By Roger Lenneberg
Because the construction business has gotten more and more complicated, reliance on outside professionals has become an unavoidable cost.
For many, hiring professionals is the last thing on the wish list because of concerns about unpredictable cost, uncertain outcomes, and questionable investment return. Despite those concerns, professionals are a necessity today. With a little planning, a good professional can improve the bottom line, provide expertise that can be useful again and again, and be a solid investment in proactive management to reduce risk. The world of “must have“ consultants for the construction industry has grown beyond lawyers and accountants and now includes information technology experts, human resource consultants, water envelope specialists, and risk managers, just to name a few. Although it may seem like the easiest path, skipping the professional advice rarely pays off in the end. Here are some suggestions for getting better value from professional service providers:
- Be proactive. Develop relationships with key outside professionals who have expertise in preventing problems. Reach out to these professionals early and often. A few brief visits can help avoid longer visits in the future with professionals who charge by the hour.
- Ask your professional to meet with you at your office for the first working meeting. This initial meeting establishes your respective roles and sets the tone for the ongoing relationship. In your own environment, you are the leader and have access to all the information and resources you need to start the project in the right direction.
- Collaborate with the professional. During the first meeting, create a work plan that includes a clear statement of the relationship goals, the specific “deliverable(s)” desired, project milestones (to measure progress), and a completion date (and/or progress check-in date if work is ongoing). This is an opportunity to share your professional approach and ensure that it matches theirs.
- Ask for a budget in “professional hours,” not dollars. Professional services are billed by the hour and by creating an hours budget, you focus attention on productivity, time, and efficiency. When the hours budget is exceeded, require authorization for more time and ask for explanations for overruns.
- Require monthly reports and updates. These can be simple and on forms you prepare. This process keeps you informed, involved, and encourages faster progress (which saves time and money).
- Ask for a written statement of options for proceeding with targeted tasks, and ask that the relative costs and benefits of each approach be included. For example: ask an information technology consultant to outline the comparative costs, risks, and performance of off-the-shelf software versus customized software. Professionals are often consulted in areas where you have little accurate information. Use your professional to educate you so you can make an informed decision based on complete information.
- Make sure you have a written fee agreement.
- Call upon receipt and ask about it if you have a question on the billing or work product. Resolve all issues quickly.
- Make sure you get copies of everything your professional sends out. E-mail and transmitting documents electronically makes this process much easier than it used to be.
- Ask for drafts well in advance of when documents must be filed or executed or a key decision made. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed into something you have not had time to consider.
- Treat the relationship as a working relationship, which is the goal, rather than a superior/subordinate relationship. Ask relevant questions, get concise and direct answers, and educate the professional as well as yourself. Over time, you will learn what you should and should not do yourself. In this way, your professional relationships can last a lifetime, not just for the life of one project.