How subconsultants fit into the puzzle

Nov 05, 2023

Subconsultants collaborate with diverse specialists to form the best possible team for successful project outcomes.

The definition of a subconsultant is “any person, firm, partnership, corporation, association or other organization, or a combination of any of them, that has a direct contract with a design professional or another subconsultant to perform a portion of the work under a design professional service contract.”

In simpler words, a subconsultant is contracted to do a portion of a job which another company is responsible for.

As a company that plays the role of a subconsultant on many projects, PK Electrical values the importance of fitting into a larger puzzle. We use our 27 years of project experience to anticipate how our design services fit into the bigger picture and anticipate what that means for how we approach partnering, projects, and design.

AEC projects require a combination of disciplines, including, but not limited to, team members in architecture, electrical engineering, communications engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, plumbing engineers, life safety fire alarm, and protection engineers, environmental engineering, and drafters. By offering both electrical and communications engineering services, we are able to be a part of the solution by covering the scope of those disciplines within the greater design team for a project.

Within a project structure, there is a client with some sort of need looking to hire a consultant team to provide a solution for this need. The consultant will create a team consisting of internal resources as well as external resources, aka subconsultants. As a subconsultant, not only is it important to meet the needs of the client who hired the consultant, but it is also important to meet the needs of the consultant who you’re teamed with.

Here are a few ways we invest in becoming the best subconsultant we can be:

  1. Problem solving. The reason a project comes to life is because there is an initial problem. Whether it’s an airport not having enough gates to serve the traveling population, or a community in need of a new building to serve as a gathering place, the client who hires the consultant and subconsultant team needs a service to solve their problem.
    It is up to the design team to provide the client with solutions. The initial steps to doing so are forming a team with strong technical ability, but also a team fostered by creative thinking. The consultant and subconsultant must learn about the client’s needs and requests to provide an innovative solution to their problem.
    The design team must analyze the problem, existing conditions, previously attempted solutions, and client needs to diagnose the issue. After this “discovery” of information, a consultant and their subconsultants provide a solution through design documents.
    During the design process which includes several iterations (schematic design, design development, construction documents, etc.), the design team must use critical thinking skills, collaboration, and team working skills to come to a final design. As the team goes through design iterations and client review meetings, changes and unforeseen circumstances or new information may arise. It is the job of the consultant and subconsultant team to provide technical advice and opinions during this process.
  2. Communication. It is a well-known fact that communication extends far beyond the verbal. Body language, written language, having your camera on during a virtual team’s meeting, and so on are more ways that we communicate. Communication is key in developing trust within a relationship.
    With the client and stakeholders, it is important to establish a relationship in which they feel they know and trust you. Asking engaging questions to discover their goals for a project shows that you are invested and care about the outcome of their project. It also shows your technical expertise, if you may ask questions that they haven’t thought about yet.
    It is important to learn what the client’s existing processes and systems are in their organization. When presenting to the client and stakeholders, having a clearly defined structure for the presentation of technical information shows you are confident in your approach and willing to receive their feedback. Understanding that not everyone you’re presenting to has the same technical background and explaining complex information in a way that is easy for everyone to understand is crucial to the success of the project. Regular check-ins with the client show your willingness for feedback and give the client an opportunity to feel engaged, aware, and to make any changes they feel necessary throughout the process.
    With a consultant teaming partner all of the above stated remains true, but there are other ways of communicating a subconsultant focuses on to go above and beyond for the consultant.
    Responding quickly and efficiently to questions that arise, even if you don’t have an answer quite yet, is very important to show investment in the project. Offering assistance to other disciplines also shows your commitment to being a team player.
  3. Organization. Having a team that is organized is crucial to the success of a project. In order to be successful, you need to have good communication and time management skills. Time management is an extremely important life skill, but for a project it can make or break a schedule. Following the project schedule and not missing deliverables shows dedication to the project success. It also makes consultants want to hire you again for other projects if you are on time, or even better, ahead of schedule. Asking questions and working toward the final design in a timely manner is essential to being a good teaming partner. It has a negative impact on the entire team when one team asks design questions the day a deliverable is due, resulting in changes. Working ahead of time and not procrastinating ensures that any questions you may have can be addressed in the appropriate amount of time for discussions and solutions to occur.
  4. Flexibility. Remaining flexible and adaptable to changes can go a long way in partnerships. Subconsultants must be able to listen and assess changes when they arise, whether the changes come from the client or the consultant. As mentioned above, changes can arise through coordination conversations during regular check-ins. The initial reaction and what you do after those conversations shows your adaptability.

It is common for a team to consist of many specialties as it allows subconsultants and other firms to be experts in their disciplines, and enables them to come together to form the best possible team for successful project outcomes. 

Linda Schulte, PMP, is a project manager at PK Electrical. Contact her at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.