Mike Plant, the Braves' executive vice president of business operations, notes that early work had to be kept under wraps until the team was ready to formally introduce the project in November 2013.

"Everyone told us that they were the perfect firm for this job, and it's been true," Plant says. "From Day 1, when we purchased the property, they've run point-on engineering and due diligence, then getting approvals and working on infrastructure access. They're sharp, top-notch, can-do people."

Another hallmark of Kimley-Horn's Practice Builder model is continuity of the project teams, with the same members involved from initial client presentation to final sign-off. "You get more connection with the client, which makes them feel special," Atz says.

Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter Associates, says that quality is crucial for complex projects such as his firm's planned 10-block mixed-use development in downtown Miami.

"You need to have someone who sees all the pieces and how they work," Motwani says. However, at the same time, "they've been very comfortable with challenging us to think about things differently, such as facilitating access and preserving traffic and pedestrian flows."

Tactics for Change

While Kimley-Horn's model has proven successful in attracting new business, it doesn't fully insulate them from industry-wide challenges.

"Finding great people is always big," Atz says, admitting that like other firms, Kimley-Horn has struggled to retain women engineers. "We like to think we're good, but clearly we can do a better job."

Among the efforts to reverse that trend is a program the company recently initiated called Lasting Impact for Tomorrow (LIFT), which includes targeted training, support for work/life flexibility and tools like emergency back-up childcare.

"We want to give [women] flexibility to be professionals and parents," Atz says.

Commoditization is also a concern, particularly given the spate of consolidation elsewhere in the industry. But Atz believes the Practice Builder model may help Kimley-Horn retain its edge.

"To me, commoditization is too much about the 'what'—say, delivering a good set of plans," he says. "We also focus on how those plans are delivered by asking the right questions and trying to be in tune with real needs of clients. Once you are a trusted adviser to them, you start to offer more, and that adds value."