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Breaking Into a New Market

I was recently asked by a smaller-sized architecture firm how to win work for a project type with which they had no prior experience. Many of us have faced this quandary. It can be frustrating; but, with tenacity and smart business decisions it can be done. We went on to discuss some options. 1.  Hire for it. At one point, we had no school experience and wanted to break into the market. When we had an opportunity to add staff we didn’t hire our best friend, we looked for a resume that fit our strategic plan. The project manager brought along a deep rolodex (okay, CMS) and the market has been open ever since. 2.  Devise a creative teaming approach that provides a unique strategy or solution; it will almost always garner attention, if not win you a top contender spot. 3.  Start shaking hands.  Although it's not

Building is Scary!

It all started with a spider---a giant 13-foot spider.  “Harold,” who lives in my crawl space all winter and summer, emerges every Halloween in our front yard. He holds a special place in my heart as my kids and I designed and built it together. Halloween, more than any other holiday, reminds me of how design and construction engages a community and impacts all involved. Since the birth of Harold the neighborhood kids have requested to get involved; we decided to design/build a haunted house in my garage. Like all our projects we began by drafting a solid design. It has been an adventure being part of this Halloween construction evolution. 1. The first year was a simple room with games. It was ok. 2. The second year was a two-room-scene--one with an outdoor cemetery and on the inside a day-of-the-dead dining room. 3. The third year we

What Not to Say in an Interview

As Owner’s Representatives we have participated in hundreds of interviews witnessing some engaging, educational and enlightening presentations from an impressive list of architecture firms and general contractors. That said, every now and then we observe professionals fold under pressure and say things they might regret. Here are a few things we advise not saying during an interview. “Sweetie” Nothing is as impressive to a woman as using terms of endearment in a professional setting. “How are we doing?” There is no way an Owner can answer this question honestly when you are halfway through an interview. It’s an obviously awkward question with an even more awkward response, yet we hear it often. We cringe every time. “Who are you?” Basic rule - know your audience; if you missed a name, fake it. “Estimate prediction” Be careful on using imaginative terms in your response; it may sound like you

Feedback Etiquette

The cursed proposal, and the hopefully-to-follow, nerve-inducing interview, are both part of what the A/E/C industry endures to win work. The process costs teams thousands of dollars in staff resources, printing costs, even on small projects. It is a serious decision and investment to submit. When working with owners during the procurement process, we advise them to respect the efforts put forth by the submitting firms, particularly those who weren’t awarded the work. We communicate that they prepare detailed feedback to those who inquire. Typically, not all firms will place the call. In our experience, general contractors are more comfortable (1 in 3) than architects (1 in 5) reaching out to us or the Owner. We provide the following list of dos and don’ts for our clients to consider: Do 1. Collect relevant documents including notes from the process and the actual proposals during or immediately after the

Here’s Your Fee

In speaking with a Principal of an established architectural firm that recently entered the Front Range market, I came to find out he and his colleagues were perplexed by firms’ common practice of sometimes using professional fees as a differentiator when submitting on projects. “What’s the deal with professional architectural fees in this market?“ he asked. Not sure where he was going, I replied, “How do you mean?” He went on to explain that his firm, established in other geographic markets, is not accustomed to deviations in fees between firms. It appears that in the Front Range market, fees carry weight in owners’ hiring decisions and teams are willing to set their fees to differentiate themselves. While our market has a common industry fee (by project type) and although the standard fee has never been corroborated, it is known by all. My new colleague was clearly frustrated as

Amazon, Uber, Airlines, Toll Roads, Disney

Buy something on Amazon recently?  Purchased an airline or ticket and experienced upcharges for bags, seat selection, or a snack?  Want to drive on US 36 in the fast lane or been to Universal Studios in Florida and had the "fast pass" groups cut in front of you?  The current internet-generation is accustomed to this form of bidding and although many Gen Xs and older demographics feel nickel-and-dimed, the next generation of industry professionals currently accepts and sometimes prefers this pay-for-what-you-use approach.  What does this mean for the future of the industry? Wember is often an integral party the discussion and final selection of the construction delivery method.  Over the first part of our last twelve years in providing Owner's Representation to the public sector, projects in Colorado were primarily driven by hard bid.  As the economy picked up in 2003 negotiated work such as Construction Manager at


After 12 years it finally happened, we were rejected for non-compliance. Like a beat down from Mutombo, we were stunned. After attending a the pre-bid assembly, building a solid team, preparing a thoughtful proposal, and so much more, we received notification that our submittal was missing one form and, thus, was incomplete and rejected. What to do now?? We were crushed, but quickly went to work. First, we confirmed the accuracy of the error. It was true, we did not submit one form out of the 100 requested (okay, I exaggerate). Secondly, we pleaded our case as to why we should be considered despite our error--crickets. Lastly, there was not much left to do but have a beer, wallow, and contemplate the lessons this setback taught us. 1) It reminded us that procurement policies are stringent on public projects. Procurement departments are charged with the responsibility of making

Liar, Liar

So, the dilemma unfolded, a crossroads of sorts. What to do? I am sure that most A/E/C professionals have been faced with a situation where they had to decide between telling a client what they would like to hear versus the painful truth. We received a RFP calling for a combined design and construction schedule of six months. Upon analyzing the project details, it was clear that an eleven-month schedule was required. This left us with the option of proposing a schedule and fee that matched the client’s delusions, or present the reality. Do we tell the truth and risk losing the project? Do we tell the client what they want to hear? Should we lie? The answer was obvious - present the truth. As an owner’s representative, it is counterintuitive to mislead the owner. We are, after all, supposed to watch out for their best interests. We secured

Who Pays?

If you have been through the design and construction process, regardless of the delivery method, you will at some point been presented with an add service from the design team, or a change order request from the general contractor. I am often taken aback by the client’s immediate insurgence that someone else should pay for the item in question, including ourselves, the owner’s rep.  I have found that those with the least amount of tolerance for any additional costs often look to design-build as a solution to mitigate this pain but it certainly won’t eliminate it. Why do owners feel justified in denying requests? 1. You made the mistake. Owners don’t understand why when someone makes a “mistake” on a project that they don’t automatically pay for it.  After all, it was the lack of coordination, improper documentation or lack of follow-through that was the cause, right?  Equally

Present Like A Super Bowl Announcer

Being from Chicago, I was blessed by having the Bears’ games announced by Pat Summerall and John Madden (I won’t even mention Harry Cary since this blog is football-themed).  I learned from these greats and others that presenting is an art form and every presentation matters.  What can you learn from these professionals? 1. Know when to stop talking.  Some call it diarrhea-of-the-mouth, but the fact is, what you say may not be as important as you think. If someone asks a question they usually just want an answer, they don’t need the entire history of how you came to your conclusion. 2. Know your audience. The Super Bowl announcers do a great job of getting their message out to a mass audience. This game draws a wide demographic, not just the religious watchers, to what will be an epic clash. When you present, keep in mind that not