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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Choose your Architect/Engineer Team to suit your Project – Strategic Facility Planning for Small and Medium Sized Businesses
Topic: Facility Planning

Author:  Paul Hay - Managing Partner, PAUL HAY Capital Projects

In "To Build, or not to Build", I dealt with the feasibility of undertaking a construction project.  I assume you have completed that activity, and decided to proceed with the project.  Now, you need an architect/engineer team.  A building project actually involves four phases: commencing with planning, through to design, construction, and terminating at the operation and maintenance phase.  On large jobs, separate teams may undertake the planning and design phases, especially where planning requires highly specialised expertise.  However, a single architect/engineer team generally undertakes both stages in smaller jobs.  Even though you may not be billed for planning, do not assume the stage does not exist: design cannot commence without first having determined the project requirements.

In "Consider Image Carefully", I recommended that you be intimately involved in this planning process.  This is especially true if the project is to be particularly complex or innovative.  As the owner, you should initiate the process because there is a better likelihood that you will determine the criteria to judge the selection of an architect/engineer team appropriate for your job.  It is not uncommon for an architect/engineer team to be changed even during the construction stage, so having a firm grasp of what is required from this team will facilitate an appropriate selection, though this is not guaranteed. 

At the very least, you should determine the nature of the project - whether innovative, complex, or routine - and your priorities with regard to cost, time frame and quality of the work.  The reasons will be apparent in shortly.  The selection of an architect/engineer team generally takes two forms: either direct negotiation with a specific team or a process involving the pre-selection of a number of teams, creating a short-list, and then selecting the most appropriate team.  The latter is typically used for large projects, so we assume the former is used: though the selection process to be outlined will be instructive to both.

The Coxe Group Management Consultants (Seattle) surveyed 100 design firms of varying sizes, markets and organizational formats.  They classified these firms by their "technology - what they do best - and, their "values" - the goals of the firm. 

With regard to the former, the Coxe Group identified three categories of firm technologies: the "strong-idea", "strong-service", and "strong-delivery" firms.  A "strong-idea" firm delivers expertise or innovation to unique projects.  It adapts to any project and typically depends on a few outstanding individuals.  A "strong-service" firm delivers experience and reliability particularly on complex projects.  They provide comprehensive service to clients that are actively involved in the process.  A "strong-delivery" firm provides efficient service on similar or routine projects to clients seeking a product, rather than a service.  It repeats successful solutions for technical cost and schedule compliance.

In this case, the nature of the project will indicate the appropriate team.  You need to determine if the project is to be unique, complex, or routine.  Having made this decision, the short-list of technology-oriented firms will be self evident.  Knowledge of the projects undertaken, or physical inspection of these, will be instructive.

Within these technology sets, the Coxe Group determined that the firms have values that are either "practice-centred" or "business-centred".  The practice-centred firms emphasize quality: serving their clientele and satisfactorily representing their discipline.  Business-centred firms are profit oriented.  Therefore, cost and time are emphasized. 

If you prioritize your needs based on quality, cost and time, you can eliminate firms with inappropriate values.  Practice-centred firms can also be judged on knowledge of their previous projects, or physical inspection of these.  Business-centred firms can be judged on their performance on the above.  Discussion with previous project owners will likely be needed for due diligence.  In the case of new firms, this evaluation will have to be done on previous projects by the principals and team members, prior to founding/joining the firm being considered.

You may intuitively realize that "strong-ideas" firms will gravitate towards practice-centred values, while "strong-delivery" firms gravitate to business-centred values.  But, especially small firms may lack focus and not be easily classified; while, highly focused firms will most likely disqualify themselves from discussing your project if it is not compatible.  Nevertheless, this procedure will serve to guide your selection of an appropriate architect/engineer team for your project.  Other than routine projects, the projects evaluated need not be the same but should be similar in nature contemplated: that is, uniqueness and complexity.  The teams' respective performances on the projects evaluated with regard to quality, price and time should then be compatible with the manner you expect your project to be handled.    It should now be apparent that when you choose particularly an architect based solely on work you may have seen, without thought to the performance on that job, you will likely end up with a practice-centred, strong-ideas firm, which may not be suitable for your project.  So, you need to consider both, and choose an architect/engineer team to suit your project.


Posted by phcjam at 6:37 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2012 6:59 PM EDT

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