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Denied

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 sure proposals are in order, boxes are checked, and “t”s are crossed. Miss something and you’re out. They care more about their own job than you getting one.

2) Proposer beware! RFPs are often poorly organized with submittal requirements spread throughout the document. Even if there is a submittal requirement section, read every line of the document to see if they sneak a requirement in an out-of-place location. Enlist a third party to review the proposal closely, ensuring it aligns with the RFP.

3) It taught us that even if your team was absolutely the best match (work with me here) no one will care enough to bend the rules for you even if the missing item is designated “non-material”.

4) Some submittal requirements are ridiculous: from specific content of recycled paper to unrealistic limitations on maximum pages that would result [...]

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 an interview and although we had an opportunity to interview and present our position, we were denied the project. Another team did indeed demonstrate their ability to meet the abbreviated schedule.

We lost the project, but did we really lose? What if we went along with the unrealistic-schedule charade and were awarded the project? We would likely have had to begin playing a game of chess to protect ourselves. Some strategies might have included:

 Build a schedule that allots one day for the client to review and approve the drawings.
 Schedule 2 or 3 days for the design team to return comments to the building department. Or, better yet, have perfect drawings with no comments.
 Have a multi-phased project and a RFP that would require overtime work. Sure it would increase the owner’s overall costs, but we [...]

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 baffling is the fact that design teams from the onset clearly communicate that drawings will not be perfect and a contingency fund should be carried to cover  reasonable errors and omissions. The gray area is what is reasonable; is it quantity of items that were missed or value of the items? There are industry standards that can help, but the best advice is to document the changes and track them back to the root cause.

2. The Agency should pay for that. So often budgets we inherit are created without escalation and proper detail related to fire department fees, water tap fees and, most notable of late, erosion control and stormwater management requirements.  As a project progresses months or years into the comprehensive timeline, the effects of improper planning can lead to significant deltas in owner’s budgets. We [...]

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 everyone is an expert in your field; talk to them in a way they can relate and become engaged and excited.
3. Sense of Humor. If the announcers only focused on the technical aspects of the game, you would shut off the sound and listen to music. John Madden was an entertainer and sometimes taking a break is just what you need to do. See this example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=facVh75-vW4
4. Mistakes.  The announcers, refs and coaching staff make mistakes when under this type of pressure, so will you. Don’t announce them, dwell on them or debate them to a point of ad nauseam.
5. Mix it up. To keep things current, the Super Bowl has added interactive graphics, female announcers and more. Mix up your presentations, listening to one person talk is simply boring.
We have seen great presentations at [...]

By |January 25th, 2016|Marketing|1 Comment|

Why Colorado in Primed for Public Private Partnerships

Originally published in the Dec. 2015 issue of Building Dialogue.

There has been a lot of discussion about Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) recently in Colorado, and for good reason. Colorado leaders have positioned the state to be a leader in this delivery model and is on its way to proving that that this approach can be a viable choice for vertical buildings (social infrastructure), in addition to transportation projects.  P3s have been proven to be highly successful in Canada, Australia and Europe and it is only a matter of time before we see this project approach become more prevalent in the U.S.

The most notable Colorado P3 project is the construction of additional lanes along U.S. 36. In order to allow for this project to move forward, the state passed legislation that cleared the way for funding to be applied, which is a barrier many other states can’t overcome. The statute allows for transportation projects, but if proven successful, legislation may be agreeable to expand the use of P3s to other kinds of infrastructure projects. Additionally, Colorado has moved on from the days of requiring hard bid delivery and is accustomed to design-build and CMAR delivery models. Finally, Colorado is a home-rule state, so, legislation is not necessarily required to be passed for projects to move forward, if the debt is properly structured.

P3s are often incorrectly categorized, which is evident by some recently released RFPs we have reviewed. If the project owner is a  public entity, and that entity enlists a private entity (a developer perhaps) to help solve a challenge, then it is a public private partnership right? According to the Performance Based Building Coalition it is more than that. Think of it as design-build on [...]

Vetting Out a Cultural Fit part 2

Architect Selection Case Study – Part 2

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus had its official grand opening Friday, November 20th, 2015.  As we look back when we started the project on December 12, 2008 (yes, nearly seven years ago) one of the more memorable moments was the selection of the design team. In Part 2 of this two-part blog, we will focus on the interview process.

In Part 1 of the blog, I discussed how we created a unique RFP, populated with questions tailored to this specific project. This approach provided the architect selection committee the ability to quickly identify firms that clearly, based on their responses (see below), didn’t understand their culture and mission. From a “highly-qualified” stance, there were obvious front runners, but some lost ground because they did not connect with the client and the spirit of the project. Some teams brought on museum experts, which you might think would bolster your team’s strength, but it seemed to do the opposite. It left the committee wondering 1) if you feel the owner lacks the ability to be the expert, or 2) if your team lacks creative strength without the add-on staff.

When determining the short list of firms, it was brought to our attention that we scheduled the interviews Halloween week–the same time as one of their busiest events, Trick or Treat Street.  The entire staff dresses in full costume, helping with a myriad of Halloween-themed activities. We realized that the selection committee members would need to pull a “Peter Brady” and change in and out of costume to conduct the interviews (a serious burden with face paint and wigs), or feel awkward amongst the well suited architects. The idea was [...]

Vetting Out a Cultural Fit part 1

Architect Selection Case Study – Part 1

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus had its official grand opening Friday, November 20th, 2015. As we look back when we started the project on December 12, 2008 (yes, nearly seven years ago) one of the more memorable moments was the selection of the design team. In Part 1 of this two-part blog, we will focus on the submitted architectural design proposals.

Upon being hired to serve as Owner Representative, we met with the staff and toured the Museum. We quickly picked up on the culture of the facility and staff – everything they do is with the end goal of providing children opportunities to learn through play. When it came time to generate the architectural design RFP for the expansion and addition of this prized community facility, the client communicated that it was imperative that the design firm selected not only be capable of designing a beautiful facility, but they must demonstrate that they are in tune with children and how they interact and think. To help the client achieve this goal, we generated an RFP with questions that went beyond the typical “how many have you done” mentality. By creating a list of submittal requirements unique to the Children’s Museum, we felt we could vet out the teams that would be the best cultural matches. Below are a few examples of the questions asked, along with the submitting design firms’ responses:

1.  Submit a top-five list of what you feel would be the best exhibits to have in the Museum
Some of the best responses:

Build your own Platte River
Soundscapes: light and sound interaction
Take V – TV Studio
Mad scientist laboratory

Anniversary Musings

Wember has been providing Owner’s Representative services for over twelve years, and although it’s been a roller coaster, that’s ok. I like roller coasters.  I thought I would share some thoughts as I reflect:

Don’t send the email.  In 2006 we were in a position to take on a program of three buildings for a new client, we were very excited.  When the RFP came out the program changed from $20 million to $120 million and we knew we would not be able to compete or service the projects.  In a rage I wrote a scathing email to my future client, luckily I deleted it and wished her the best on the project and gave a simple explanation on why we would not be able to submit.  Three months later my contact called me telling me that we were awarded the projects and would be part of the program management team who was managing the remainder of the $120 million dollars.  I refer to this as my $20 million dollar email.
Don’t be a jerk.  Thinking back to eleven years ago, at the that time, we received a lot of referrals for  new work simply due to the fact the owner’s representative market was small and, as we heard from clients, many of the competitors let this new found position go to their head.  At one point, we simply could get work because we treated people with respect.  If you find yourself in a position where your business has grown to a point that you can be more selective in the jobs you take on, remember to decline work as graciously as you accept it.
Be nice to everyone.  I have hired [...]

Indemnification – House Bill HB15-1197

On April 14, 2015, Colorado State Legislature unanimously passed House Bill HB15-1197, which was supported by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Colorado Municipal League (CML) and many other organizations.  An overview of the bill by the Colorado Municipal League reads:

Limits public entities from requiring certain contractors from duty to defend obligations in construction contracts. Applies to architectural, engineering, surveying, or other design services. Allows the public entity to recover any costs of defense attributable to the contractor after the liability or fault has been determined by adjudication, alternative dispute resolution, or mutual agreement. Effective Sept. 1, 2015.

What does this mean for you as an owner, as a consultant?  Let’s start with “indemnification” first.  If you are like me one of the first things you do when you receive an RFP on a public project is review two items:

Does the RFP include language stating that if you have changes to the agreement you must notify the potential client at the time of submission?  We refer to this clause as the “kiss of death” as many clients simply don’t want to change their agreement as it takes time or simply they don’t want to get their legal counsel involved.
The indemnification clause itself.  Is it fair, meaning, can your insurance provider cover what is written, is it even legal?

I am not a lawyer or insurance provider and urge you to engage your legal counsel and insurance provider as you move to signing an agreement

Indemnification.  In simplest terms, it can be defined as an obligation by one party to make another financially whole for a loss that the other party has incurred.  The new, modified legislation moves to make agreements more fair and balanced. [...]

By |November 13th, 2015|Uncategorized|0 Comments|

Punch List Strategizing

I suspect you have been involved in the close-out phase of a project and are keenly aware that one of the most critical elements is the punch list. I have heard team members joke that it’s called “punch” list because by that point in the project, you are looking for some Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) action. The actual history stems from the pre-computer age when each subcontractor would physically punch a hole with their unique hole press in the deficiency log to indicate they had completed the work. Why is this phase often so riddled with challenges and how can it go more smoothly? Here are some thoughts and suggestions.

When to punch list.  If a contractor has liquidated damages, the pressure is on the punch list, as per most AIA agreements, the architects will issue a letter of substantial completion with the punch list attached signifying the owner can use the facility as intended. Many contractors will request the punch list meeting as soon as possible. The conflict arises when the design team agrees to prepare the punch list and discovers the project is not truly ready. As the list becomes exorbitant, it becomes difficult to manage. A recommended solution is to walk one of the rooms that the general contractor determines complete to conduct a verbal punch list. This sets the expectations of all involved, including the owners. At this time, the team can agree if something seemingly minor should be included or not. A preliminary walk-thru allows you to determine if the facility is truly ready. If it’s not ready, consider delaying; it is not uncommon to do so.
Who generates the punch list?  Usually, it is the responsibility of [...]