Robert P. Alden,Faye DiMassimo,J.C. Lan,Donald Joffe 2015-05-19 02:47:03
Three Sound Perspectives on Winning Government Projects A great “get” for many engineering firms is the procurement of a government project. In addition to being potentially lucrative, some government projects can be extremely high profile – affording the successful firm an opportunity to deepen its portfolio and expand its reach. However, the road to triumph can be a long and arduous one. For a trilateral perspective to positioning your firm and compiling a winning Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Qualifications (RFQ), Engineering Georgia recently spoke with a number of key players who deal daily in the politics of engineering procurement. Over the course of the last six years since Robert Alden took on the role of Executive Director of Facilities Management, TCSG has designed, renovated, built and outfitted over $475 million worth of buildings and equipment across the state. TCSG has also completed an extensive facility condition assessment and energy audit of more than 525 buildings and executed large re-roof and HVAC replacement projects in an effort to improve and extend the useful lifespan of facilities that are already in place. Funding for projects at the 23 colleges that comprise the TCSG generally comes in one of two ways: 1) Capital Outlay – a long, multistep process that winds its way from the Governor’s office to the House of Representatives to the Senate and back to the Governor’s office in order to gain approval for funding of proposed projects. This funding mechanism provides financial support for about 98 percent of the projects. 2) Foundations and Grants – these are often used on smaller scale projects, such as the development of a lab, or can be utilized to augment a larger Capital Outlay project. “We typically leave it up to the individual colleges to determine their needs,” explained Alden. “We then analyze their proposed projects in order to create a budget and submit a request for funding consideration. It can take anywhere from eight to twelve years from concept to ribbon cutting, depending on many different factors that may come into play. The RFQ/ bidding process for general contractors and design-build firms typically takes place toward the end of the project cycle and encompasses about eight weeks.” Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC) manages the RFQ portion of the process on behalf of TCSG. While the GSFIC process includes a 100-point scale upon which all entities are judged – comprising of elements such as a company’s stability, past experience and suitability to the project at hand, among other things – Alden recommends that submitting firms pay close attention to the following when developing their proposals: BUDGET IS KEY: As a public entity, TCSG is an open book and budgets for projects are published. DON’T come in high and expect to win a contract, as there are no additional sources of funding available. DO YOUR RESEARCH: Become familiar with the stakeholders, the program and the project at hand. Most importantly, identify the appropriate people on your team in your proposal. It also helps to have an understanding of the brand image that is attached to any given project. On average, TCSG will review as many as 25 to 50 books per project in order to whittle it down to a short list of just three to five. Simple, yet avoidable mistakes can hurt your chances. EXPERIENCE IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Alden suggests that firms that are “in it to win it” bring relevant and comparable experience that demonstrates high levels of complexity and quality to whatever project is up for selection. There is no time for a learning curve. It also helps to have a Georgia-based project history. SUBMIT A PERFECT RFQ: Have several people in your firm proofread… and then proofread again… to make sure there are no typos, factual errors or grammatical mistakes. Never forget – in this instance, you are submitting this proposal to an educational entity. To them, careless errors could speak to the level of attention to detail you will bring to the project. BRING YOUR “A GAME”: In the event that your firm is chosen for the short list, you will likely be invited to a pre-interview site visit to go over the ground rules – followed several weeks later by a 35-40 minute presentation to make your case to the project selection committee for final scoring to determine the finalist firm. Bear in mind, these interviews are not intended to be design competitions. This phase will help determine your understanding of the project and illustrate your firm’s process. Did your firm do its homework to identify mission, goals and challenges that the college may encounter? The interview phase will also shed some light on the chemistry between your firm, your project manager, the TCSG project manager and GSFIC project manager, as well as the school president and senior staff. After all, if chosen, you will be working together on an almost daily basis for a period of up to two years. For firms that wish to break into the business of government contracts, but don’t have any prior experience within that sector, Alden recommends a willingness to take on smaller, less glamorous projects to get your foot in the door with a college. He also suggests forming strong ties with a number of architectural firms that have experience in specific state government types, as they often bring their own consultant teams to the table. As the third most populous county in the state of Georgia, Cobb presents a wide variety of opportunities for local firms to bid on government-funded projects each month. Cobb County is home to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Lockheed Martin, Six Flags Over Georgia and four Fortune 500 companies’ headquarters – making it vital to have a solid infrastructure in place. Between roads, bridges, McCollum Field airport and transit system, there is no shortage of prospects for a firm to break into the business of winning government bids within Cobb County. “Most levels of county government – particularly large counties like Cobb – are looking for real innovation, creativity and anything that will set your firm apart from the others,” explained Cobb County DOT Director, Faye DiMassimo. “It is particularly important to bring a project manager to the table who has the skills necessary to get the job done, as well as a stellar reputation for success.” Cobb County DOT often reviews anywhere from two or three all the way up to more than 20 bids, depending on the project. DiMassimo and her department work closely with the countywide procurement department to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP), but she warns that every county is different. For firms that hope to secure a government project at the county level, DiMassimo recommends the following: DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Become very familiar with the RFP process in the county with which you hope to work, as it often varies from one county to the next. There may be a number of points of entry – such as design, concept work, feasibility and ultimately, construction. If you want even a piece of a project, keep your ear to the ground. COMPETITION IS FIERCE, SO… 1) Don’t be afraid to express your creativity in order to stand out. 2) Showcase your project manager as the face of the firm. 3) Demonstrate a solid foundation with an ability to think outside the box. 4) Bring a specialty approach to your response to the challenge at hand. 5) Make it apparent that your firm will provide value for the funding that is on the table. DEMONSTRATE QUALITY CONTROL ASSURANCES FROM THE START: Always check your RFPs – proofread, proofread, proofread. Be careful not to fall into a cut-and-paste routine from one RFP to the next, as you might miss something important and knock yourself out of the running altogether. Gwinnett County stretches across 436.7 square miles in North Georgia and represents the state’s second most populous county. With an estimated population of 877,922, it isn’t difficult to imagine how busy government entities like the Department of Water Resources might be. With a nearly constant need for engineering partners, there are two ways in which firms can collaborate with the county: 1) Demand Services – These represent a number of different categories of work and include the selection of 22 consultant firms for annual contracts with the county. These contracts are open to any firm that might wish to submit a proposal. Once the RFP has been issued, submitted proposals are rated through a rigorous system and only the top scoring firms/teams are selected for the interview phase. The amount of projects awarded to each firm depends on particular experience and total number/type of projects over the course of the contracted year. 2) RFP for Large-Scale Projects – A number of stringent criteria must also be met in order for a firm to be selected for these endeavors, including expertise, comparable projects in the past, experience of people and more. “It’s a very fair scoring system that takes the ‘feelings’ out of the selection process,” said J.C. Lan, Deputy Director of Engineering and Technical Services for Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources. “There are five major categories including a firm’s experience on similar types of projects, key staff experience and availability, project understanding, technical approach and organizational management. Under each major category, there are 10 to 20 subcategories. Five different committee members review each submitted RFP and score them independently. Once the technical proposals have been scored and a short list of firms has been developed, respective costs are then added to the evaluation.” Joffe and Lan offered several suggestions to have the greatest prospect for winning a contract with Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources. INVEST IN YOUR PEOPLE: By coming to the table with a team of knowledgeable, capable and experienced professionals, your firm will no doubt stand out in a number of categories. BROADER IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER: While some firms offer a deep pool of talent and broad range of services, that does not necessarily mean they will win every contract. Broad experience is great, but it’s also appealing when a firm offers specific, unique specialties. Demand services may cover up to nine different categories – like storm water management or waste water treatment – and firms are invited to choose any number of categories in which they have experience or as few as one, depending on their expertise. TAKE GREAT CARE WHEN DEVELOPING YOUR RFP PACKET: This is the first step in the process and serves as the gateway to subsequent steps. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to make sure your firm puts its best foot forward. PREPARATION IS KEY: Joffe recommends that firms that make the short list for the technical and cost portions of their proposals come well prepared for the interview segment of the selection process. This segment could make or break a firm’s chances for winning the contract. This is a great opportunity to express your knowledge of the project at hand and your firm’s experience in similar projects.
Published by American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. View All Articles.