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Helping Small Communities Thrive: The Benefits of Master Services Agreements

by Colin Savage & Stefan Laplante | September 16, 2020

Small or remote communities are the epitome of self-reliance and independence. However, this self-reliance comes at a price, particularly in the delivery of capital projects. Administrations are already busy with daily responsibilities and, when required, are also expected to either deliver highly technical projects internally or push all responsibility to consulting design firms. In these cases, the opportunity to ensure that the vision and values of the community are integrated into the project delivery is often missed.

But what if an administration has the capacity or desire to deliver a project, but the scope is outside the area of internal expertise? What if a community doesn’t have the internal capacity to manage the project? How can the administration confidently apply for funding and kick off technical projects when funds are secured through strict compliance with contribution and trade agreement conditions?

Such questions can be answered quickly by a project management firm acting on behalf of the administration. Often, these questions are most efficiently answered when administration has already engaged a project management firm through a Master Services Agreement (MSA).

What is a Master Services Agreement?

In the municipal world, an MSA is an agreement between a municipal government and a service provider where both groups agree to the manner, terms and conditions in which services will be provided without knowing the specific quantity, timing or scope of those services. Terms and conditions are negotiated and confirmed at the beginning of the partnership, which provides both parties the ability to engage in ensuing work quickly, with less risk and cost for all. MSAs can range in duration but are generally established for three to five years in duration – sometimes with options to extend.

Contractual Benefits
From more robust confidentiality clauses to more specific payment clauses, an MSA not only sets the legal, technical and financial stage for future services, but also provides the opportunity to negotiate customized supplementary conditions. When compared to negotiating the terms and conditions of multiple contracts with the same supplier, an MSA provides the opportunity for focused negotiations and reviews, thereby significantly reducing overall administrative and legal costs associated with the partnership. Once the contract negotiations are complete and the terms set, the service supplier can be quickly and decisively engaged for one or more pieces of specific work.

Project Management Service Perspective
Relative to project management services, MSAs bridge the gap between an administration’s internal capacity and its ability to deliver projects. Through the MSA, project management services can be right-sized to the administration’s needs and take the form of simple guidance, ongoing support or project-specific leadership.

  • Guidance
    To maintain uninterrupted public services, administrations must constantly pursue small improvements to assets, operations or planning cycles. In these cases, administrations may have the capacity to complete the work but might also wish to get guidance and advice from time to time. Using the terms set out in an MSA, an external project manager could provide quick, unstructured and advisory-style services in an economical manner, allowing the administration to tap in to the project manager’s knowledge and expertise on an as-needed basis without the need to adjust an existing contract or develop new contracts.
  • Ongoing Support
    MSAs are also well suited to scenarios where multiple, similar projects are approved. With the terms and conditions agreed to under the MSA, administrations can engage one or more project managers to efficiently deliver a large quantity of similar work. In this case, statements of work are drawn up for each similar project clearly outlining the specific work required. How these projects will be financially, legally and technically delivered is already defined in the MSA, and does not necessarily need to be reviewed again.
  • Project-Specific Leadership
    Finally, the day is here! Your municipality has been selected to receive funds from a granting agency! While this is always a welcome announcement, it can also be accompanied by feelings of being overwhelmed and uncertainty about how to achieve the project scope on time and under budget. With an MSA in place, the administration can easily and immediately engage their project manager to finalize the project delivery plan, complete the initial procurement in a manner compliant with both contribution and trade agreements, and implement project management best practices to ensure the community’s interests are represented every step of the way.

Benefits of PM MSAs

An MSA for project management services offers small towns and remote communities three main benefits:

  1. Increased Efficiency and Faster Procurement:
    MSAs allow a community to call upon project management services as and when needed. The set terms and conditions enable administrations to skip time-consuming and repetitive procurement processes for individual engagements. This approach promotes operational efficiency, as less time and fewer internal resources are needed to develop, negotiate and finalize contracts. In turn, these internal resources remain free to tackle daily tasks that might already be stretching their capacity.
  2. Flexible, On-Call Services:
    Versatility is an important quality all administrations need to thrive in today’s municipal world. An MSA allows administrations to engage project managers that suit varying needs as they arise. From sounding board sessions to quickly kicking off repetitive projects or structuring a unique and complex project, MSAs provide administrations with the ability to engage their project manager to a degree that suits the challenge. Specific to complex projects, this can include advice on alternate project delivery methods and guidance on how or when to source suppliers and contractors best suited to project goals.
  3. Increased Capacity and Capability:
    Regardless of the size of the community, finding expertise and capacity to manage multiple simple projects or an extremely technical project can be challenging. An MSA with a proven project management organization provides communities with the assurance that experienced resources are readily available to guide, support or lead internal staff. As certified project managers are required to maintain their credentials through continued learning, communities can be assured that their pool of resources remain well-versed on the most current project management approaches and methodologies.

By establishing an MSA, municipalities can reduce procurement process costs, free up internal resources, and confidently deliver municipal projects. They can quickly and efficiently access a large pool of experienced project managers to provide guidance on day-to-day activities, help complete multiple similar projects, or ensure large technical projects are delivered on time and under budget through effective pre-planning. By using and then tailoring an MSA – one aligned with the values and goals of the community and its leaders – owners can form strategic, long-lasting alliances with partners who will share industry knowledge, advance the community’s strategic goals and, ultimately, help successfully deliver more capital projects.