The determination of the best engineering consultants for a project is easier if formal project management procedures are followed during the selection process. Engineering consultants are hired for a wide variety of jobs that range from applied research activities to the design and construction of large facilities. The services of the consultants are acquired by the preparation of a request for proposal (RFP) and subsequent evaluation of the responses. The RFP process, which may be written by consultants as well, must be managed by persons who are well qualified in their field and knowledgeable about the desired results. Quality-control measures require that the selection team evaluates past work references of the leading contenders for the job.
The project management procedures followed by the selection team include the timely preparation of the RFP, establishment of a means to communicate with the interested bidders, and a mechanism to allow or disallow additional work or a different approach by the bidder. Additionally, the planners must communicate their schedule for submittal and analysis of responses. Often, though not always, the evaluation criteria are also revealed.
The RFP is the document that conveys the project to the interested engineering consultants. The scope of work is the single most decisive element of the RFP and the selection process as a whole. When the goal of the project is clearly defined, the engineers themselves will often decline to bid if they realize the project is not in their area of expertise.
The scope spells out the beginning and ending points of the project. It will include what is known and unknown about the process or project, allowing the engineers to realize the testing or experimental work to include in their proposal. A well-written scope will picture the outcome of the project in such detail that it is easy for all parties to know when the project is complete and of acceptable quality. The remainder of the RFP will describe the work to be performed, deliverables, the quality-control expectations, and the required due dates for various milestones.
The work tasks are usually outlined in a hierarchy of goals and sub-goals called a work breakdown schedule (WBS). The work in drafting a WBS assures the planners that the project is comprehensive and that no elements have been forgotten. Bidders use the WBS as a readily understood way to present their response and a checklist for completeness.
The selection committee must evaluate the contenders on more than the written documents to have confidence that the best engineering consultants are chosen. Former projects of a similar nature, if available, should be studied to determine the consultants’ ability to deliver timely, high-quality results. Many projects incorporate intermediate points of evaluation to determine if the results are on target. Incentives are sometimes applied to promote adherence to schedules.
Once the RFP process is complete, the project may not necessarily be awarded. Many times, the management discovers missing links in the project that became apparent upon reviewing the responses. The review of the project by several non-involved teams of experts may point out shortcoming or missing information. Sometimes, the best engineering consultants are discovered by reading the response that enumerates the incomplete data or poor assumptions of the original RFP.