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How should an Owner select a Design Consultant and Contract for Design on a Project?

[fa icon="calendar"] Jul 11, 2017 12:55:00 PM / by John R. Manning, PE, CCM, LEED

The most effective use of an Owner’s Budget on a project is to ensure that they have a good design. The lack of a complete and coordinated design on a project has resulted in many failed projects.

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Going cheap on a design team is the worst area to try to cut money on a project. This does not mean overpaying for design but it does mean getting the right design team for the project and paying a fair value for the design services as well as holding their feet to the fire to achieve a complete design. As an Owner’s Representative, it is key for us to help the Owner in these tasks.

The best process to select a design professional is a two-step process. The first step will be a submission of qualifications (RFQ) and the second step is a submission of pricing (RFP). The reason we recommend a two-step process is to ensure that first we narrow the field down to design firms who are qualified for the type of project they are designing and secondly, separately, get pricing from that narrowed down field.

RFQ Process

A detailed Request for Qualifications process is the first step. The Owner’s Representative, with input from the Owner, should develop a list of Design Consultants to solicit qualifications from on a project. The Request for Qualifications Package should provide the Project Definition/Scope/Client Requirements in narrative form and the required Time of Performance from the Milestone Schedule for the Design Milestones which will help the Design Consultant understand what the project will entail. The Request for Qualifications should request the following responses from the design firms:

1. Firm’s Approach to the Project

As the Owner’s Representative, you want to understand how the Design Team will approach this Project. How may design evolution packages do they believe are necessary? Do they have a unique approach to the Project that would make them the better choice for this Project?

2. Firm’s Experience in Similar Projects (usually at least five similar projects)

You will want to know what other projects, like the one you are managing for the Owner, they have done in the past. This will help you understand their capabilities on completed projects and allow you to gauge their capabilities.

3. Proposed Staffing for the Project with Their Experience

One thing you learn in this business is that the right PEOPLE can make a world of difference on a project. In that regard, you want to understand the capabilities of who will be managing and who will be developing the design for the Project. When you check references, you should also be checking to see if any of these individuals where on those projects and how did they perform.

Group of architects at a construction site looking at blueprints .jpeg4. Proposed Sub-Consultants for the Project with Their Experience

Most design firms do not have all their expertise in-house so you will want to understand who their key sub-consultants are – especially the ones handling structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection as they will be key to a successful project.

5. References

While typically the Designer will provide references, who will be supportive of their efforts, it is important get those references and call them to help understand who performed on that project. Did any of the Key Staff proposed on this project work on that project? If so how did they perform? Was there a lot of change on the project after the design was bid? (in other words, did they provide a complete design). As the Owner’s Representative, you should keep a written memo on who you talked with and what they said regarding the Design Consultant.

6. Outstanding Litigation on Design Issues

In this litigious society we live in, an Owner needs to understand if there are other ongoing litigation issues that may impact a design consultant. These issues could impact their insurance limits and the viability of the firm to deliver on your project.

7. Professional Licenses

Copies of their current license in the venue where the project is to be built will be important for the Owner to have. It will be critical that they have a completed design that is stamped and sealed by professionals licensed in the jurisdiction where the project is being built to allow the project to get a permit.

Horizontal view of happy team working together-1.jpeg8. Signed Confidentiality Agreement

The Owner is investing a lot of money in the development of a project and they have a right to keep the information on the project and the design confidential for their use only.

The RFQ could be sent in a letter format requesting a response to these items. Once the Owner’s Representative receives the responses they should review those and develop a recommendation to the Owner on which firms to “short list” for the RFP. This process should include calling references provided with written detail on the responses to those calls. We typically would like to solicit qualifications from at least 6 firms such that we never have less than 3 firms that are pre-qualified to submit pricing for the project.

For Design Professionals, we also recommend interviews with the Owner as the design scope requires substantial interaction with Owner’s Representative and the Owner. Presentations by the firms allow both the Owner’s Representative and the Owner to gain a better understanding of the firm’s capabilities and ask further questions. This may be held before the sending of the RFP or before depending upon the timing, type of project and needs of the Owner.

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RFP Process

After the Design Firms have been “short listed,” an RFP should sent to request a proposal from the firm. The development of the RFP is a joint effort with our Client and should involve extensive involvement with the Client’s Legal Counsel. If the Client does not have legal counsel, the Owner’s Representative should propose counsel to assist in the development of the agreements for this RFP. A detailed RFP should include the following items: 

1. Copy of Executed Confidentiality Agreement

The first document in the RFP will be the signed Confidentiality Agreement to reinforce the confidentiality requirements to the firms.

2. Proposal Instructions

The second document will detail what will be required for the proposal to be accepted and the timing of the proposal and anticipated award.

3. Exhibit A: Design Scope of Services

The Scope of Services is a narrative that focuses in on exactly what services you desire from the Consultant or A/E.

4. Exhibit B: Facilities Program Documents

This Exhibit may or may not be necessary for design. The scope of this exhibit is a list of any Client program and specifications that can be provided to the designer to better understand the project.

5. Exhibit C: Compensation Schedule

This Exhibit is to be used to breakdown the proposed fee when responding to the Request for Proposal.

6. Exhibit D: Partial Waiver of Lien

This Exhibit contains the partial waiver of lien that the Consultant is to fill out with each payment application.

7. Exhibit E: General Release and Final Waiver of Lien

This Exhibit contains the final waiver and release form that the Consultant is to fill out at completion of their services.

8. Exhibit I: Hourly Billing Rate

This Exhibit contains the format that the Consultant is to submit their proposed hourly rates for their services on the project.

9. Exhibit F: Contract Time

This Exhibit details the milestone dates that the Consultant needs to meet in providing services on the project.

Pensive man holding blueprints in a construction site.jpeg10. Exhibit G: Architects Sub-Consultant List

This Exhibit is where the Design Team is to provide a list of their sub-consultants with contact information.

11. Exhibit H: Project Intent

This Exhibit outlines the Project Scope and goals of the Owner for the completed project.

12. Exhibit I: Hourly Billing Rate

This Exhibit is the form where the Design Team is to provide their hourly billing rates.

13. Exhibit J: Sample Consultant Agreement

This Exhibit is the form of agreement the services for this project are to be performed under.

Soliciting and contracting with a qualified Design Professional is key to the success of a Project. As an Owners’ Representative, it is important that this process is done in a systematic form to a reach the result of the best design firm for a particular project!


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Topics: Owner's Representative, Project Management