Making a lake one drop at a time: Targeting the Water & Wastewater Markets

The client – Tetra Tech

Tetra Tech Inc. is a massive organization, a consulting and engineering services firm with a long history and a global footprint. The company has 20,000 employees, revenue of $3.1 billion (FY 2019), and 450 offices worldwide.

Bar a few months, Marthe Bijman has been employed by Tetra Tech continuously from 2011 to the present, April 2020, in the Marketing and Business Development units of divisions focused respectively on Mining & Minerals and Oil & Gas. From 2014 until the present, she has been operating as a sub-consultant to Tetra Tech under the name Red Pennant Communications, and since 2018, she has been assigned specifically to work on proposals.

The Tetra Tech group provides consulting, engineering, program management, and construction management services in the areas of water, environment, infrastructure, resource management, energy, and international development. Tetra Tech is known for its decades-long work with USAID and the U.S. Dept. of Defence.

Tetra Tech in Canada Canada and ICE Division

Tetra Tech Canada Inc. has offices in more than 40 locations and has more than 3000 employees. Tetra Tech Canada consists of various subsidiaries and companies, but one of the largest is the ICE (Industrial, Commercial, Energy) Division, headquartered in Vancouver, BC, which provides consulting engineering services for private companies in Oil & Gas, Mining & Minerals, and Water & Wastewater, and public organizations such as municipalities, provincial governments, and the federal government. The ICE Division and the acquired companies out of which it had been formed have had service provider agreements, some of more than a decade long, with clients like Suncor, Chevron, Parkland Fuel, Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain Pipeline, TransCanada and CNLR.

With the repeated drops in the petroleum markets in the past few years that particularly affected Alberta, where most of ICE’s projects are based, ICE’s management, led by division President James McPherson, was looking to firm up and expand their revenue base.

Though they had contracts with Petroleum clients, it made sense to concentrate on markets that are currently not as much at risk, and also more compatible with the “green” energies promoted by the wider Tetra Tech Group. The decision was taken to target and expand the water and wastewater projects of  municipal clients.

This plan meant sustained incremental growth: winning small wastewater projects at first, then, based on those successes, growing the number of clients, the project sizes and duration, and the scope of engineering involved until the company was awarded long-term, multi-engineering discipline wastewater projects – in other words, making a lake, one drop at a time.

Why wastewater engineering?

The question might well be, why wastewater, such an unglamorous (smelly) thing? Wastewater is any water that has been contaminated by human use from any combination of domestic, industrial, commercial or agricultural activities, surface runoff or stormwater, and any sewer inflow or sewer infiltration. Contaminated water, particularly sewage, is a byproduct of human habitation, and the more people live in an area, the more handling and treatment of sewage is required, and the more sewerage, the infrastructure that conveys sewage or surface runoff, is needed. It is a positive sign for the economy when a city grows and welcomes more people, but the water has to come from somewhere, and the sewage has to go somewhere. Like death and taxes, sewage is one of life’s certainties that will always have to be dealt with in a developed society.

Business Development Cycle Phases – A reminder

  1. ➦ Market identification and segmentation
  2. ➦ Win strategy
  3. ➦ Positioning
  4. ➦ Opportunity planning
  5. ➦ Detail planning
  6. ➦ Proposal and marketing production
  7. ➦ Submission and negotiation
  8. ➦ Delivery, communications and engagement
  9. ➦ Measure, adjust and repeat

Market identification

The largest municipal client in the Lower Mainland in British Columbia is Metro Vancouver. Metro Vancouver is a federation of 21 municipalities, one Electoral Area and one Treaty First Nation that collaboratively plans for and delivers regional-scale services. The Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) incorporates the Greater Vancouver Sewerage & Drainage District (GVS&DD) and the Greater Vancouver Water District (GVWD). Metro Vancouver has a CA$890.1 million total operating budget for 2020. Metro Vancouver issues regular RFIs, RFQs and RFPs to engineering firms for small operating budget and large capital budget projects, on a project-by-project basis or through long-term engineering contracts.

Market segmentation

From Jan. 2019, Red Pennant was tasked specifically to focus on and prioritize producing and winning proposals in response to EOIs, RFQs and RFPs from the GVS&DD and the GVWD – particularly the GVS&DD. Since Metro Vancouver had been a client of Tetra Tech for many years, mainly for once-off projects, the intention was to obtain multi-year consulting service agreements for firstly EIC (Electrical, Instrumentation & Control) Engineering, then multi-discipline engineering projects.

Red Pennant was part of the discrete engineering discipline teams involved in BD in the ICE Division, acting in various roles. In the instance of the Metro Vancouver account, this entailed end-to-end proposal production, from planning, to kick-off, to writing, to submittal.

Win strategy

The win strategy became obvious during the opportunity and detailed planning phases. A win strategy is made up of win themes, and effective win themes, in turn, must contain a feature, benefit, and corresponding proof(s). For Metro Vancouver, Tetra Tech’s primary win theme was the unit’s track record in water and wastewater treatment projects for Metro Vancouver and for other municipal and commercial clients.

In each submittal, the benefits of this feature of “team retention” was pointed out: better knowledge and understanding of the service or client, better coordination, higher quality work with improvements over time, better skills transfer, faster responses to changes, integrated knowledge and experience leading to better solutions, money and time savings, etc. These points were proven with quantitative project data, project descriptions, client references for projects, case studies, and the résumés and personal references of the team members. The old anecdote of acting, “you are only as good as your last performance”, was true for this process.

Stumbling blocks to positioning

  1. Compared to its competitors, Tetra Tech’s brand in Vancouver was not primarily associated with engineering services for major capital wastewater projects, in the same way as ACCIONA or Veolia is. A significant amount of work was done to document Tetra Tech Canada’s water and wastewater projects throughout Canada to prove the company’s track record and expertise.
  2. Metro Vancouver issues challenging RFPs, with the requirement for absolute compliance.
  3. There are not many opportunities for responsiveness and differentiation by the respondents. Tetra Tech’s best option was to demonstrate their understanding of the problems and present smart solutions.
  4. Competition on price is neither feasible nor advisable, and had the lower weighting in RFPs. Weighting in most RFPs was 65% for project firm qualifications and experience; 35% for fees, rates, and charges. Also, Metro Vancouver prescribed the number of engineering hours.

This meant that with every RFP submitted to Metro Vancouver, apart from proving that the document met every single criteria, the team had to come up with a compelling concept or solution. It meant that the engineers had to take the time to refine and document their ideas, which took even longer than providing the bulk information. The investment in BD time and money got to a point where the decision had to be made whether to continue trying to get Metro Vancouver work or give up and look elsewhere. Because of Metro Vancouver’s enormous budgets, the decision was taken to continue. As Tetra Tech’s Jack Deragopian explained,

“Metro Vancouver isn’t in the Water & Wastewater market. It IS the Water & Wastewater market.” (Jack Deragopian, Snr. Electrical Engineer, Tetra Tech Canada)

Production and submission – You are only as good as your team

Over a period of thirteen months, from Feb. 2019 to March 2020, Red Pennant delivered eleven proposals for Metro Vancouver, consisting of RFIs, RFQs and RFPs, for nine pursuits in total. Six of the eleven proposals were successful, meaning that the company was shortlisted for RFQs, or awarded RFPs, or both. The successes were thanks to the top-notch EIC Engineering Managers,  Project Managers and Engineers; particularly Paul Hatton, P.Eng., FEC, Snr. Project Manager, and Jack Deragopian, P.Eng., Electrical Engineering.

Whatever successes were had with this endeavour would not have been possible without the mandate and support of ICE Division’s president and senior managers, who had the backs of the proposal team members and told them to just do their best. The words “No, you can’t” did not come into debates about strategies or execution.

A BD bid is only as good as the participants in and contributors to the BD process. These wins are not really Red Pennant’s successes but the successes of everyone who had a role to play, from the Project Managers to the Document Controllers.

Proposals won

The details of the bid processes, including which companies were shortlisted and which were awarded contracts, and the details and values of those contracts are on public record, since Metro Vancouver is a political body as well as a corporate entity which operates under provincial legislation. All the corporation’s bid opportunities, as well as the awards, with names of participating, shortlisted and awarded companies can be downloaded from and viewed on the Metro Vancouver website.

In total, the four successful pursuits had an estimated value of CA$11 million (bearing in mind that for some RFPs the work would be shared between multiple service providers) and an estimated 36,000 engineering man-hours. These were:

  • Electrical, Instrumentation and Control (EIC) Consulting Engineering Services for Liquid Waste Services Collection Systems (RFP 19-138, Jan. 2020)
  • RFQ and RFP for Prime Consultants For Water Instrumentation Installation Project (RFQ 19-290, Sept. 2019; RFP 19-256, Nov. 2019)
  • Consulting Engineering Services for the Design of Two Polymer Injection Systems at Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, Sept. 2019 (RFP 19-310)
  • EIC Engineering Consulting Services for Wastewater Treatment Plants, Feb. 2019 (RFP 18-416)

Tetra Tech’s BD managers did not view Metro Vancouver’s awarding of the work for one project to multiple successful proponents as problematic, nor as a detriment to participation. Also, they regarded the signing on of specialized sub-consultants and the forming of partnerships to execute projects, including with First Nations, as positive since it improved the quality of the work as well as the company’s standing in the industry.

  • Contract award date: Feb. 2020
  • RFQ: The intent was to short-list up to (5) five Respondents to participate in the RFP, but to only award the contract to one company.
  • Duration: “The program is anticipated to span seven (7) years from 2019 – 2026 and will be delivered in phases upon future funding approval of each phase.” (Extract from RFQ)
  • RFP: “The growing demand on the water distribution network has led the Corporation to install additional flow and pressure meters at various locations to optimize and monitor performance of the network. Network-wide, one hundred fifty-four (154) locations for new meters and instrumentation have been identified under this program, with twenty-eight (28) priority locations highlighted in the RFQ.” (Extract from RFQ)
  • Project types: Projects from Preliminary Engineering Design to Post-Construction Support will be completed, with Colliers Project Leaders acting on behalf of Metro Vancouver.
  • Services included: EIC, Structural, Civil, Mechanical, Piping, and Geotechnical Engineering, Archeology, Landscape Architecture and Environmental Assessment.
  • Total hours estimated by Metro Vancouver: 16,400 (Extract from the RFP)
  • Proposal: 201 pages all included, 31 team members
  • Differentiators:
    • Approaches to include the Squamish First Nations for Archeological investigations, due to requirement to “Identify First Nation Entity and anticipated value of the sub-contracted Service”.
    • Tetra Tech could cite previous successful experience of this type of work: From 2016 to 2018, in collaboration with Kerr Wood Leidal Associates Ltd. (KWL), Tetra Tech successfully completed Phase A Preliminary Design, and Phase B Detailed Design, for the Water Optimization Automation and Instrumentation project, where flow meters and/or pressure transducers were installed at seven (7) locations in the Greater Vancouver Water District.
    • Well-regarded specialist sub-contractors were involved  in the proposal preparation.
  • Key concept: Each of the 28 flow meter installation sites throughout the Lower Mainland was separately identified, located, studied and described, and solutions were provided for each.

Methodology

The team analyzed each of the 28 flow meter sites, determining the location in the Lower Mainland, surficial features of the location, closest reservoir or water source, affected water mains, scope of services required, Third Party stakeholders, and coordination and scheduling concerns. This analysis was necessary because the location of the meters determined the services that would be required. Also, it was hard to make sense of the list of meter sites in the RFP.

Map of the locations of the 29 installation sites (©Tetra Tech Canada Inc. 2019)

They developed a map identifying each flow meter site, then grouped those according to location and site features. The first attempt, to describe the work plans for each flow meter site individually, resulted in a monster of a 300-page document, without the rest of the contents or the addenda. The approach had to be simplified and the sites organized in some way. The grouping of the sites allowed for the highlighting of concerns or problems that may require environmental, geotechnical or archeological assessments and studies.

They described the step-by-step work plans for all these sites for EIC Engineering,  Structural Engineering, Civil/Site Engineering, Mechanical/Piping Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Environmental Assessment, Archaeology and First Nations impacts, Landscape Architecture, safety management, and traffic handling. Exactly what the concepts, solutions and work plans were, are confidential.

Client comment: “MV loved the proposal and stated we really understood the RFP and bid to suit.” – Paul Hatton

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