You’ve selected the architect for your healthcare project and you’re ready to commence design. You feel confident you have made the right decision and have a good idea of what your design costs will be based on the architect's proposal. You may be right . . . you hope.
You did all the right things:
- Pre-qualified firms based on past similar experience.
- Defined your scope of services carefully based on your strategic planning documentation.
- Developed a project specific Request for Proposal (RFP).
- Asked for fees broken down by task, project phase, and consultant team.
- Received a detailed project schedule of tasks.
- Conducted short list interviews to get an idea of the team ‘chemistry”.
- Inquired about each firm's project delivery process.
- Narrowed your decision to a single firm.
- Negotiated carefully aligning scope with design fee.
- Selected and contracted the firm of choice.
The missing piece of information you may not have asked for: How the firm you selected manages its resources to ensure project schedules across the entire firm are staffed appropriately to meet ever changing schedule needs. The answer to this question will be a better predictor of a firm's success in meeting your project schedule, than a fancy colored spreadsheet with names and hours.
One of the ‘dirty little secrets’ of the A/E industry is that many firms have a limited understanding of their staffing requirements for both current work and work they are pursuing. For many firms, resources flex when month end P&L statements come out, putting them in a reactionary mode and their client’s project schedules in jeopardy. Not having a clear understanding of the quantity and type of resources required for both current work and work under pursuit can be problematic for your project. For a firm to clearly understand if it has the capacity and the type of expertise needed to meet a project schedule, and to do something about any shortfall, it must have a resource allocation process that is fluid, real time and one that considers both current and projected work.
A firm with a staff size of 75 people may be working on 20 different projects in various stages of design and construction, all having projects schedules that ebb and flow. Managing the resource data which includes all project schedules, staff vacations, administrative duties and experience levels across a 75-person firm with multiple offices, is a daunting task in and of itself. It becomes even more complex when you add the variable of pursuit resource requirements and schedules to the mix. In an attempt to plan, some designers resort to Excel spreadsheets to forecast staffing requirements. Using spreadsheets, where the data is static to achieve an accurate and timely understanding of a firm’s resource needs and projections is nearly impossible, as they become immediately obsolete. Producing a spreadsheet detailing staffing requirements for a project or even all firm projects will provide very limited information about the firm’s ability to meet your schedule as it matures with the project requirements. You need to understand the process that team uses ongoing, not a snapshot of a spreadsheet developed to meet a requirement of your RFP.
Example of Planned Hours Detail for an Individual Employee
Using a resource allocation process that is proactive and which must be integrated with daily timesheets, requires resource plans to be prepared for all current and proposed work, and must be reconciled with project schedules at least on a bi-weekly basis. This process ensures a clear understanding of resources levels required to meet project schedules and client commitments across the entire firm.
Your concern should not be that your selected firm can display available resources on a spreadsheet in their response to your RFP, but that can they manage their resources in a fluid and ever-changing environment as not only your project schedule unfolds, but also as schedules change on other projects that the design firm is managing. It is more important that your design team can demonstrate that the process or workflow they use to manage resources for all the firm's projects is proactive rather than reactionary. While you may only be concerned about your project schedule, your designer has many other clients it has committed to, so those schedules really do impact your project.
Example of Employee Utilization Across a Team
Resource planning is a daily challenge for professional services firms. The design team can't simply throw bodies' at a project, they need to have a clear understanding of the skill levels required, internal and external resource needs, project budgets, time frames, available capacity, and projected pursuit requirements. And they need to have this insight across multiple projects and offices in various stages at any given time.
Your design firm must demonstrate that it uses a real time resource planning tool that is fully integrated with its project management system, or you cannot be certain that they will have timely information necessary to make proactive decisions to manage your project schedule. Your design firm should be able to demonstrate a process that simultaneously considers scheduling, budgeting, forecasting and resource management for all projects across the entire firm when developing resource allocation plans.
Example of Projected Resource Allocation
Inquire as to the resource allocation and reconciliation process across all projects to be sure that your project will not be adversely impacted by other work the firm may have. The design team should articulate a process where project schedules and staff resources are managed and reconciled online by each Project Manager across the entire firm regardless of size or scope.
This information, available to every member of the project management team, means decisions regarding resources required for your project are not “guestimated”, but are defined a project plan that is continually influenced by actual performance data that flows to team members on a close to real time basis.
So the next time you are finalizing the architectural selection for your next project, in addition to ensuring the firm you select has the right experience and chemistry, remember to ask about their process for leveling resources across the firms projects and offices and how that process protects your project schedule. You will be glad you did.