Contributed by Cherise Lakeside
If you haven’t read my previous blogs, as a bit of history, I have worked in Architecture for most of my career (in 3 different firms), as well as in Construction and Engineering. All of these firms did some form of public work. A couple of them performed public work almost exclusively, one of which I was at for 23 years.
I guess that is a long way of saying that I have worked on, and prepared architectural specifications, standards and documents for a ton of public projects over my 30+ year AEC career. I would venture to say that I am fairly well versed in what it takes to get a public project out the door. You could also say that I have seen it all.
For those without experience in public projects, the differences in the documents between public and private work are notable and they typically take a lot more time. Why is that you ask?
Besides the typical code compliance items that need to be addressed, public work requires compliance with public contracting laws and bidding procedures. Public contracting laws vary from State to State. In addition to State rules, you may also have to deal with Federal, City, County, Environmental, local jurisdictions and then the actual specific public agency’s rules, as well. Also, many public agencies also require at least three equal products on everything in the building to promote competitive bidding, since it is a low-bid wins environment. This is not always easy to do and there really is no such thing as perfectly “equal” products. This also leaves room for dispute.
These rules are the law and must be complied with. If they are not, a Contractor may have right to file a dispute and have the bids thrown out to force a rebid. Contractors watch for these things, as it may give them another avenue to pursue if they are not the low bidder.
To add on to the complexity, many of the specific agencies have their own front end documents (Divisions 00 and 01), which may not be coordinated with your technical specifications. Some agencies have their own technical specifications, as well. These are documents that you are expected to work with, you have never seen before and you have no background on the decision making process of the content or the qualifications of the agency staff who wrote the content. You have no idea if it is even current. And often, it isn’t.
Some public/government agencies still have technical documents that are under old 16 Division numbering format. These do not even translate to the current structure of specifications, which creates an even bigger issue if you must provide supplemental documents and yours are all in the current format.
Remember, these documents have to go out under the Architects Stamp, as a part of the Contract Documents. The time you are given to prepare them is rarely any more than you would get on a different type of project, yet you are expected to take responsibility for their accuracy. Whenever you get old, out-of-date, documents from a public client, you can be assured that you are going to spend even more time trying to coordinate and comply with the law and coordinate the other documents you provide. Don’t even get me started on how difficult it can be to get your consultants in line with the requirements as well.
Let’s add to all of that by telling you that every agency and jurisdiction does it differently.
The challenge is real.
Some contractors and firms shy away from public work, based on the complexity of the requirements alone. And even after having said all of this, I prefer the rules and boundaries that public work provides, as it typically offers a fairly level playing field and I find the work to be rewarding.
So how can we improve?
It would take me days to outline it in detail, and I have no illusions that we are going to get multiple government agencies on the same page, as nice as that would be. However, I do believe we can help individual agencies standardize and update their documents. The broad concept is below.
The answer is actually pretty simple.
You could even take it a step further, if you like. After you create the standardized master front end:
6. Create a clear checklist for your client to complete for every project. The checklist would have all the pertinent project specific locations in those documents that need to be reviewed and filled in to fit the project.
Now, what does your client have?
Depending on the size of the project, maybe a four to six-page maximum front end checklist to fill out on each project, rather than a full review of 200+ pages for every single project. They fill in the blanks, give it to you and you whip out the documents. This saves the client a ton of time and money, because they had those documents vetted by their attorney up front, so now it does not need to be done every time. The client also doesn’t have to spend hours reviewing every project, and you will be able to produce them quickly, because you are intimately familiar with the content. It is a win-win-win situation, if done right.
I know what you are thinking. No public client is going to pay the fee to do that. I beg to differ.
A long time ago, I was trying to sell a new and very efficient idea to my boss. In my pitch, my focus was solely on what a beautiful thing I thought this would be for our office, even though it was going to take an initial time/money investment to implement. I was quickly shot down.
About a year later, it occurred to me that I had not done a very good job in that pitch of showing the real value to our firm, as a whole. So, I brought it back to the table with a different approach. I very clearly outlined the estimated time savings (which equates to dollars in our industry), efficiencies, benefits of a standardized process and the reduced risk of mistakes. I won the second time around AND we permanently implemented the process.
I believe you can do the same with a public agency. If you can show them the estimated time, money and risk saved by paying a fee up front to create consistent and coordinated documents AND the associated process – they are going to listen. When all is said and done, they are going to love it.
This is just another example of the benefits of taking a different approach to an age old problem to attain success.
How do I know? I have done it and am doing it.
Consider taking another look at how your public clients operate and how you may be able to help them do better.
It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it!
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