Selecting quality consulting engineers for multi-discipline engineering projects



Gregs Thomopulos, Executive Committee Member, International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), President & CEO, Stanley Consultants, Inc., Muscatine, Iowa, USA


The selection of a consulting engineer and construction contractor is a critical undertaking that must be done with utmost care to achieve the client’s expectations of quality outcomes in the completed project. The selection process of an engineer and a contractor depends on the project delivery method that the client proposes to use for the execution of the project. The most widely-used project delivery method by clients is ‘Design-Bid-Build’, whereby a client separately engages a consulting engineer for the planning, design and supervision, and a contractor for the construction. Another project delivery method is ‘Design-Build,’ also referred to as Engineer ing, Procurement and Construction (EPC), in which a client engages one entity (or consortium) for the engineering design and construction. There are also other project delivery methods such as Construction Management At-Risk. This paper focuses on the criteria for selecting the consulting engineer for the planning and design of complex multi-discipline engineering projects such as ports and harbours to achieve quality outcomes of the completed project.

The consulting engineering industry remains largely responsible for the planning, design, inspection and management of the infrastructure needed to meet the world’s ever increasing demand for food, water, sanitation, shelter, health services, transportation and energy. On a daily basis engineers tackle the problems of how to improve peoples’ lives while preserving natural resources in a world with a growing population.

A certain degree of mystery surrounds the expertise offered by the consulting engineer, together with a lack of understanding of the fine balance of art, science and skilled judgment that is engineering. Some clients regard engineering services as another commodity that can be provided by the lowest bidder; others are required by law or other procurement regulations to use prescriptive tender and selection procedures that focus on deliverables and price. In either situation, the resulting impact is that of diminished quality of the completed project. Few, if any, of these procedures, however, acknowledge the underlying value of the consulting engineer’s expertise – that of a trusted advisor.

The paramount importance of the selection of the right consulting engineer for each project is widely acknowledged. This holds true for any project, but even more so for large multi-discipline projects, whether it is the complex design of a new port involving dredging, breakwaters, piers and wharfs, roads, buildings, power generation, water supply, etc., or the reconstruction of an aging port. Selecting the right consulting engineer ensures that the owner’s project objectives are met with the lowest project life-cycle cost. The Inter national Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), in its publication ‘Guidelines for the Selection of Consultants’ recommends that the consulting engineer should be selected on the basis of the firm’s professional competence and experience, managerial ability, availability of resources, professional independence, fairness of fee structure, professional integrity and quality management systems. FIDIC further recommends that the ‘overriding concern should be the maintenance of appropriate quality of the professional services provided with due attention to suitability of purpose, economy and value, sustainability, efficiency, integr ity, management of r isks, public welfare, fair opportunity for all consulting firms and transparency of processes.’ The selection method that achieves these objectives is Quality-Based Selection (QBS).

Background information

To FIDIC and the Multilateral Development Banks, QBS means Quality-Based Selection, a definition that covers both the qualifications of the client and consulting engineer  in the selection process. In the United States, QBS means Qualifications-Based Selection, focused pr imar ily on the qualifications of the consulting engineer in the selection process. Regardless of the specific definition of the acronym, QBS means a selection process by which the client selects the design firm deemed to be most qualified by objective criteria as opposed to the selection processes that allow the client to select the firm that either proposes the lowest price for providing engineer ing services, Cost-Based Selection (CBS) or by a combination of qualifications and price, Quality and Cost- Based Selection (QCBS).

The procurement of engineering services is one of the most important aspects of, and has the greatest impact on, ensuring quality in the constructed project. The client’s challenge is to get a good ‘return on investment’ in design services. This can be achieved by selecting the best qualified design firm and negotiating the appropriate scope of work and fee with a view to obtaining the optimum benefits of a successfully constructed project. The impact of the engineer’s efforts on innovations, exploration of alternatives, life-cycle costs and public safety is most critical to the project success.


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