InfraGuide Best Practice: Selection of a Professional Consultant

Harold Murphy
Technical Advisor, Decision Making and Investment Planning
InfraGuide
Ottawa, Ontario

InfraGuide is a national network of experts and a growing collection of Best Practice publications, offering the best in Canadian experience and knowledge of core infrastructure. With our founders—the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the National Research Council, Infrastructure Canada, and our founding member, the Canadian Public Works Association—we help municipalities make informed decisions that sustain our quality of life. Since its inception in 2001, InfraGuide has developed over fifty Best Practice documents for use by decision makers and technical personnel in the public and private sector. The purpose of this article is to provide a summary of the latest Best Practice, Selection of a Professional Consultant.

Before providing a summary of the Best Practice, it is important to note that InfraGuide follows the same process for developing all the Best Practices. The following are key elements of this process:

  • Identify a topic to be considered for a Best Practice
  • Build a volunteer Working Group of multi-disciplined and multi-jurisdictional subject matter experts from across the country
  • Engage a consultant to manage and document the process
  • Undertake surveys of a broad range of individuals involved in the topic
  • Perform a research and literature review on the subject
  • Develop a draft Best Practice based on the above
  • Circulate the draft widely for peer and stakeholder review
  • Publish a finished product

For quite some time there has been an ongoing debate about the process used to engage professional consultants as well as the issue of lowest bid versus qualifications for the assignment.

In late 2005 the Decision Making and Investment Planning Committee was asked to consider Selection of a Professional Consultant as a topic for a new Best Practice. Recognizing the value to the community for such a document, the committee quickly endorsed the concept and asked staff to proceed. A volunteer Working Group was struck with representation from a wide variety of professions from across the country including municipal staff from different fields, the consultant industry, purchasing associations, territorial government and elected officials.

The result, using the process noted above, was the production of an InfraGuide Best Practice that considers lifecycle costs of a project, considers professional consulting services as expert advice, and recognizes that best value is achieved through a competitive qualification-based process meeting the objective of:

  • Least lifecycle cost investment to deliver desired level of infrastructure service to the community.

This will be achieved through:

  • Selecting a consultant who is best qualified for a specific project, and
  • A negotiation process that acknowledges the value of using the consultant and the owner's skill, knowledge and experience to jointly develop a scope of service that ensures all opportunities for adding value are considered.

Below you will find the recommended steps in selecting a professional consultant as outlined in the Best Practice. It should be noted that the Best Practice acknowledges that for some very easily determined services alternative approaches should be considered.

The detailed Best Practice is available for viewing on the InfraGuide website at www.infraguide.ca.

Selecting a Consultant - Best Practice Methodology

Step 1: Prepare Initial Scope of Services

Purpose: To set out in writing, the general scope and expectations of the client regarding the assignment.

What to do: The client describes the general Scope of Services for the assignment, including any special project or client requirements. It should take the form of a brief, non-technical, written statement of what the assignment will include.

Step 2: Request for Qualifications

Purpose: To enable consultants to assess their interest and their suitability for the assignment, and for the client to develop a list of qualified consultants from whom proposals will be requested.

What to do: Client prepares a list of consultants believed to have the requisite qualifications for the assignment. The size of the list should be commensurate with the value of the assignment (maximum 10-12). Invite consultants to submit their qualifications and availability for your assignment. Evaluate and rank consultants, perform reference checks and shortlist three consultants for the assignment. Advise consultants there will be an RFP for the assignment.

Consider an "alternate process" for small or specialized assignments.

Step 3: RFP + Technical Evaluation

Purpose: To obtain sufficiently detailed information about the consultants invited to participate in the assignment to enable the client to select the consultant "best suited" for the specific assignment.

What to do: Define the Scope of Services in sufficient detail to enable the consultants to submit project-specific proposals. Shortlisted firms from the RFQ are requested to submit proposals to complete the assignment. Proposals should include methodology and options, design alternatives, assignment personnel, preliminary schedule, and basis for fee negotiations.

Proposals received, evaluated and ranked by the owner.

Step 4: Finalize Scope with #1 Consultant

Purpose: Owner and top-ranked consultant jointly finalize Scope of Services to ensure a common understanding of assignment.

What to do: Finalize an agreement on the Scope of Services upon which the consultant will be retained and remunerated. Scope the project in detail, review and assess options and innovations to be explored, lifecycle cost comparisons to be developed, the involvement of the consultant in project processes, approvals, documentation, etc.

Step 5: Negotiate Fees and Prepare Agreement

Purpose: To negotiate consultant's fees and how consultant will be paid based on the agreed Scope of Services and to create a Client-Consultant Agreement.

What to do: Fine-tune the Scope of Services and negotiate fee revisions with the consultant until agreement is reached on project scope and fees. Include in the negotiation how the project's design risk will be transferred to the consultant. Consider setting out a payment schedule and provisions related to deliverables to minimize administrative needs.

If agreement cannot be achieved, client undertakes negotiations process (Steps 4 & 5), with the second-ranked consultant. The process is continued until agreement is reached.

Step 6: Award Assignment, Sign Contract

Purpose: Finalize formal consultant contract for the agreed project scope and fee estimate.

What to do: Sign consulting contract awarding assignment. Notify and thank unsuccessful consultants.

In summary, this Best Practice recommends that consultants be engaged based on value to the client and, as concluded in the document, "Applying the BP will raise the quality of engineering/consulting services and help municipalities identify long-term, cost-effective solutions to their needs. With a solid commitment to use and follow the Best Practice, communities will reap the benefits of well-defined projects that take advantage of innovations and technical decisions that will minimize lifecycle costs."

There is no doubt that this change in philosophy represents a challenge, but implementation should ensure that the most qualified and technically competent consultants are engaged.

Harold Murphy can be reached at (613) 993-3809 or harold.murphy@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca.