I have been a keen motorcyclist for many years and I recently had cause to recall an advertising slogan that Bell Helmets ran during the 1980s. Their powerful message was:

If you have a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet.

Bell helmets were not cheap, but it was no coincidence that a significant number of motorsport competitors could be seen with the Bell logo on their helmets.

How does this relate to the construction industry?

A couple of years ago I was asked to present a training course on procurement for a property developer. Part of my presentation was focussed on the selection of suitable consultants for their projects. I asked the attendees to help me to do some calculations and give me some advice. I don’t remember the exact figures, but the following is a reasonable synopsis of their input:

  • I first asked them to tell me the average total project cost of their projects. Let’s say this was $10,000,000.
  • I then asked what percentage of the total project cost they would budget for consultancy fees. The answer was 10%, which works out at $1,000,000.
  • My next question was, what is the cost difference between engaging the very best consultants and the worst? The reply was that there was maybe a cost difference of 30% between the two extremes.
  • We then worked out that with a $1,000,000 budget for consultancy fees, hiring the cheapest consultants would, on the face of it, save the project $300,000. As a percentage of the total project cost this translates to a 3% ‘saving’.
  • I then asked how consultants were selected and was advised that although the project delivery team carried out pre-qualifications and checked on consultants’ past performance, the services were put out to tender and company policy dictated that the work would invariably be awarded on the basis of the most competitive fees.

I explored a little further into their experience on past projects…

  • Do we agree that the consultants that you engaged are probably the most competitive on price, because they pay lower salaries than the more expensive consultants? Yes.
  • Can we agree then, that the consultants that you appoint are able to pay low salaries, because they employ poorly qualified and experienced personnel? Yes.

Having established the procurement methodology, I asked more questions, this time related to existing projects…

  • Do you ever get design problems which result in additional costs for your projects? Yes, frequently.
  • Do the consultants appointed to supervise, manage and administer the contracts on your projects ever fail in their duties and responsibilities which results in additional costs for your projects? Yes, frequently.
  • Do the consultants appointed to manage and respond to claims on your projects do so in accordance with the contract and in such a way that claims are agreed amicably and in good time? No, we often have contentions with regard to claims.
  • Do disputes arise on any of your projects? Yes, we have had several arbitrations.
  • Are arbitrations costly? Yes, very costly and time-consuming.

And now to the final question I asked the group…

  • Are total project cost budgets ever exceeded? Yes, most of our projects come in considerably over budget.

You Get What You Pay For

The point here is that buying a $10 helmet is probably not a great investment, particularly if something goes wrong and you have an accident on your motorcycle.

The same applies to $10 consultants.

$10 consultants are actually worse. They often cause the ‘accident’ in the first place and will then not protect you properly. Similarly, if you have a commercial matter, contractual problem, claim or dispute of significant value, is it better to engage the best or the cheapest consultants to help you avoid or resolve matters?

Whilst Hewitt Decipher Partnership is not a $10 consultancy, our business model allows us to be very competitive for the high level of expertise that we offer to our clients. Our expert consultants are appropriately qualified and experienced in their particular disciplines, so we provide excellent value for money when assisting our clients. Can we help you? Get in touch.