In 1985, I began to realize that construction people are truly different than engineers. Even construction people with engineering degrees and/or registered professional engineers are a different breed. It was at that point in time that I made the change from consulting engineering to design-build. All of a sudden, I was among construction people who routinely questioned the value of engineers.

All too often, they were faced with an engineering problem, or what they perceived as an engineering problem, on their construction project.

Walk A Mile In The Project Manager's Shoes

Somewhere in the next few years I began to realize that construction people only care about the project schedule and meeting the project budget. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration, but basically they assume the engineer did their job so that the construction people could now do their job.

Construction people really do care about the end product, but they try not to cross the line and become the engineer of record. After all, didn't someone else get paid to do that particular job?

Having said this, my point is that construction people bring value to a design-build project (they also bring this same value to construction management and design-bid-build).

While at that design-build firm, I learned to appreciate the value of the construction project manager because each one was focused on the project end date and the project costs. These were two issues that I wasn't real sensitive to, because I was always focused on making sure the engineering was correct. As a design engineer, I must admit that being focused on the project schedule and project budget was not something that I found exciting or challenging. Yet, over the years, I have come to truly appreciate these two issues. In fact today, I think having sensitivity to these issues separates design-build engineers from other consulting engineers.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Learning the skills to be focused on project schedules and project budgets, as well as the design engineering issues, requires a creative move on an engineer's part. While at this D-B firm, the vice president of construction and I got together and decided to integrate the engineering department with the construction department. We blended the two groups together: an engineer in one cubicle, a project manager in the next, and then another engineer, etc. We physically made it work, and in a very short time, we were thinking and acting as one group. We even had fun doing it.

The next time you tour a firm that boasts both engineering and construction, see if these two groups are one, or if they are separated into two distinct departments. I believe blending the two groups into one will provide a truly value-added design-build service.

Also, look to see if the estimating department has been woven into the design-build group. It may seem like a small detail and one that some egotistical department managers may struggle with, but the end result will be a seamless process from design to estimating to build.

When providing design-build services, communication is essential. What better way to do this than to get up and walk around your work cubicle partition to your neighbor, the project manager, and ask or answer a question?

The process can be seamless: engineering-estimating-construction.