A Publication of WTVP

We’ve all heard the phrase “you get what you pay for.” Whether it’s a simple choice such as buying a new computer, or a more complex decision like selecting an engineer or architect to design your new multi-million-dollar building project, it’s always tempting to go with the lowest cost provider.

But making those project design team selections based solely on fee costs can lead to significant problems down the road. Fortunately, there’s a process in place that not only helps you select the best and most qualified design professionals for your project (before negotiating those fee costs), but also helps create a better end product with lower total costs over the life of the project—from design through construction completion, and on through long-term operations and maintenance.

The Qualifications Based Selection (QBS) process allows owners to accurately compare the talents and track records of different design professionals side-by-side, and then lets them select the best firm to get the job done. The Brooks Architect-Engineering Act of 1972 mandates QBS for all architectural and engineering services procured by the federal government and is the model for most QBS programs. Here in Illinois, state agencies and local units of government are required to select design professionals based on the QBS model.

Typically, the QBS model consists of: (1) a detailed public notice or request for qualifications (RFQ) from the owner; (2) review and ranking of those firms responding to that request; (3) face-to-face interviews with those who are ranked highest; and (4) a final selection based on another similar set of rankings during the interview process. Once that final selection is made, the owner and design professional negotiate a mutually satisfactory contract, with design fees based on the exact scope of project work (as well as established industry standards).

That first step—the detailed request for qualifications—is critical. With the RFQ document, owners develop and describe their project goals and objectives in detail and with clarity. The size and scope of the project must be thoroughly explained. When that RFQ document is clear and complete, the competing design professionals can accurately target their responses to the needs of the owner, while demonstrating their talents, expertise and track record for the particular type of project being considered.

Once responses to the RFQ are received by the owner, they are thoroughly reviewed and ranked by a selection committee based on clear and scientific criteria enumerated in the initial RFQ. A “short list” of the most qualified firms is selected for further consideration, which usually includes a face-to-face interview.

At the interview stage, the owner and the short-listed design professionals have an opportunity to learn more about each other, and dialogue about the project in a manner that frequently brings new and fresh ideas to the table. Short-listed design professionals are again ranked after the interview process is complete in a manner consistent with the previous ranking. A first choice is made by the owner, and that design professional is notified of their selection and asked to begin contract negotiations.

At this point, the selected design professional has a much more precise and complete idea of the project scope and extent. Thus, that professional is able to develop a fee proposal that is accurately tailored to the project needs, while protecting the interests of both parties to the agreement. If, for some reason, the owner and the design professional are unable to mutually agree on that fee, the owner always has the ability in the QBS process to move to the next qualified firm in the established ranking.

This comprehensive QBS process allows owners to select the best possible design team for their particular projects, based on proven abilities and an established track record for the project type being contemplated. Furthermore, when both owner and design professional enter contract negotiations with a full understanding of all the project parameters, the likelihood of a successful and appropriate project that is completed on time and within budget is significantly enhanced. The QBS process ultimately proves to be the best method that results in a win-win for all parties involved. While the process is required for many government agencies, it can also be a valuable selection tool for the private sector as well. iBi