Owner’s Representation

Here’s Your Fee

By |June 23rd, 2016|

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 he worked to adjust to his new region’s pricing culture. Was he implying fees should be established by region and project type? Should owners dictate what the fee is, or should firms, be it owner’s representatives, architecture firms or general contractors, have an understanding through professional organizations, albeit non-union, to advise on how to establish fees? It seems to me, free market tendencies apply the same to the A/E/C industry as they do any other industry; should that change?

In the recession of 2008, fee adjustment was common as firms worked to survive. It was also common to see — and exciting to witness — younger, independent architects striking out on their own, setting fees they could make a living off and hiring help or forming consortiums if and when needed. This set of professionals (myself and Class of ‘95 [...]

Liar, Liar

By |April 27th, 2016|

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 [...]

Why Colorado in Primed for Public Private Partnerships

By |December 31st, 2015|

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

By |December 17th, 2015|

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

By |December 7th, 2015|

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

By |December 1st, 2015|

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 [...]

The Hesitancy of Contingency

By |August 20th, 2015|

Recently, we were trying to close the gap between our project budget and progress estimate, looking for options, the owner honed in on the contingency as an easy way to cover the delta, offering up, “Let’s reduce the contingency from 5% to 1%. We will be on budget and move forward.” Although this was by far the easiest solution to get us on budget, I encouraged him to explore other options. When he asked me to explain why he needs a contingency fund, I responded “Do you like your job? Contingency allows you to keep it.” We remained at 5%.  The fact is, contingency is, if nothing else, an insurance policy.

Contingency is usually a hot topic, regardless the team member’s title. Design teams want to be assured that the owner has a contingency fund in place. The reality is, no drawings are perfect and unforeseen conditions need to be addressed (paid for) to keep the project moving forward. I have found that if you explain to your design team that there is contingency fund in place and outline the expectations of its use, they are comfortable moving forward.

Over the years, we have seen a variety of responses to contingency funds from the general contractors. While working with a general contractor on a particular agreement, we communicated that the owner would carry the contingency in their budget and no contingency would be allowed in the GMP. This position became such a point of contention that the contractor would not sign the agreement without a minimum contingency amount being part of the GMP agreement. During the negotiations it was stated by the general contractor that “this is industry standard,” “all contracts are structured this way” and [...]

The ABCs of PPPs

By |August 6th, 2015|

Serving as Owner Representative to numerous municipalities, we are participating in PPP discussions like never before. So much in fact, that I recently attended the National Public Private Partnership conference in Boston to learn the ABCs of PPPs and discover the benefits this innovative business model as to offer.

While Public Private Partnerships (PPP) have been around for over 20 years, they have been less prevalent in the United States, compared to the trendsetters of Canada and Australia. That said, there is a surging interest in the PPP model, particularly with infrastructure projects such as water, roads and bridges (think US 36 tollway). Institutions looking for stable financial investments are attracted to water facilities, toll roads and parking garages. They offer a safe bet for a return on investment as they are necessary for a successful communities. Social infrastructure projects, such as schools and libraries, have similar potential, but are commonly paid back through an intergovernmental agreement.

So, why establish a PPP?  It was clearly the opinion of the conference presenters that PPP projects are not a want, but a need. PPPs can bring creative resolutions to the ever-mounting problems of failing bridges, congested highways, or lack of water infrastructure. Projects that fall under social infrastructure may appear like a want upon first glance, but after close examination, they may actually be a need; one only needs to look at charter schools for an example of the private sector assisting in devising solutions.  Another project type ripe for a PPP is student housing on college campuses, they can also produce revenue.  An educational institution has the students, and sometimes the real estate, but not the capital to make the project happen – enter a private partner [...]

What Did You Call Me?

By |June 23rd, 2015|

We get called by a lot of different names in our line of work. When our clients think of the various project consultants, they have a solid idea of the exact job each performs based upon their consistent titles, such as general contractor, architect, or electrical engineer. It seems that as the Project Management field has grown over the several years, so have our titles:

Owner’s Representative
Construction Manager (CM)
Construction Manager Advisor
Program Manager
Project Manager

While all might fit, depending upon the job, they are not exactly interchangeable. Here are some subtleties between them:

Owner’s Representative – entity that manages on Owner’s behalf; usually has an agreement only with the Owner and no other entity.
Construction Manager (CM) – Similar to an Owner’s Representative but will hire and manage subcontractors on the Owner’s behalf. The CM doesn’t hold the agreements with the subs, the Owner does.
Program Manager- Owner’s Representative that is managing multiple projects for one Owner.
Project Manager- This is where it gets a little blurry. A Project Manager could refer to the person leading the Program Management, Construction Management or the Owner’s Representative. Many of our RFPs will simply request project management services, which is fine, as long as the scope of the project and detailed work items are combined.

So, tell me, what do you call me?

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative

What I am Not Thankful for This Year

By |December 4th, 2014|

To have good, you must have bad; up must have down, and to be thankful, you need to have the unthankful.  As we come into the season of giving thanks, there is so much I am thankful for, a sustainable business, a healthy family, my soft bed.  That said, there are a few things this I am not thankful for, I suggest you state the following, as Jimmy Fallon does in his bit, thank you….

Thank you AEC Marketing professionals for all the emails telling us how thankful you are for having clients that make you great. Are you great or thankful? It gets a bit blurry. I’d be thankful for having you remove me from your email list.
Thank you to the company that our client didn’t select to serve on the team.  I understand that it’s frustrating to lose a project that you thought you were the best match, but, please know that hanging up on me really wasn’t productive. In fact, the owner’s response was “I guess we made the right decision in the end.”
Thank you to the gentleman that told me to shove it up my attorney’s ass. I understand our profession is full of frustrations, but, I have no intention to go near my client’s attorney to fulfill this request.
Thank you to the firm that missed the allowance item in the bid documents leaving us $200,000 short. We saved your butt by playing diplomat and working some magic. I do hope you will be gracious if I ever need assistance.
Thank you guardian angel for being a badass mofo. Next time, please don’t let me get on the motorcycle.
Thank you former-client [...]