With the help of my parents, my first job was delivering The Dominion Post, in Westover, WV. I earned a fair amount of money for my candy habit, and had enough left over to buy a piano. If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved a lot of money on dentist bills and I’d own Microsoft stock instead. While I was a consultant I often thought the same thing, if only I’d known about the project before my competition, I could’ve positioned myself better to be on the winning team. Some of you may be aware of the milestones in the planning process and some of you may not, but knowing the milestones described below may give you a leg up on your competition.
01 Master Plan
The creation of a campus master plan is the twinkle in the eye milestone of a project. The campus Owner (University, City, or Corporate entity) will hire an architectural planning firm to develop long-term strategies for developing their campus with respect to new buildings, and infrastructure to meet the goals of the campus. University Master Plans are public documents and can be found on the University’s website. For example, see here for Arizona State’s Master Plan documents. Spend time looking at the Master Plan and you will learn what buildings the University anticipates building in the future.
02 Feasibility Study
At some point, the project will evolve from a master planning exercise into a feasibility study that will determine if now is an appropriate time to fund the project. In the UNC system, the cost of a feasibility study is typically below the dollar threshold amount required for the project manager (PM) to use the competitive process to seek out a designer, so the PM has the option to direct select a firm to complete the study. See page 5 of the NC Capital Improvements project manual for threshold amounts here.
In the year that I’ve been working for the state, my department has solicited designers for feasibility studies. Sometimes, our PM direct selected a firm to complete the study; in which case the PM had worked with that firm previously and knew that they had the specialized expertise required for the study. More often, the PM solicited three firms to submit qualifications. The three firms were chosen based on the fact that either the PM had worked with them on a previous project, interviewed them for another project (but did not select them), or the firm was on our open-end agreement list. After the firms submitted their qualifications, they were interviewed and selected for the project by a committee comprised of the capital improvement project (CIP) team as defined in blog post 002.
03 UNC Board of Governors Approval
Once the feasibility study is complete, it will contain programming studies, scoping studies, and most importantly a project cost estimate. If the project is found to be feasible and the funding can be obtained, it will be submitted to the Board of Governors for approval.
The UNC Board of Governors (BOG) is defined here and below:
“The UNC Board of Governors is the policy-making body charged with “the general determination, control, supervision, management, and governance” of the University of North Carolina. Its 32 voting members are elected by the NC General Assembly for four-year terms.”
All projects that are submitted for approval by the 17 UNC campuses can be found under the Board Meetings and Materials tab, Committee on Budget and Finance, Item 6 (see here for May 2015 meeting) and the approved projects are found in the meeting minutes appendix H here. As you can see in the meeting minutes, the scope, the cost and the approximate completion date of the project are listed.
The BOG must approve a project before the PM can advertise for designers. Oftentimes a project is not advertised right away, so designers and their consultants could potentially be positioning themselves to win a project even before their competition is aware that there is a project. If I had known this when I was a consultant, I would be sending projects approved by the BOG to my favorite architects who specialize in those types of projects and then showing them that my specialized experience would be a great contribution to their team.
04 Designer Selections
With the BOG approval, the project is officially conceived and the PM will move forward with advertising for a designer. The PM will advertise for designers on the General Administration website see here. On the advertisement, the designer will be directed to contact the PM. The PM will send the designer a document called the project brief which contains more information than the advertisement. Next the PM will hold a pre-proposal meeting typically at the project site and answer any questions about the project.
Once the proposals are submitted, the PM along with the CIP team will read all of the proposals and determine which teams to interview based on criteria listed in the project brief. The interviewees are notified that they made the short-list and if there was a feasibility study conducted they will receive it at that time.
It is assumed by many designers that the team that completed the feasibility study will also win the project. It is true that the incumbent team will have an edge but in the year that I have been working for the state, it has gone both ways. Sometimes they continue on the project and sometimes they don’t. I personally recommend that if you have a compelling story and you can show that you can do the project, then submit for the project. Your strongest competition may not even submit because they think that the incumbent team already has the project.
Let me know if you have any comments or questions in the comment section below or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org