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Architectural project phases

The following explains how to divide your consulting engineering contracts and your time cards into “Project phases” to simplify your accounting. Being consistent in the allocation of time allows you to accurately compare “budgeted” time and “actual” time spent. For “architectural” clients, I recommend the following breakdown: (The % indicates both the effort and the associated fee.)

Study- (separate optional phase)

Design- (75%)

Bidding- (5%)

Shop Drawing review – (10%)

Construction Meetings, Field Observations & Reports- (10%)

Study Phase

For new buildings, a study is seldom needed. But for renovations and additions it is more likely to be required. It is an evaluation of existing conditions to determine how the renovations and/or addition will be accommodated by existing services & systems and often includes a written report.

Design Phase

Detailed site investigation.

Attendance at design meetings.

Conference memos of design meetings:

Document the decisions made at the initial design meeting, in a conference memo to the architect. Many of my clients told me that they had never before received a conference memo from a consultant. STAND-OUT, by providing “Superior Service”, to your clients.

Preparation of the drawings (plans):

This phase starts when the architect sends the CAD & BIM files of the building floor plans (shells) to you. As the design progresses, more and more information keeps getting added (and change) until the drawings are finally complete.

Preparation of the technical specifications:

This is a written document that details the requirements of each of the items shown on the drawings. You write this for your disciplines and it is incorporated into the Project Manual by the architect.


Consulting engineers are also expected to get pre-approvals from utility companies and inspection authorities. Unfortunately, some engineers ignore or fail to document this important step. As an electrical consulting engineer, I was responsible for coordinating the electric service; telephone service; fire alarm service; and cable TV/Internet service for my projects.

Coordination Sheets:

These are a series of forms used to coordinate major systems and equipment with the other project consultants, vendors, and the architect. I believe that I was the first consulting engineer to ever use these and I believe that they circumvented many coordination problems on my projects.

Bidding Phase

Contact your Selected Bidder List to inform them that this project is out-to-bid. Although most architects will not allow sub-bids to be restricted to your list, the more “friendly” bidder the better.

On major projects, your project manager may be asked to attend a Pre-Bid Meeting. This is a meeting to explain the highlights of the project to the bidders and to field their questions.

Prepare the addenda for your Trade. Any changes, clarifications, or additions to the plans and specifications must be documented and issued to the bidders in the form of an addenda. It is usually not necessary for you or your project manager to attend the Bid Opening. But, attend, if requested.

Shop Drawing Review Phase

After a contract is awarded, the consultant reviews/approves Shop Drawings, detailing all equipment that the contractor proposes. The architect describes the procedure in the front end of his Project Manual.

I include telephone “questions” and meetings with contractors and venders (except, at the job site) in this phase category.

Clarification sketches or drawing revisions should also be included in this phase.

Construction Meetings, Field Observations & Reports Phase

Usually, site visits during construction, are required of consulting engineers. These are referred-to as “field observations”. Do not call them “supervision of construction” or “inspections”; that is not what you do and that term implies responsibility that is beyond your function.

In quoting your fee, limit your duties to a specific number of Field Observation visits plus (usually) one Punch List Observation, by your project manager. This limits unrealistic expectations by your client and allows room for negotiation before you start the project. In fact, if it turns out to be a problem project, it may be in your best interest to make some additional visits without compensation.

I recommend a Field Observation Form. Start your report by saying: “The following is the progress since our last report”.

At the completion of the construction phase prepare a “punch-list” detailing corrections to the work, if needed.

It is not unusual to get calls from the architect, sub-contractor or building owner/user weeks, months or even years later. It is bad public relations (PR) and unwise to ignore these calls. Be patient with the caller and try to offer a solution, if feasible. Instead of telling them to call the sub-contractor or vendor, offer to do it for them this time, but tell them to do it next time. If necessary, visit the site to analyze the problem along with the sub-contractor or his vendor.


Excerpted from The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING © 2015 John D. Gaskell. Used with permission of Professional Value Books, Inc. All rights reserved. Order at Use discount code “paperback” and save.