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Determining Agency Staffing Levels and Skill Sets for Alternative Contracting Methods (ACMs)


State departments of transportation (DOTs are increasingly incorporating the use of alternative contracting methods (ACMs) along with the traditional design-bid-build (D-B-B) delivery approach. The primary ACMs include design–build (D-B), construction manager/general contractor (CM/GC), public–private partnerships (P3), and other innovative techniques (e.g., alternative technical concepts (ATC), cost plus time contracting (A+B), a best-value approach to D-B-B projects, and others). In fact, ACMs are a significant part of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Every Day Counts Initiative because they are tools that can be used to improve transportation projects and programs.

Staffing needs and skill sets for traditional D-B-B delivery are well established. State DOTs have historically employed and maintained levels of technical and administrative staff to perform design and construction activities according to their traditional delivery practices. However, the staffing needs, skill sets, and organizational structure for ACM projects vary from D-B-B and have not been adequately understood although they are critical to the success of implementing ACM projects and programs.

NCHRP Synthesis 518 Staffing for Alternative Contracting Methods found ACM projects require staff with different skill sets, knowledge domain, and competencies to be successful. NCHRP Synthesis 518 also highlighted that state DOTs are faced with more complex decision making regarding the appropriate levels and mix of staffing for ACM projects. The staffing needs for ACMs vary widely among DOTs and are affected by project and program size, type, staffing availability, organizational structure preferences, and ACM selection processes among other factors. There is a need for developing a formal process and procedure to help state DOTs effectively and efficiently select the “right” people for ACM project teams. The proposed research should address at least the following questions:


How can state DOTs provide effective and efficient staffing levels for successfully delivering ACM projects? When do state DOTs use consultant forces to supplement in-house staff for ACM projects?


What are the critical skill sets and knowledge that state DOTs should attain for ACM project teams? Do these skill sets and knowledge domains vary among ACMs (e.g., D-B, CM/GC, and P3)? How do state DOTs determine the “right” people for their ACM project teams?


How do staffing needs vary with different types of organizational structures (centralized, decentralized, and combined)?


How do state DOTs introduce new/junior staff to ACMs? What type of trainings are needed to promote ACMs?


What traditional DOT functions and responsibilities are delegated or shared by the project contractors under various ACMs? What impacts does this have on staffing roles?


The main objective of the proposed research is to develop guidelines to assist state DOTs in effectively and efficiently planning, staffing, and developing a sustainable core workforce for successfully implementing ACMs along with traditional D-B-B projects.


By developing guidance on the needed staff and the associated skills that these DOT staff should possess, DOTs can more efficiently deliver highway construction projects using ACMs. Further, the use of the results has the potential for DOTs to expand their portfolio and use ACMs more often than currently.

Related Research:

Existing information on agency staffing for alternative project delivery is scattered throughout various internal working documents published by state highway and other transportation agencies. One such example is the Washington State Department of Transportation’s “Guidebook for Design-Build Highway Project Development,” which includes a subsection that discusses special staff needs when procuring Design-Build. Another source of information is the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Innovative Contracting Guidelines,” which lists items to consider when choosing alternative delivery methods, including staffing—although no particular guidelines for staffing are included. Further, the Virginia Department of Transportation outlines the QA/QC measures necessary for alternative delivery projects, which help inform the level of oversight needed from the agency staff for these quality measures. Other state highway agencies keep their staffing information internal in project management manuals, which often are not shared with the public.

A limited number of reports and academic studies have been published on topics related to, or that acknowledge the importance of, owner involvement and staffing in alternative project delivery frameworks. TCRP Report 131 discusses staffing requirements and capability in general terms, but does not provide practical guidelines for determining the appropriate levels of agency staffing. Another example is Gordon’s (1994) interesting discussion of owner sophistication and owner involvement for different delivery methods. Gransberg and Molenaar (2007) also studied the impacts of Design-Build on the public workforce, which can serve as another basis for this research that is interested in providing specific staffing guidance to the state highway agencies.


Proposed tasks to accomplish this objective are as follows:

Task 1: Conduct a literature search to review past studies on staffing practices in transportation agencies and other industries.

Task 2: Select a representative set of highway agencies with the extensive experience in using ACMs that can be studied in depth to identify both effective staffing practices, challenges, and lessons learned.

Task 3: Prepare a white paper to document the findings from Tasks 1 and 2.

Task 4: Prepare a research work plan that describes the details of the research methodology and approach to identifying and verifying effective practices and developing conclusions.

Task 5: Execute the research work plan and prepare an interim research report that articulates data collection and analysis as well as emerging conclusions, effective practices, lessons learned, and a proposed outline for the guidebook.

Task 6: Prepare the draft guidebook on staffing practices, skill sets, and knowledge for ACM projects. Incorporate review comments as required, and validate the guidebook’s efficacy with case study DOTs.

Task 7: Publish the final guidebook and a final research report that details the full results of the research


Proper staffing levels on ACM projects are essential. State DOTs and other agencies expend large portions of their budgets on staffing; therefore, the efficient use of staffing is vital to appropriate expenditures of tax dollars. This proposed research is especially important for ACMs where little relevant staffing guidance exists. It is difficult to quantify the overall scope of completed or in-process ACMs, but that figure easily exceeds $100 billion. Inadequate or ineffective agency staffing on project portfolios of this magnitude could result in inefficient use of public funds and potentially lead to higher maintenance costs and lower quality.

Based on the findings from NCHRP Synthesis 518, the results showed that staff competency required for the traditional D-B-B does not directly apply to the implementation of ACMs. For example, strong partnering and team-building skills were found the critical success factor for ACM projects. The intent of this project is to furnish a uniform set of guidelines for planning efficient and effective staffing on ACMs. The final deliverable potentially will be a guidebook to help state DOTs establish effective and efficient staffing for their ACM projects. The guidelines will become available through the TRB/NCHRP libraries and websites.

Sponsoring Committee:AKC10, Construction Management
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Dan Tran, University of Kansas; Douglas Gransberg, Gransberg and Associates; Chris Harper, Colorado State University; Roy Sturgill, Kentucky Transportation Center
Source Info:AFH10 - Standing Committee on Construction Management
Date Posted:02/06/2014
Date Modified:08/08/2018
Index Terms:Design bid build, Design build, Guidelines, Project delivery, Construction manager at risk, Quality assurance, Quality control, Selection and appointment,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Administration and Management
Transportation (General)

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