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Private Client 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 “Private Clients”, I recommend the following breakdown (The % indicates both the effort and the associated fee.)


Study- (Separate Optional Phase)

Preliminary – (0 – 15%)

Design Development – (15 – 30%)

Construction Documents – (30 – 70%)

Bidding Phase – (70 – 75%)

Construction Administration – (75 – 100%)

Study Phase

The scope of projects that you handle for private clients will primarily be in your specialty. The result of the study is a written report including: A description of the proposed project together with options; a cost estimate (including your fee); a time schedule including design, bidding, and construction; and usually an 8 ½ x 11 sketch showing the relative locations of the major elements. Present bound copies at a meeting with your client at his office. Don’t just plop the reports on the conference table and say “here it is”. Before the meeting, highlight the important parts (in your copy) and read or “paraphrase” these parts at the meeting.

Preliminary Design Phase

This usually includes 15% progress prints (Three copies, stamped “Progress Prints”), a preliminary cost estimate, and a preliminary project schedule. Present them at a meeting with your client, including typical catalog cuts of major equipment, if appropriate.

Design Development Phase

At this point a final project scope and a description of systems should be developed and presented as an outline specification. Usually include 30 % progress prints (Three copies, stamped “Progress Prints”), a design development cost estimate, and a design development project schedule. Present them at a meeting with your client.

Construction Documents Phase

This is the phase where you prepare the drawings/plans and specification for bidding and is the bulk of your work. Usually the preliminary drawings/plans are upgraded to become the design development drawings/plans and then upgraded again to become the construction documents.

The meetings for this phase are similar to the preliminary & design development meetings. Usually one or two plus a final are all that are needed.

Bring a copy of a “draft” of the Project Manual to the final review meeting. Again, before the meeting, highlight the important parts (in your copy) and read or “paraphrase” these parts at the meeting.

If feasible, include some “alternatives” in the bidding. Alternatives are things that can be added to or subtracted from the project to allow it to meet budget. This can avoid the trouble and expense and delay of “re-bidding”. Additive alternatives are usually best; contractors are more likely to offer a discount to increase the contract price. In my practice I found that adding work in certain areas (floors or wings of the building) worked best. Painting of raceways, heavy duty generator enclosures, and nicer lighting fixtures were other frequent options.

Also, at the final review meeting, provide a copy of your selected bidder list, and recommend that only these bidders be invited-to-bid. Usually a selected-bidder-list will not be allowed on government projects.

If your selected bidder list is approved, there is no need to publish an invitation for bids. Notify your selected bidders and verify their availability and willingness to bid. However, if bidding is open, include an invitation for bids in your project manual. Make sure that the owner places advertisements in the local newspaper (and/or government publications). Coordinate the dates and allow adequate time, especially during a holiday period.

Complete the approval process.

Bidding Phase

Arrange for printing of an adequate number of sets of drawings & project manuals. The cost of these should be reimbursed by the client. Get a deposit from the bidders, to assure that documents are returned. Electronic PDF copies on a CD are now common and are often provided at no charge to the bidders.

Have bids submitted directly to the client in a sealed envelope that is not to be opened until the bid opening date & time. For government clients, hold a “public” bid opening and tabulate the bids, including “alternatives”. Distribute copies of the tabulation, congratulate the low bidder and arrange a meeting for the contract signing.  For private clients, I recommend a “private” bid opening. After the bid opening, call the low bidder to congratulate him and arrange a meeting for the contract signing.

Construction Administration

The first meeting during the construction phase is called the “Pre-Construction Conference”. This is the meeting where the basic construction requirements and procedures, which you included in the Project Manual, are reviewed.

Schedule construction meetings on a day and time agreeable to the client, contractor, and your project manager’s schedule; usually weekly. In your project manual, you should have included an agenda for each of these meetings.

Make sure that the punch-list items are completed, including those of your consultants.

At the completion of the project, there is a lot of “Close-Out” paperwork to complete. It is tedious, but necessary. Don’t overlook it or neglect to follow through.

Learn the details of project phases for “Private Clients” in Jack’s new book.

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