Five Minutes with Roy Epps on his 41 years in the Water Industry and how Collaborative Delivery has Made it Better for Everyone

by and | Nov 13, 2023

Roy, you are retiring at the end of this year after 41 years in the industry.  What is the biggest change you have seen over that period?
One of the biggest (and best) changes I have witnessed is the move to the water industry having more collaborative delivery projects versus design-bid-build, or hard bid as we call it in the contractor world. Hard bid did nothing to bring out the best in designers and contractors. The part I disliked most were the disagreements that would happen on a project site between owners, designers, and contractors. Collaborative delivery has changed all of that by bringing together each party as a team instead of adversaries. 

How has collaborative delivery changed the market from a contractor perspective? 

Before collaborative delivery started gaining a foothold in the industry, the way you treated an owner or designer had no bearing on future projects. A contractor could do a terrible job on one project, turn right around for the same owner with a low bid, and win the next project. Contractors in that delivery model could win more work by figuring out how to provide a cheaper project. The words “change order” were an immediate avenue to a confrontation, which would in many instances result in hard feelings amongst the parties involved. It didn’t matter if it was something missed by the designer or something the owner realized they wanted, it elevated tensions between parties. On a collaborative delivery project, it all starts with everyone sitting down together and aligning their goals. The entire team works hand in hand with the owner to provide the best possible solution within its budget. No one is the bad guy; everyone works together.

Has the collaborative delivery market changed what you do as a leader?

In a collaborative delivery project, team and customer relationships are more important. We have implemented training on collaboration, making sure everyone has a voice. Honest and open communication leads to more successful projects.

When did you first get started with the Water Collaborative Delivery Association?
I started attending the WDBC [Water Design-Build Council, now WCDA] workshops in 2017. I was immediately impressed with the number of industry experts that were in attendance and, even though many were competitors, there was instant camaraderie present at the meetings.* Everyone in attendance was interested in the goal of making collaborative delivery the go-to option when thinking about constructing a project. The designers realized that the contractors were not the enemy and that we had a lot of things that we could bring to the table during design. On the flip side, the contractors realized that the designers had important ideas and necessary design criteria that they had to meet. Together, both parties could work to improve the process and help each other.

How have you seen the organization change? 
A few years ago suppliers started joining WCDA and attending the meetings and participating in the committees. This brought valuable perspective and ideas from a group that is typically seen as having more of a minor role in a design-bid-build project.

The best change or addition to the organization has been the training that the WCDA provides. Collaborative delivery methods were not taught in schools when many of us were new to this industry. We didn’t know how to take advantage of other delivery methods and that there was a better way. I have heard so many great things about the available materials and training that this group is doing. As someone who has preached the importance of continuing to learn new things throughout your career, I commend the WCDA for its focus on education.

What is the organization’s greatest benefit?
The greatest benefit I received from WCDA was the opportunity to meet and discuss the various challenges of building work, and to share new ideas with peers and other individuals in the construction world.

Can you talk about a project where you first saw the value in collaborative delivery and why?
One of the first collaborative delivery projects that I was part of really made me a believer in the process. We were working through an open-book cost model with the designer and the owner on a project with a large chlorine contact basin. Our construction model had broken out the cost of the interior concrete wall that would channel the water. The owner reviewed that cost item and said, “We are going to pay $3 million to just channel water around? There has to be a better way.”

The team went back to work and ultimately came up with a better way that cost less and gave the owner a higher quality project. After that value engineering, the owner asked, “How many other things have we just agreed to through the years because we just did not know how much they cost?”

I think this is true for many things in our life and really shows the value of collaborative delivery.

What are your predictions for the future of collaborative delivery?
Collaborative delivery has proven that it is a great model for a large majority of water-related construction projects. No two treatment plants are the same and that lends itself to working together to find the best solution at the best value. I do believe some new methods will be developed or evolve in order to help get costs in line with budget.

How did you develop such a successful career?
Construction is all about developing people. I have always tried to put individuals first and took an interest in their careers and helping them advance. If you have the best people, the rest just takes care of itself.

What will you miss most about your job? Least?
I will miss working together to find a solution to a problem. Some of the most satisfying times in my career have been when there was a problem and the entire team of contractor, designer, and owner worked together to come up with a solution. I will not miss the 4:30 a.m. alarm clock or the long airplane rides.
The people you have touched and the industry you have made better thank you for your efforts, Roy. You will be missed.

*With competitors often in the same room, WCDA takes great care to follow antitrust guidelines provided directly from our counsel at every meeting.