California Multi-Agency CIP Benchmarking Study

Bob Williamson
Supervising Architect
Department of General Services
City of Sacramento, California

In 2001 the City of Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering was provided with funding to undertake benchmarking of their project delivery processes. In October 2001 they initiated the Study with several other large cities in California. Participants in this Study currently include the Cities of Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego. The group meets four times per year, compares data gathered since the previous meeting, and discusses project delivery issues of the various cities. The City of Los Angeles chairs the meetings and provides technical support for statistical analysis and development of a yearly report and website. The stated purpose of the Study is to gather accurate project information, compare the trends generated, and outline best management practices (BMPs) that will aid all participants in the efficient delivery of their projects.

The City of Los Angeles absorbs a large portion of the total cost of the Study and the other six partners split the remainder. Each agency also provides staff time to gather and organize information and travel/meeting expenses. The location of the meetings alternates between northern and southern California with a different city hosting each meeting. Sacramento hosted the February 2005 meeting.

Every year, each of the Study participants provides information about their completed projects. Information includes the length of project, cost of planning, design, and construction administration (by consultants and/or staff), the cost of change orders, and the total construction cost. This information is gathered by subgroups of several project types such as municipal facilities, streets, pipes, and parks. The participants use different methods to deliver projects and, by comparing similar projects, it is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of these methods as well as identify BMPs that might increase delivery efficiencies. Because of yearly variables, individual City funding fluctuations, and multi-year project schedules, charting this information over a series of years is especially valuable to the participants.

"Update 2004" is the latest report on the progress of the Study. It was completed and "published" in October 2004 and can be viewed on the benchmarking website at

With the recent City of Sacramento reorganizations, information is now submitted within three areas: General Services, Utilities, and Transportation-related projects. Some information like BMPs is reported by each Sacramento department and other information is reported for Sacramento as a single agency.

All Agencies expect the information provided by the Study will help their organization focus on better processes and techniques that will lower their overall cost of projects.

The Study now includes 595 projects with a construction total of nearly $1 billion. As each year's data is evaluated, the quality of the information improves because all Agencies have agreed to what is being tracked and how this information is formatted for comparison. Many categories now have enough projects within the Update 2004 database so that statistically accurate information can be compared, graphed and correlated. Many graphs are provided.

Agencies have begun implementation of BMPs and are generally reporting on their effectiveness and efficiencies. A statistical technique (multi-parameter regression) is planned to identify the concurrent effects of several parameters on one dependent parameter. Update 2004 proposes implementation of this technique to identify the relationship between BMPs (the independent parameters) and total project delivery cost as a percentage of total construction cost (the dependent parameter). The use of this technique is contingent upon improved performance data reliability and additional breakdown of BMP rating data.

There are data gaps that need to be filled by more projects in the range of $5-10 million. Continuing the Study will eventually fill these gaps. There continue to be refinements in data collection since there still remain differences between the Agencies. The following conclusions are supported by the Study data:

  1. Spending more on design may decrease total project cost by reducing change orders.

  2. The Study should collect change order data. Collection will include data that is broken into three categories: Unforeseen Changed Conditions/Errors & Omissions in documents/Other & Client Changes.

  3. Since the start of the Study, the trend in project size indicates that most Agencies are now doing more smaller sized projects. This may be related to budget tightening.

  4. Since the start of the Study, the percent cost of delivery has increased slightly. This is consistent with smaller projects, increased general complexity (regulations) and public participation. The trend has increased the percent overall average (all Agencies) by 1% a year from 32% to 34%.

  5. Trend information must be accompanied by examination of all variables. For instance, spending more on design (delivery) may decrease change orders and reduce the total construction cost thereby having an increasing effect on percent of cost of delivery along with a reduction (savings) in total project cost.

  6. The City of Sacramento's average percent cost of delivery has trended: 2002 - 32.67%; 2003 - 33.44%; 2004 - 31.93%. A longer view of this trend will help separate individual project and year effects.

  7. Since the cost of business varies within the organizations, differences in indirect factors applied to project-related salaries affects Agency-to-Agency comparisons.

  8. Project-type specific curves help predict (set Benchmark) for delivery cost based on the total construction value of the project.

Members of the Study team are currently implementing the Best Management Practices to the benefit of their communities. With the present declining condition of state and local budgets, the Study offers a way to offset reduced revenues by ensuring that available monies are used most productively. The Benchmarking Study won the Productivity Award within the City of Los Angeles on May 8, 2003. It was also included as an Honorable Mention in the League of California Cities prestigious Helen Putnam Award.

While the City of Los Angeles is the biggest player in our group it is very fair to say that all participants deserve credit for the efforts and resulting information. The acknowledgements section of the report, available at the website, provides a complete listing of all team members.

Bob Williamson can be reached at (916) 808-8430 or at Bill Lacher, OCM, LEED, of Vanir Construction Management, Inc., Los Angeles, is the Technical Lead on the Benchmarking Study Team and can be reached at