This is an article by John M. Lowe, Jr., P.E., speaker for our upcoming Civil Engineering Collective session: Manage Your Projects to Meet Your Clients’ Expectations, which you can find here.
Hardly anything has a greater influence on how we perceive being successful in life than how we meet the expectations of others and how well they meet ours. In our professional life, nowhere else is this more applicable than in the client/consultant relationship.
The official measure of success frequently comes at the end of a project when each party evaluates how well their expectations have been met. The goal, of course, is for both parties to conclude that all of their expectations have been met. This is possible, but only with considerable attention being paid by both parties throughout the entire project. And it can only occur when each party has a clear understanding of what the other party expects. While the responsibility for managing this process is shared by both parties, most of the day-to-day effort usually falls to the consultant.
The first opportunity for the client’s expectations to be established occurs when the consultant submits their Statement of Qualification (SOQ) to the client during the selection process. The consultant wants the client to have a favorable impression of the consultant’s qualifications, but care must be taken to not overstate its qualifications, thereby creating an unattainable expectation of the consultant’s performance. In some cases when this happens, clients become disappointed when its expectations based on the SOQ have not been met. On future projects, they may require that the SOQ be attached and made a part of the contract for professional design services. Then, if the consultant’s performance is not consistent with its SOQ, the client may declare that the consultant is in default.
When negotiating the business terms of the contract, in many cases it becomes the responsibility of the consultant to be sure that the client’s understanding of the terms is the same as the consultant’s. Failure to do so will likely result in the client’s expectations not being met during execution of the contract.
With very few exceptions, every project that I’ve managed required some change during the design or construction process. Unfortunately, most clients’ expectations are that no changes will be required and are disappointed when they occur. By addressing the process of change management in the contract, the client is alerted to the possible need for changes as well providing for the efficient management of the change. All changes to the contract scope, schedule, or budget must always be made through a contract amendment.
Negotiation of the scope, schedule, and budget with the client is the primary opportunity for the consultant to establish the client’s expectations regarding that which will be received from the consultant. The scope of work provides a detailed description of what the client should expect; the schedule establishes when certain events in the design process are to occur; the budget determines when and how much the consultant is to receive for their services. Additionally, this contract element may also establish requirements for the client’s participation in the process.
Generally, clients expect that the consultant will manage the design and, frequently, the construction process. This includes planning for, scheduling, and facilitating meetings. Meeting documentation may include a list of attendees, meeting minutes/summary, issues discussed, and agreements reached. Telephone communication with the client frequently includes direction from the client regarding the design. In some contracts, documentation of these telephone conversations is a consultant’s required activity. The written or email documentation or confirmation of these directions benefits both the client and the consultant. Without this activity, the design process may be continued with both parties believing that the verbal telephone communication was accurately conveyed to the design team. If it has not, it will only be discovered when the consultant makes the first review submittal to the client. This will likely cause needless and costly delays while corrections are made.
Clients may reasonably expect that the consultant’s design will be constructed by a qualified contractor. The most effective way to meet this expectation is for the consultant to provide a Constructability Review by someone that has actually constructed that which is being designed. This review is most beneficial when performed early in the design process when corrections, if needed, may be made at minimal cost and lost time.
When the design is completed and the project is “out-to-bid,” most clients breathe a sigh of relief and expect that all that will be needed is to receive and open the bids and award the contract. All too often, that is not the case. When contractors have questions regarding the bid documents, it is important that access to the designer be limited. Otherwise, inaccurate answers to the questions can be provided to only one or several, but not all, contractors at the same time. If that happens, a contractor may file a protest claiming that other bidders had an advantage. That could derail the whole process, requiring that the project be rebid. This can best be avoided by specifying that only written requests for information during bidding will be answered. Instructions to bidders should provide only the designer’s street address, email address, and fax number—and not the telephone number.
During construction, the client’s expectations may best be managed through communications that alert all parties to potential problems as soon as they are identified.
Yes, the client’s expectation can be managed during the design and construction process, but it will take considerable attention on the part of the consultant.
About the Author:
John M. Lowe, Jr., P.E. is a 1961 Civil Engineering graduate from the University of Florida. Following three years of military service as an Army pilot, he enjoyed forty-six years as a consulting engineer involved in both private and public projects as project manager, principal-in-charge, or office manager. He has been registered and practiced in FL, GA, SC, CA, and OR. In 2010, he retired from full time employment and formed Lowe Consulting, LLC. He began sharing what he had learned about contracting for professional services and managing professional liability issues as a guest speaker at local universities and on webinars. To facilitate getting this information to a wider audience, he wrote and self-published a book entitled “A Guide to Managing Engineering and Architectural Design Services Contracts – What Every Project Manager Needs to Know.” The book is available at Amazon.com in printed and e-book form and as an audio-book at the EMI website.
If you’re interested in your firm possibly joining the Civil Engineering Collective, please contact us here or call us at 800-920-4007 ext. 800.
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Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success