The Need for Taking Extra Care When Pursuing Large Project Opportunities

Ive written previously about budget development and proposal drafting, but thought a follow-up to this topic with some additional caveats about doing so for large project opportunities would be worthwhile.

Everyone gets excited when a new potential opportunity comes in, especially when youre winding down on some other project thats been around for longer than anticipated. Even more so when its a large job, with the possibility of a substantial fee and maybe even the chance to gain some notoriety that can be leveraged into future marketing materials. This excitement on everyones part often seems to accelerate everything associated with the project, however the numbers usually have to be assembled in a short period of time and theres not always an opportunity for questions and answers. Ive certainly been in that situation and Im sure others have as well. For some reason it always seems to happen to us when the boss is out of town, so pulling something together quickly is further complicated by this fact.

As a result of going through that a few times Ive come to realize that no matter how hard it is to do so, everyone needs to slow down during these times and take extra care when going after these big jobs. We need to think beyond the dollar signs, and realize that the larger the opportunity, the larger the chances are that if inadequately estimated it could result in potentially catastrophic budget overages. Always be wary of the rush to just provide a budget number by the end of day today which the client says he wont hold you to later. This often seems to be based on what I call a lot of verbal hand-waving. Whenever this happens it always reminds me of this Dilbert cartoon.

If anything, these projects should require an even more thorough and careful examination of all the variables than the average quick quote. Look at it this way if you underestimate a very small project by as much as 25%, you may only end up spending an extra day or two of unpaid labor on it. But if you underestimate a really big project by the same percentage your entire staff may be spending an extra month or two of unpaid labor on it. Most firms can probably weather the first scenario, but I suspect almost all would seriously struggle with the latter.

Also, if it is a big enough opportunity there are likely several parties proposing on it so you want to be sure all are basing their fees on the same information, and therefore working from a level playing field. If not the resulting bids are not apples to apples and you may have just wasted a lot of time quoting the project. This requires that the client provide a detailed specification on exactly what they are looking for. At a minimum (for an existing conditions scan to BIM project at least) we always need clear definition of AOI (Area of Interest), IOI (Items of Interest) and LOD (Level of Development), as well as types, formats and versions of deliverables. If at all possible we also like to conduct an on-site jobwalk, or at least have a chance to review any existing drawings (even if inaccurate) and photos of the current conditions, especially if were quoting something that cant be reviewed purely from satellite imagery.

Regardless of how much you want to be competitive, and to what degree you really need this job you never want to have put some numbers out there that if the project were to actually come in youd regret quoting it in the first place. Around here thats known as a Holy Cow (or more often Holy Crap) moment, which translates into what did we get ourselves into? If and when that happens, of course by the time you realize it its too late. This is the main reason why there is a need for taking extra care when pursuing large opportunities in the first place.

About the Author

Mick Cunningham, RA

Mick Cunningham, RA... is a California licensed architect with 30 years of work experience in existing conditions documentation, building code analysis, construction document preparation, specification editing, interdisciplinary document coordination, quality assurance review, plan check agency processing, construction contract administration and project closeout on a variety of project types including healthcare, educational, hospitality, commercial, institutional, industrial and residential. Since 2005 he has been with Irvine, California based, Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC), , a firm that specializes in documenting existing building conditions. In 2012 he joined the U.S. Institute of Building Documentation (USIBD), . The USIBD is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to all stakeholders with an interest in building documentation.
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