Establishing a Persuasive Procurement Process

Streamlining the RFP process can go a long way with the AEC industry.


By Chris Hotop, Construction Director, and Megan Large, Aviation Pursuit Strategy Manager, Burns & McDonnell

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In an industry that continues to grow and expect fast completion of projects, it is important to have a well-defined procurement process to entice the most qualified AEC firms.

Well-written requests for qualifications and proposals (RFQ/Ps) and clear procurement processes can send the right message to the AEC industry and demonstrate the need for strong partnerships to deliver important projects.

Those in the AEC industry are better prepared to respond when owners place a high value on qualifications and their planned technical approach. Well-planned RFQ/Ps protect an owner’s interest in receiving proposals aligned with the project scope and budget expectations. Bidding professional services without a customized scope sends the message that owners are commoditizing the work.

A two-step process can help establish the most qualified firms from those that respond to an RFQ/P. In the first step, owners shortlist two or three firms based on proposed qualifications. Those shortlisted firms are then asked to submit price proposals and/or participate in an interview. This interview is the second step and allows the client to interact with each firm. While cost is always a factor, it should be weighed alongside other criteria, such as schedule, team and experience.

If the project size and complexity warrant it, one-on-one meetings with the shortlisted firms ahead of the technical and price proposal can help narrow the scope and identify the true needs of the owner. This also allows for a more informal interaction to “test” how well the team works with the owner and other stakeholders. Most importantly, it is the relationships and ability to work together that have the greatest impact on the success of a project.


For design-build project delivery procurements, it is important to understand and incorporate state and/or federal law requirements. For many states, charter cities can codify their own procurement requirements for design-build. For private owners using private funding, there are generally no restrictions; however, it is always best to check state laws to determine what statutory requirements may need to be followed, especially if there is any potential for reimbursement from public funds.

If design-build project delivery is desired, it can be helpful to engage the AEC industry to gather intel on what works well in a particular market. Holding roundtable discussions, industry days and/or one-on-one meetings with AEC firms experienced with design-build or other delivery methods can go a long way in getting buy-in and, most importantly, interest in a project.


Establish a well-defined process and schedule, and stick to it. Those in the AEC industry are most effective when they can predict and plan for the resources required to execute a project. Keep in mind that AEC rates and fees are based on covering overhead costs, including marketing and sales. Thus, the more streamlined and predictable owners can be in their procurement, the better and more efficient a partnership will be in delivering a successful project.


A successful procurement processes starts by giving yourself enough time to properly set the parameters with the following considerations:

  • Don’t encourage open-ended responses and boilerplate material. This can be solved by simply putting a page requirement in the request. Qualified respondents who understand the needs of a project will provide more direct answers. Simplified responses are also easier to follow and evaluate.
  • Set the stage. Needs and challenges vary for every project. Keeping a list of various formats to follow can be useful. Facility, service type and delivery method are a few examples of how to organize your requirements. Share a draft with several AEC firms and solicit feedback.
  • Publicize the list and meet with AEC firms to increase the likelihood of executing a successful selection process. Doing so allows prospective proposers to put in the time to understand a project’s needs ahead of the RFQ/P, increasing the likelihood of worthwhile proposals.
  • Understand your request. Variations in proposals may require a different level of effort. To get the most effective response, understanding the needs that must be met by a proposal will determine what level of detail is received. The ability to evaluate the responses comparatively against each other will reduce the level of effort throughout the procurement process.
  • Reduce the negotiation phase. Don’t hold a project up by selecting a team that isn’t prepared to meet the needs, scope, contract terms or fee. It is important to understand that well-defined project scopes and placement of project risks will always produce effective proposals.

Provide a copy of the standard agreement and request a matrix of contract exceptions and proposed modifications from the proposers with reasons for the requested modification. It is always a challenge to modify an owner’s standard contract terms but entering negotiations with the understanding that as the project is more clearly defined, certain stakeholders may be better equipped to manage certain risks. This can create strong partnerships.