These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

Notes from the Road

September 2010
How Do We Choose

manSome roads seem well paved and direct, at least while the trip is being planned. But when time comes for the journey, all sorts of hazards and potholes disrupt the ride. The analogy applies most definitely to the selection of Consultants and Construction Managers in Corporate and, particularly, Institutional settings. It’s just not a simple as it seems it should be.

Why? People are involved.

Over time, I have developed an approach which seems to run relatively smoothly. (emphasis on ‘relatively’) I won’t attempt the tedious recitation of every routine jot and tittle of an orderly selection process. Rather, I’ll focus on the elements which I have found significantly enhance the building of consensus.

Start with RFQ/P’s

A few tips: a few tips

  • Do a good write-up, describing in reasonable detail the project, the expectations, and the deliverables.
  • Cast a wide net. Let each selection committee member make suggestions. Consult with peers, and look at those who have done nearby and comparable projects.
  • Be wary of design proposals.
  • If fee or cost information is requested, make the submission come under separate cover from the qualifications.

SORT the Submissions

Each committee member takes a shot at three categories for the possibility of an interview: yes, no, maybe. The facilitator’s job is to assemble the recommendations, and ...

Make a short list of no more than SIX CANDIDATES, interview. check it

The maximum number of six is a strong recommendation. Formal interviews will ensue, and six firms is the practical limit for all interviews in one day.

Given the typical scheduling conflicts of a diverse selection committee, getting everyone involved to clear one agreed date is usually the best you can hope for. Go beyond that, and you won’t get consistent attendance. Even if you do, the comparison of presentations becomes infinitely harder when trying to weigh what was said by one firm on one day against another on a different day.

Also, with a maximum of 6 interviews, one day leaves enough time for committee ranking of the results. Important to do when impressions are fresh.

Oh yeah, set up a consistent agenda for each candidate, and stick to it.

SCORE the candidates, however lighten up

eeney meeney, myney, moePersonally, I like scorecards. When I facilitate a selection, I usually I prepare a blank one for all committee members. My preferred format has a series of criteria that are weighted for importance. I will then keep score, looking at both weighted and unweighted marks.

Many public agencies (as well as a few private organizations) require the use of a scorecard. I used to try to enforce their use as well, but stopped. I had my reasons:

  • The committee design of the scorecard often became a time consuming, contentious process all by itself.
  • Many committee members would have to be educated in the intent and execution of the scoring.
  • Often committee members would be either openly or passively hostile to the imposition of a strange ‘method’ into their analysis.

Eventually, I found that by putting the scorecard out there as a guide without a mandate, I could engage both left and right brain thinkers into the process. Everyone seemed happier with their contribution, and I got more of what I was looking for: active, thoughtful participation.

RANK the candidates by all interviewers.

Have everyone rank the candidates numerically, and record the results. If policy requires an audit trail, this is essential.

For me, this point in the process has shown a most surprising consistency. The vast majority of time, after the first pass of voting, consensus is readily apparent. It’s most fascinating.

When it’s not, there is usually agreement on who should be dropped from consideration. After further focused discussion, subsequent voting typically brings one, sometimes two, name(s) to the top.

Consensus WINNERS

check itThe choice of one preferred candidate leads to a simple end game: validation of the choice by checking references. Closer calls often require the results of reference checking of the contenders to be brought back to the committee for reconsideration. That happens on another day. (ugh!)

Important LAST QUESTION before adjourning the interviews

Often it occurs that the consensus number one candidate is not preferred by all selection committee members. When this happens (which is less often than you might imagine), the facilitator should turn to those outvoted by the balance of the group, and pointedly ask “Are you satisfied with the process, and can you support the result?”

I’ve found that the request for acknowledgment by itself calms most people down. For those who aren’t quieted, at least the facilitator is forewarned about potential rogue actions.

Reference checking PLUS

Check ‘em out, and be creative about it. Calling just the listed references often isn’t good enough. Call the previous client that oddly seems missing from the list of references.

This advice was validated in resounding fashion for me, when one of my co-workers had the presence of mind to call a peer institution that had recently completed a highly visible project with a well know architect who had a few key committee members standing firm in their preference. Only when the owner’s rep of the peer completely trashed the architect’s performance were the supporters willing to cede their support to the candidate preferred by the balance of the committee.

Sometimes, particularly for critical projects, a field trip to visit the offices or projects is warranted. An important tip is to have this activity lead by people who know what they’re looking at. Architects and Construction managers can be quite skilled at impressing lay-people. Industry insiders, while not immune, are less likely to be taken in by skilled presenters.


There is absolutely nothing outlined above that strains brain cells. Conceivably, this is most underwhelming; and for that impression, I apologize.

On the other hand, the possibility remains that this may be the management equivalent of finding something that is hidden in plain sight.

Enjoy the ride.

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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