As a prime consultant, I am used to being on both sides of the management equation.  Being the manager and the “mangee” in the process is eye opening.  The first step in managing your consultant is the proposal and procurement process.  There are many notions of procurement of professional services and how to get the best price and highest standard of services.  We joke that you wouldn’t bid out your cardiologist but engineers, architects, commissioning agents, and validators frequently compete for the services.  I’ll hold back on procurement strategy for now but in general let’s agree the least expensive way to get what you want, no matter what service it is, is to know exactly what you want and let the market place deliver firm, lump sum pricing.

In order for that to be effective, you need to know exactly what you want and be able to articulate it to all of the providers.  Often we will go to a site for a preproposal meeting only to find out that each of the bidders had their own separate pre-bid meeting.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Did every bidder hear the same scope?  Impossible to know.  How close is the pricing?  Usually there is a large spread in the bids in this scenario.  Having all of the providers in one room at one time hearing the same presentation is vitally important to creating an even playing ground.  Once the field is level, the key step in managing the project is to honestly convey the level of service you are looking for.

  • Are you looking for drawings and handshake or are you looking for your consultant to shepherd the process from cradle to grave?
  • How often do you want to see progress?
  • Meet and discuss the project?

There is a significant amount of cost associated with having people in a room.  Meetings unfortunately don’t get work done.  Pen to paper is ultimately what gets work done.  If the expectation, complexity or difficulty of the project dictates the need for significant meeting time, declare your best idea of the expectation to avoid large swings in proposals based on different levels of service.  Service providers only sell expertise and time.  If they have to guess how much, there are only two options: How much do they think you need or how much do you want.

A wise mentor early in my career taught me the project triangle: Scope, Schedule, and Budget.  You can only have two of the three defined.  Try as best as possible to rank the importance of these three items and figure out which one can vary.  If your scope is well defined and fixed and you literally need it yesterday, the cost to make it happen will be greater.  “I need full construction documents in 12 weeks” is completely different than “in 12 weeks I need to start construction”.  Don’t be afraid to share the real project goals with your service providers.  Clarity of desire is primary in the management of consultants.  If cost is the main driver and decision pointy, say it.  Share the overall budget.  It is significantly better to know what the driver will be.  It allows a service provider to use their skill and ingenuity to create a better mousetrap.  Give them a chance to solve the problem.

By:  Robert Dick, Principal
Precis Engineering, Inc.

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