Vetting a Cultural Fit Part 1

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus had its official grand opening Friday, November 20th, 2015.  As we look back to 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 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 learning 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

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

Making The Pitch To Bring On An Owner’s Representative

It is true; not all projects need an owner’s representative. Determining if you need one is complicated, but here are some points to consider: Project Size. The smaller the project, the less the likelihood that a third-party project manager is required. Generally speaking, projects under $1.5M lack the complexity and scale to absorb the additional costs. Consider engaging project managers’ on-call services to procure your the architect and general contractor, negotiate contracts, and serve as an advisor throughout the project. This can be tricky because often, in-staff believes they have the capacity and experience to manage all phases of a project, but many times, they don’t and become overloaded. Owner’s representatives typically average about three to four projects simultaneously; this specialization keeps us at the top of our game and can make us a better match for the tasks at hand. Leadership has to determine how to procure outside

The Three Cs of Interviewing

At a recent industry event, I was asked, “What are the three most important things clients look for from teams during an interview?” Over the years, we observed what wins over clients and what falls flat. First, congratulations on making it to the interview. In 2020 the average response count to CMAR and Design RFPs on projects which we are managing has been fourteen.  Standing out and making it to the top of the list is an achievement.  By making it to the interview clearly, your company has demonstrated that they are the right size and are qualified to complete the project.  I suspect, too, that the team proposed has some unique attributes that made them stand out.  So what will the client look for in the interview? I liken the three most important things to look for in an interview with the three C’s of a diamond. Capability:

The Question I Am Most Asked

I often get asked, "Why did you leave architecture to become an owner's representative?" When asked this question at a recent conference, I found myself robotically repeating what is a partial truth, albeit a diplomatic response. It goes something like this: While I am still technically an architect, I did indeed choose a different path. When I worked as an architect, my responsibility was to manage a team of designers, draftsmen, interior designers, and consultants. At one point, I was managing eight decent-size projects and developed my skills for project management.  The truth is I am a much better project manager than a designer. There were a couple of outside forces working too. First, I was working with an owner's representative on some of the projects I was managing, and I was attracted to the role. Second, I had obtained my LEED Accreditation and was completing my MBA, which

Technology Enables Staff, Culture Empowers Them

Many of our colleagues are working to adapt to the new reality of working remotely. As a team that has been operating this way for sixteen years, we say, welcome! In speaking with colleagues about this stay-at-home time reality, it is good to hear that so many are having an easy time setting up the remote technology to allow employees to make the transition while maintaining productivity. The unfortunate news is that there never was a technology problem; solutions like Skype, Zoom, TEAMs, and Webx have been effectively implemented for years. The truth is that the actual challenge is more complicated than laptops and file-sharing; it’s a cultural shift. As a leader of a firm built upon a remote business model, I have been asked many times over the years about our “work from home structure” (yes, often in air quotes). The dialogue almost always includes a statement of

The New Normal: Virtual Interviews

It didn't take long in this time of social separation for one of our clients to face the challenge of how to manage the procurement interviews. Our client remained bullish on keeping public sector projects moving forward and shifted to hosting the interviews online. In the end, the same interview elements that win awards from an in-person setting proved to be the same for the online format. It was gratifying to witness all of the teams rise to the occasion and represent their firms professionally. Whether you are an owner or a member of the AEC community, you are likely going to face setting up an interview or presentation soon. Having worked within a virtual office setting for over sixteen years, we have seen what helps and what hinders the effectiveness of online meetings. There is a myriad of technologies you can use for online meetings, as the interviewee,

Leveraging Remote Technology

So, you're on WebX and feeling like you solved your work-from-home challenges. Your staff is staying connected and working on tasks. But there is more. The success of continuing effective collaboration in a remote business model is dependent on the training of employees in best practices and clarifying expectations are the real make-it-or-break-it. (Technology Enables Staff, Culture Empowers Them).  After sixteen years of managing an all-remote business structure, there are some pillars to success for both external and internal interactions that my team and I have discovered. Virtual Meetings with Clients and Colleagues Everyone on your team needs to be empowered to set up a virtual meeting. We use Microsoft Teams to conduct our external and internal meetings. It proves to be easier and more effective than calling someone's cell phone. Set up the meeting for success. If you initiated the meeting, it is your responsibility to take a


Earlier this year, I received a call from my controller asking me to confirm the wire transfer that I requested for $35,000. Surprised, I asked, “what wire transfer?” She had received not only a request but responses from me by email approving the transfer.  Fortunately, she was astute to realize we have never done a wire transfer before and that we don’t send money without approved invoices. So, what did we do? First, we contacted our IT director who commended us on our prudence and said there is nothing you can do, and at that dollar amount, the police or feds won’t care enough to try and catch them. Second, we looked at the email exchange. What became clear was that this was very well calculated and planned; the email, logo signature, and even the language I would normally use was so accurate it was really convincing. It was


It takes time to develop stereotypes, and with the owner’s representation being a newer niche service in the AEC industry, we have not fully formulated a stigma, but it appears to be in the works. As an architect turned owner's representative fifteen years ago, I have gained a perspective as I guide clients through the design and construction process. I quickly learned that there are owners sometimes buy into widely held beliefs stemming from architecture and construction professionals' stereotypes. Despite consistent efforts to shed our respective stereotypes to owners, they continue to resurface time and time again. Most people form their understanding of the profession of architecture from the cinema or news articles about high profile projects, such as airports or art museums. The prominence of “starchitects” took off in the dot com era of 2003, and some owners we contract with are still reacting to the perceived attitude

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