By Jeff Clevenger, P.E., Heath Therrien, P.E., PMP, Michelle Hoysick, P.E., and Joe Gonzalez

Design-Build (D-B) is the nation’s fastest growing project delivery method, with the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) noting that 44 percent of construction dollars spent on D-B projects in the U.S. Collaboration is key in D-B projects, with the designer and contractor working together as a team from procurement to closeout. The benefits are appealing: one combined team fosters teamwork and innovation, often leading to a higher-quality, more functional finished project. From a schedule perspective, the latest research from DBIA also notes that from design through completion, D-B projects are delivered more than twice as fast than traditional design-bid-build projects. However, D-B projects are fast paced with large design teams and budgets, which can create potentially chaotic environments. To achieve the maximum benefits of D-B project delivery, teams need to implement project controls and protocols to proactively mitigate risk and maintain schedule and budget.

Creating a Project Controls Team

In D-B project environments, time is of the essence. Project controls provides forecasting so that design managers can be proactive about managing the work, minimizing design delivery delays and cost overruns. To ensure productivity and set projects up for success, engineering firms are turning to dedicated project controllers. The project controller is typically a member of the project management team and provides information to the design manager so decisions can be made quickly about staffing, scheduling, change management, and budget. 

At Michael Baker International, a National Project Controls Manager oversees a roster of project controllers and assures that an experienced project controller is assigned to each D-B project. The project controls team draws upon standardized project controls tools for a consistent, national approach to project controls. This includes deployment of technology for implementation of an integrated, single-platform project controls/project management tool, which keeps the full team informed of project tasks and deadlines. The project controls team uses these tools to identify issues early so that the design manager can mitigate before they escalate. 

Identifying the Role of Project Controls in D-B 

Project controls are important at every stage of a project’s lifecycle: from planning and pre-bid to design and on to construction and project close-out. In the planning/pre-bid phase of a design-build project, the project controller assists the design management team with the following tasks:

  • Baseline schedule development
  • Planned budget and cashflow curve development
  • Scope baseline development
  • Staffing plan development
  • Monitoring and controlling proposal and bid design costs and schedule progress

During the execution phase, the project controller provides the following services:

  • Process financial data (actual costs) and compare to planned costs (budget) 
  • Track actual schedule progress against the baseline schedule
  • Conduct earned value analysis (EVA) including cost and schedule variances, estimate at completion and estimate to complete, and key performance indicators (KPIs) for cost and schedule performance (CPI and SPI)
  • Create and maintain S Curves for project performance visualization
  • Create and maintain project performance dashboards and reports for design management team and reporting to senior management

By implementing a point person to manage these activities, we can achieve the primary function of monitoring and controlling project scope, schedule and cost, while also addressing resource management, risk management, and change management. 

Realizing the Value of Project Controls

Michael Baker was the lead designer on the $672.9 million Interstate 10 (I-10) Corridor Express Lanes design-build project in San Bernardino County, a project to reduce traffic congestion, increase throughput and enhance regional mobility. Now in the construction phase, the large-scale, complex project includes widening an 11-mile stretch of high-volume, high-speed, multilane freeway for a new tolled Express Lane facility – through a heavily populated area with hundreds of commercial and retail properties bordering both sides.

From the project’s onset, Michael Baker implemented a focused design approach to meet the intended schedule and cost. Our custom project controls tools were utilized, in conjunction with project management software, to track project cost and schedule performance and facilitate change management. This holistic approach allowed for a direct correlation between schedule progress reporting, schedule of values, and the outputted invoicing that all mirrored the activities in the project schedule. Therefore, when the client, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority (SBCTA), approved schedule progress they also approved invoicing as one is a direct output of the other and not open to any subjectiveness. This ensured a quick invoice review, approval and timely payment. 

The project controls manager developed a detailed Critical Path Method (CPM) design schedule for schedule management and to provide visibility regarding progress, delays, float consumption, and critical path. The design schedule contained more than 5,000 design activities, incorporated contractual submittal metering requirements, and shared relationship links with the Master Construction Schedule. The complete project schedule featured more than 14,000 relationship-linked activities.

By implementing project controls, any issues with schedule could be immediately addressed. When any slippage mitigations were needed, the project controls team worked with project management to demonstrate culpability, quantify the level of impact and propose mitigations for recovery. An example of this was the evolving construction sequencing and extended review times with multiple agencies. Project management was able to show remaining float and quickly quantify workday delays to any critical tasks in the timeline.    

Project controls are essential to successful management of any project, no matter the scope or budget. 

Without project controls, teams may not know they are underperforming until it is too late to recover. By keeping a close eye on key project deadlines and costs, as well as effectively disseminating this critical information and updates, project controls teams are positioning D-B projects for success. 


Jeff Clevenger, P.E., National Practice Lead – Design Build at Michael Baker International
Jeff Heath Therrien, P.E., PMP, National Project Controls Manager at Michael Baker International
Michelle Hoysick, P.E., National Design-Build Engineer at Michael Baker International
Joe Gonzalez, Project Controls Manager at Michael Baker International 

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