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Qualifications-Based Selection

Qualifications-Based Selection is the Global Procurement Standard for Architecture Services

The Ontario Association of Architects recommends the use of the Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) procurement process (sometimes also known as Quality-Based Selection).

Under this procurement process, the most appropriate professional or firm is chosen entirely based on qualifications such as knowledge, skill, previous experience with broadly similar projects, and other project-specific factors like the quality of the proposed approach and ideas for the project. This leaves fair and reasonable fee considerations to be addressed through a negotiation with the top-ranked firm for an agreed-upon scope of services. The OAA advocates for a holistic understanding of qualifications that includes quality metrics as a current and forward-looking demonstration of a proponent’s qualifications. “Qualifications” based strictly on credentials and too-narrowly defined “past performance” might lead to unintended consequences that further commodify procurement. What is desired is to support innovation based on a more holistic understanding of fit and may ultimately be the best solution for the public.

How QBS Works – Select the Most Qualified Firm First, Then Negotiate A Fair Price with That Firm

For an overview on how the QBS process works, view the YES2QBS Video HERE

With QBS, firms are selected based upon their qualifications to do a project, instead of their low bid.

A QBS, Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process is almost identical to a Price-Based Request for Proposal process except that it does not a request a price from the vendor. And in some instances, clients may choose to disclose an approximate budget to proponents so that they can provide more detailed information in their proposals about things such as team members, process and timelines.

Once the most qualified firm has been identified through the RFQ process, then price and detailed scope negotiations are undertaken with only the most qualified firm.

In this regard, QBS is also unique in that during the pre-award scoping and budgeting negotiations with the most qualified firm, cost drivers and cost-reduction opportunities such as Construction Contract Administration can be appropriately discussed and dealt with before the project is awarded instead of using change orders part-way through the construction when it is most difficult to address.
Having already invested substantially in the selection process, the most qualified firm has a significant incentive to provide a fair price – otherwise their negotiations will be terminated, and the client will engage with the second most qualified firm.
In this way price is kept fair, while quality is kept high.

Does the QBS process sound familiar? It should, as it’s the same process most firms use when hiring staff. So, if your human resources department can use it to make million dollar hiring decisions for staff architects ($100,000 annual salary x 10 years of service = $1,000,000) why do contract architects require a low bid to be selected?

When price is even a small part of the evaluation process vendors perceive that if they aren’t one of the lowest prices – regardless of how qualified they may be – they are unlikely to win the project.

This forces vendors to propose stripped down pricing for the least viable, least innovative version of the project knowing that the real cost of the project is likely higher, and that unevaluated criteria like reducing long-term operating costs will be overlooked in order to reduce the price of the proposal. You can start to see how short-term cost-reductions at the proposal stage can exponentially multiply long-term costs to the client.

Especially when you recognize that the design fees on a project are only a very small percentage of the total construction cost but those design fees determine how cost-effective the rest of the project, including its long-term operating and maintenance costs, will be.

Of course, low-cost proposals are a key driver of change-orders during the project – a situation that creates project cost overruns and turns buyers and vendors into adversaries instead of partners.

This does not mean that vendors are being deceptive with their proposals – it is simply a consequence of having price as a part of the evaluation.

Ever wonder why a new building awarded for construction at $100 million becomes $150 or $200 million by the time it is finished? Or that it does not last as long as it should? One of the most significant contributing factors, may be that it was awarded using a process that used low price as one of the evaluation criteria

QBS has been recognized globally as the procurement process that results in clients hiring the most appropriately qualified architecture firm, at the fairest price, with the least project cost over-runs.

You can read the Maryland (price) versus Florida (qualifications) case study here

QBS Protects the Client Better Than A Price-Based Procurement

A joint research study by the buyers (American Public Works Association) and the vendors (American Council of Engineering Companies) in partnership with The University of Colorado and Georgia Institute of Technology, shows that when architecture firms are hired using the QBS process, clients benefit from fewer project delays, fewer cost increases, and greater project satisfaction.
Read the benchmark study from Dr. Chinowsky and Dr. Kingsley here.

QBS Assesses Price More Accurately than Price-Based RFPs and Best-Value Procurement Processes

Since 1972 The Brooks Act has made it illegal in the US to use price when selecting architects and engineers for federal contracts. Since then almost every state has also implemented “mini-Brooks Acts”.

Public agencies that use Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) to procure architectural and engineering (A/E) services are better able to control construction costs and achieve a consistently high degree of project satisfaction than those using other procurement methods, according to a two-year study led by Paul S. Chinowsky, PhD of the University of Colorado and Gordon A. Kingsley, PhD of Georgia Tech. 

The authors, both experts and noted researchers in the engineering and construction field, contend that QBS should continue to be the procurement method of choice for public contracting officers seeking to acquire A/E services to meet increasingly challenging infra-structure needs.

Beyond the OAA, countless organizations around the globe identify QBS as the selection process that provides the most benefit to architecture clients including:

NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement
Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
QBS Canada
QBS in Quebec
Association of Architects in Private Practice of Quebec 
American Public Works Association
American Institute of Architects
Association of Consulting Engineering Companies
American Council of Engineering Companies
QBS Colorado

What is Not QBS?

  • Any procurement methodology that evaluates price as part of the selection process is not QBS – even if price is just 5% of the assessment. While QBS does evaluate price – it does so AFTER the most qualified architecture firm has been identified. At that point, the firm cannot win the project with a low price but it can lose the project with a price that is too high.

  • “Best Value” as a generic procurement term is usually just another phrase for “Price-Based RFP” and is not QBS

  • Any RFP that includes price as part of the evaluation process is not QBS – even if qualifications are also part of the evaluation process (no matter how low price is weighted)

Implementing QBS can be as simple as using your existing RFP documents but with PRICE weighted at 0%, more rigorous scoring rubrics and often, a budget range is disclosed to the vendors.  

QBS Guides and Templates

Buying Professional Services: Replacing the Price-Based Request for Proposal with Qualifications-Based Selection - Eleven principles to help institutional buyers of professional services efficiently and transparently hire the most qualified expert firms at a fair market price. (Downloads provided courtesy of the OAA)

In 2001, the federal government, through its Infrastructure Canada Program (IC) and the National Research Council (NRC), joined forces with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to create the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure (InfraGuide). The eleventh in a series of best practices, entitled Selecting a Professional Consultant, provides analysis and recommendations on QBS.

QBS Wisconsin QBS Manual - A complete overview and forms to implement a QBS procurement.

QBS Michigan Resources – A variety of forms and articles related to QBS.

QBS Colorado Tools
– A variety of forms and articles related to QBS.

ARCHIVED – OAA Quality Based Selection (QBS) Tool Kit


ARCHIVED – OAA QBS Templates Filled Out

More QBS Resources

Read the full 2018 report: Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS): Best Practice for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Management/General Contractor Procurement in Canada 

Access “Updated Analysis of QBS in the Procurement of Consulting Services,” which includes Canadian data.

Watch the 3.5 minute video explaining how current low bid request for proposal procurement processes generate over $5 billion each year in economic waste.

5 Billion Reasons to Ditch the Price-Based RFP – Watch the 18 minute TEDx talk:


Alternatives to QBS

While the OAA recommends the use of QBS when selecting an architecture firm, other alternatives exist.

  1. Referrals from other clients, other architects, or simply hiring an architecture firm that you have previously worked with.

  2. Architectural design competitions are sometimes used to select both an architect and a design for both public and private projects. In this method, architects submit solutions to a particular problem and are judged on the comparative excellence of their submissions. The successful architect is usually awarded the commission for the actual project. Competitions may be “open” (to all architects) or “limited” (by invitation to a restricted number of architects).

    If you are considering a design competition, you may be required to obtain written approval from the provincial association where the project will be located. Architects are permitted to compete only when they are assured that the competition will be held in accordance with established rules. The Architectural Competitions guidelines provide recognized procedures which ensure equal treatment for competitors, provisions for different types of competitions as well as advice about process, schedule, and likely costs. The provincial association can help you develop acceptable terms and conditions.

  3. The Price-Based Request for Proposal (RFP) process is a procurement model that is best suited for commodity products where all product or service variables can be clearly defined leaving price as the only differentiator. 

    The OAA does not recommend the use of Price-Based RFPs for the selection of an architecture firm.

  4. Best-Value Procurement is a term often used as just a different name for the Price-Based RFP. 

    True “Best-Value” Procurement has much more rigorous scoring rubrics than a Price-Based RFP but still evaluates price as part of the initial selection process. Although an improvement over a Price-Based RFP, it may suffer from the same low-bid issues as any other selection process that includes price as an initial selection factor

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