I can think of one example. I was teaching a certification workshop to a company that did labs, they worked lab, developed in labs and whatnot. And they got very uncomfortable when I started talking about performance based specifications in explaining what the best practices were and everything regarding that. And it came down to that they, they in their labs had one specific piping system that they knew exactly what they wanted, they knew what products they wanted, they knew exactly how they wanted it built. And they were using that one component of their project to make them believe that they had to be prescriptive around the whole building. So after a good discussion, we were saying we were able to come to a conclusion that well, why don't we just be prescriptive on that one piping system, and you mandate exactly how you want that done, but be performance based around them, the building that was going to surround that system. And I think that got them to a point where they were comfortable with the solution. So again, there may always be one or two reasons why or components in order and we may want to be prescriptive on but limited to just that and let performance based requirements mandate the rest of the project.


Shailendra Patel  13:15

On highway projects you see all this, it is signs that talks about the message signs, the cameras, the whole system that works together. So every time we have a projects, those system, when you go to the next project, it has to talk to each other, it has to be compatible. In that case, we have to be very prescriptive, what we're going to provide so ma- make sure the system operates and works perfectly, communicates with each other. There might be some other projects where they're very, very limited. So if you have projects that is you cannot do any innovation because the projects are limited to right away to right away, barrier to barrier you are just doing paving, a paving replacement. More prescriptive requirements are on those projects that we definitely tell them exactly what do we need. And in those cases, we actually do not go through too long evaluation process because pretty much what we want and what you can do is define and then you are just using design-build to achieve all other aspects of expedited project delivery, and also trying to make project faster where expedited delivery comes through. Generally not having sequential activities and you're just doing concurrent activities to achieve the results. And we're getting out of a design-builder's way. Their team can design and construct a project within stipulated time- timeframe we have.


Erin Looney  14:45

At the top of the show, Shailendra, I mentioned we'd come back to the impact of prescriptive requirements and bridging documents on the advantages of design-build. So let's go ahead and do that now. The DBIA position statement argues too much bridging, too many prescriptive requirements can have a detrimental effect on the advantages of the design-build project delivery method. So, explain what that detrimental effect might look like.


Shailendra Patel  15:09

If we go with prescriptive document and pursue the bridging document which is combination of design and the technical requirements. If you do that, I think it may give you design-build offerors a perception that Owner is not open to any other innovative ideas, right. They just completely shuts that– shuts down the innovative thinking process. And that could be one, one reason that it will hinder the better solution that design-build process offers. Design-build procurement process itself, it has an inherent advantage of value engineering process that used to occur in post award construction phase. What design-build procurement process does is brings that all value engineering efforts that goes after orders advertised to plan, now it's occurring in real time before we have completed 100% plan. Right? So if you have all these prescriptive requirements, bridging document that went– that went beyond what is the fine line, it hinders the ability of leveraging design-build procurement process. And that's just the beginning right? The continuation of innovation still occurs during the construction phase also. 


Shailendra Patel  16:30

But we have realized, and we have seen, there are so many innovative ideas. We have seen three offer competing on the best ideas, the solutions, and they all are different. However, they actually meet all the requirements and the goals of the project. So you have now three teams, design-build teams competing to give you a solution of the project, which may look a little bit different, but it meets all the requirements. And that magic is amazing. You got to see how each team is working on this project to achieve those goals within the parameters that Owners have defined. And and sometimes they actually comes back and say, Would you take this? Would you let me deviate from what it is. And maybe I can give you a better product than what you're anticipating. Right. So that's what happens if you have a lot more extensive preacbridginghing document and you don't have no room, wiggle room, as you say, to the flexibility, then you really not, not serving yourself, the industry and the public. 


Shailendra Patel  17:51

End of the day, we have seen a lot of schedule saving, cost saving. And now it can be debated whether what is cost saving –– but time is money. Right? That's one aspect for sure. But when you have a when you have a solution, that is also not only better, and it's it, it's faster. But it also out of the box thinking you let me use an example. If you have a project where you're thinking about having a –– I'm talking about simple street intersection with a traffic light, right –– that's something that Owner wanted to do. If you use design-build process and somebody comes back and say, well, well, we want to give you a roundabout, it serves the same purpose, right? It's safer, less expensive, and is a creative solution that achieves the goal of the project. If it wasn't for design-build, you will never get that.


Bill Kent  18:54

To go through the bridging process– go through the process of creating bridging documents takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. And Owners will spend a lot of money on the bridging consultant to go through that, in order to do their job properly, their bridging consultant is going to have to meet with stakeholders and they're gonna have to do a lot of investigation of what the Owner's real desires are. And that's all gonna go into the RFP documents. So Owner will spend a lot of time and money preparing for their RFP process. And then because the Owner has bridged and created, basically told the competitors what the solution is, the competition becomes much more of a price based competition and not much not so much in an innovation type competition. And there are a lot of good design-build firms that will shy away from a bridging type competition because it looks more like design/bid/build, because the solution's already been defined. And they'll just wait for a performance based RFQ to come out because that's where they know they can shine. Because from a design-builder standpoint being selected because you have better ideas is much better than being selected because you have the lowest price. So that's one of the components of that that. 


Shailendra Patel  20:00

I 100% agree with you, I see this over and over again, that duplicating efforts, really does not, does not yield any value, right. I mean, we see this all the time. This is why DBIA position statement that emphasizes on extensive or prescriptive requirement. And I think, Bill, you you have summarized it very well, those efforts, that design-builder has to go back again, because it's not the bridging consultant's design, it is now design-builder's team has to still create another set of document that is actually going to be used to build the project, signed and sealed. So that's a very important aspect of this, why DBIA position statement is talking about performance requirements, and minimizing. We are not saying that they are bad, I think they're necessary. Shouldn't say a necessary evil, but we need that; we need them.


Bill Kent  20:00

The second component is, is the whole concept around design-build delivery is we're trying to be more efficient with everybody's time. And in order for the Owner to create those bridging documents, they're spending time with stakeholders and whatnot, and, and then another design team is going to come on board after the competition, and they're gonna want to meet with those same stakeholders again. So there's a duplication of effort, the Owner is going to pay for both efforts, it's going to be priced into the cost of the job. So there really is a lot of duplication of efforts and cost and time and money that doesn't need to happen. Because if you just use the performance based criteria documents, those stakeholders have much less involvement in the creation of those documents and more involvement with it just like a design-build team after selection. 


Erin Looney  21:46

You know, one day –– all of our guests tend to agree with one another –– one day I'm going to get people who go, "absolutely not!" and the show is going to take a whole different turn. Let's end by broadening this out a little bit and talking more best practices, larger picture, how does implementing DBIA's Best Practices impact the ability for Owners and offerors to complete a successful design-build project? Full stop.


Bill Kent  22:15

I think it's important that people understand how the DBIA's best practices are developed. And it's an extensive effort and we get input from -- this is the nice thing about DBIA; we have in our ranks; we have designers, we have Owners, we have trade partners, we have general contractors –– we're getting input from the whole breadth of project delivery components, and they're all giving input on what has worked and what hasn't worked on their projects in different marketplaces: transportation, commercial, water/wastewater, aviation. So we're gathering all this information from all these different market sectors from all these different–– different disciplines. And we're condensing it into a fairly precise set of best practices that we just revised last year. So we do have a brand new set of DBIA's best practices. And it's been proven over and over again, that if you incorporate those best practices, you enhance your ability to have a much more successful project. We'd like to say we guarantee it. But we will never say that. But we, we do enhance your opportunity to have successful outcomes. And not only successful outcomes for the Owner, but everybody involved in the project should have a successful outcome, both from a financial standpoint and from a the their experience involved in the project. And from the outcome, they really should be proud of what we've what they've created together.


Shailendra Patel  23:33

I agree with what Bill had said. I think I'm glad he explained that what it takes for DBIA. What kind of effort goes into putting the best practices out. I mean, we've been involved for a long time. And each sector also creates their own best practices on top of universal best practice, right. So universal best practice really creates the framework for, for successful delivery using design-build. And then specific effort goes into each sector. And then we extend that best practices to specifically focus on what each area and what with, what each area or each sector needs, which enhances our probability of successful outcome. And that's what, that's why we believe, strongly believe that following all DBIA best practices, or universal best practice, as well as your sector, will increase your probability of having successful project then also evidence when project failed. A lot of best practices are not being used. Right. So that's what that's what Best Practices does.


Erin Looney  24:47

Speaking of best practices for sectors, that's one of many hot button issues coming up at April's design-build conferences for water/wastewater and transportation/aviation in Cincinnati. There are general sessions focused on DBIA's update to the best practices for both sectors, and if you've not made plans to join us April 15 through 17th for water/wastewater, or April 17 through 19th for transportation/aviation, you might want to go do that now. Go ahead. I'll wait. 


Erin Looney  25:13

Okay, no, I won't really wait. I'll let you do that in your own time. And speaking of doing things in your own time, be on the lookout for more from this conversation with February's Design-Build Delivers Bonus Content. This new feature goes deeper into the discussion, covers additional topics or otherwise brings you content you can't get just in the monthly episode. Follow us on social @DBIAnational to find out when bonus content is available. Thanks to Fred Yi for going way above and beyond to produce this episode. Thanks to Shailendra Patel and Bill Kent and coffee for helping me and you –– with or without coffee –– understand how the prescriptive design and the use of bridging documents position statement furthers Design-Build Done Right. And thank you to USCAD for making the Design-Build Delivers Podcast possible. Learn more at

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Why Have a Position Statement on Prescriptive Requirements, Anyway?
Are There Exceptions? (Kind of.) And How to Manage Them
It All Comes Back to Design-Build Done Right®: How a Position Statement on the Use of Bridging Documents Supports DBIA’s Best Practices
Time is Money, My Friend: Preparation of Bridging Documents Can Impact Schedule, Budget on Design-Build Projects
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