What I have learned about working with consultants.
My thoughts are directed toward the issues of working with Structural, Civil, and Mechanical-Electrical [M/E] consultants. Other specialties like food service, acoustics, lighting, graphics, landscape have a much more limited scope and finding a firm with a good reputation or who has worked with firms you respect is usually good enough. BTW that concept might be considered a starting point in your search for any consultant. ’Who works for the firms you admire?’
The nature of the beast for M/E firms is that they need 3 times the number of projects as you do to be the same size as you. M/Es that do process engineering, water treatment etc will need a specialized building design department or they may never ’get’ what the project requires. You want someone who does lots of this kind of work so you don't discover they have a blind spot right where you need expertise. Structural and civil firms may have other types of clients so the issue is the same.
Structural consultants have rarely been an issue. Maybe we have been lucky. The exception is if they are much larger than you. Then there is a tendency to speed ahead of you, which makes for a lot of changes for someone. They will resist being the ones who change because ’we did what you asked us to do’. The problem is that they aren't used to stop-and-start and client whims, because their work is inherently much more straightforward.
Civil is similar to structural with the difference that a structural engineer is used to working with some small scale fussy stuff. Small scale to a civil engineer is anything less than a football field in size. You might think about how a curb should terminate; they never will. If this stuff is important to you, you may have to give them the notes or details you want to see on their drawings. Just saying, that’s the tendency.
I think the right ratios are 3:1 for the M/E size to your size; and 1:1 for the Civil or Structural size to your size. These are just guidelines and many other things are more important than size. The next section will touch on those issues.
HIRING A CONSULTANT
When you are sizing up a consulting firm here are few suggested TO-DOs
When you find a firm that you are happy with and want to work with, the next step is to work out a fee and scope of work for the project under consideration. If the fee is higher than you would like, consider negotiating the scope of work they will provide to get the fee in line with your plans.
WORKING WITH CONSULTANTS
’If they’re not calling, then they're not working on it.’
That is the first thing to remember. Don't wait for them to call. Make sure they know you expect them to meet the schedule. When you set up the schedule, consider intermediate checkpoints to review progress and facilitate coordination. Here is what I usually did for the design phases, along with some expectations of their phase deliverables. The percent complete refers to the architect's progress.
Schematic Design: 75% review - final review. During SD you will need to get out ahead of the consultants. The main thing you need from the consultants during SDs is feedback on adequacy of utilities, their location, systems they foresee, likely ceiling space needed for those systems and budget expectations.
Design Development: 40% review - 80% review - final review. During DDs you will need the consultants to start layouts, work out equipment locations, especially those that require space. They need to refine their thinking about the systems that will be used. By the end of the phase, the mechanical and electrical equipment locations should be nailed down with confidence. Main duct sizes and routes should be known. and verified that they fit. Get outline specs or at least 'cut sheets' on the fixtures and fittings that are proposed.
Construction Documents: 30% review - 60% review - 90% review - final review. During CDs everything needs to come together for a final solution. For smaller jobs, you might change the reviews to 50-75-95-final because the consultants will find it hard to not just run with it. The review meetings serve two purposes - a chance to get everything discussed and coordinated, and a chance to make sure the consultants will meet the schedule. Particularly during CDs, these review meetings should involve the whole design team. The M/E or the Architect could host the meetings. Invite consulting disciplines to attend on a schedule that allows 30-45 minutes to discuss that discipline. The Architect and M/E project managers would attend all sessions. If the project has a Construction Manager, he would attend the whole meeting as well.
For the Bidding phase the only requirement for the consultants is to prepare their items for any addendum.
For Construction Administration the minimum that you will need from the consultants is to review the submittals for their discipline and to make two or three site visits with reports. How much more you wish them to do is variable. Some options are: attend progress meetings, more site visits, respond to Requests For Information, review percent complete of their discipline's work for the pay request review.
Learning to work with consultants will not happen overnight, but it is one of the stepping stones that allows you to grow the size of your projects and the size of your firm.