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Project Collaboration Best Practices

Chapter 3:  Project Team Selection

“The low bidder is the one wondering what they left on the table.”

The Commercial Real Estate Revolution by Rex Miller

Setting Up The Project For Success: A Good Foundation

Procurement of design and construction services is complex and true success is often elusive.  The key to meeting the program goals and vision on any project is successfully choosing the right team as early as possible.  It is easy for an Owner to say a project is going to adopt a collaborative process, but the Owner and its team must be willing to change from traditional, silo style processes.  When choosing a more collaborative approach, the team should include the Owner, the Architect, the Constructor, as well as other design professionals and consultants, from the onset of the project.  On a more complex project, this may even include early involvement of Subcontractors and material suppliers.

For a construction project, there are many types and sizes of design and construction firms to consider.  Each firm brings its own expertise, skills, and values to the table.  Finding the proper team, whose values align with the Owner and whose skills match the project needs, is not an easy task.  Therefore, it is extremely critical to make good decisions, regarding team selection. 

Even if the corporate values of the selected firms’ align with the Owner, it is just as important to identify the individual professionals that will be assigned to the project.  These individuals must have the support of upper management.  If the support of upper management is not in place, then there will be a greater possibility of everyone simply falling back into their old and familiar patterns when the first major issue arises during the project.  The team must have good chemistry, be willing and open to suggestions, and embrace an integrated approach.  True collaboration places the project goals above those of the individual team members and is achieved only by including everyone, on everything, from day one.

The Selection Process: Weeding Through The Options

Choosing between the many qualified firms can be incredibly difficult; especially for the novice construction project Owner.  Depending on the specific project, an Owner may contemplate the decision of bringing on the Architect first, the Constructor first, or bringing on both at the same time.  Depending on the needs of your specific project, any of the three options could make sense.  Since it is critical that the team members have mutually agreeable personalities, in some instances Owners have benefitted by having the Architect or Constructor on board first and having them assist with the selection of the other firm, as well as other complimentary firms.

Good referrals, recommendations, and a fabulous portfolio are great, but they cannot guarantee that there be team chemistry.  When seeking firms, you may want to ask business associates or other Owners whom have constructed a similar project for recommendations.  If an Owner does not feel comfortable consulting another Owner, they should try contacting a trade organization, such as the Master Builders’ Association (MBA) or American Institute of Architects (AIA), for recommendations.  Each of these organizations have referral lists, which can be a great place to start.

Starting with a broad list of Architects and Constructors to be considered for a construction project, gather as much information as possible on each firm.  Next, request more specific information from a short list of approximately five (5) firms from each category.  Utilize a formalized Request for Proposal (RFP) process, which implies that you are searching for a solution to solve a problem.  The RFP should include, but not be limited to, items such as:

  • Project Philosophy
  • Similar Project Resume
  • Proposed Team Structure and Resumes
  • References
  • Pre-Construction Fee
  • Proposed Management Fee
  • Itemized General Conditions
  • Staff Hourly Rates


Along with the list of items above, an Owner may want to have firms address additional requirements, such as the following:

  • Unique or innovative project approaches
  • Disadvantaged business enterprise procurement strategies
  • Quality control strategies
  • Bond premium
  • Sample insurance certificate
  • Safety program overview


The RFP should clearly lay out how the Owner will proceed toward making a final decision.  Information should include, but not limited to, items such as:

  • How many firms will be interviewed
  • Names and titles of the selection team
  • Whom the selection team will include
  • What the selection criteria includes
  • How many firms will be further short-listed for formal interview


It is typical for the Owner to select approximately three (3) firms from the short-list to be invited for a personal interview.  The formal interview should be a chance for all parties to get a more personal feel for how people solve problems and work collaboratively with the team.  After formal interviews, each short-listed firm should have a clear understanding of how and when a decision will be made by the Owner. To assist with the decision, an Owner may conduct a workshop to understand how team participants will interact.

Choosing the Right Team Matters

Every project is uniquely different, with its own set of goals, schedules, budgets, and challenges.  When encountering challenges, the Owner will learn firsthand if they have the right team in place.  The right team will encounter problems together and come up with solutions together.  Choosing the right team members with whom to build with can be one of the most critical tasks on any project.  Choose poorly and the project will likely be fraught with issues.  Choose wisely and the team can help minimize risk while maximizing value to the Owner throughout the project. 


AIA-MBA Joint Committee Contact Information:

Eric Starkowicz, Director of Industry Relations, Master Builders’ Association of Western PA

Phone: 412.922.3912                                                                          Email:  


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