Tomorrow's Engineer: Take An Engineer To Work
Sure, engineers can blame the contractors for not coordinating the work, not taking the time to properly startup equipment, not commissioning systems, or not closing out jobs on time - actions that engineers can't control. What the engineers can control is how you build construction documents. Analogous to buying a new $12,000 automobile or a $50,000 automobile, car manufacturers have a quality process. Shouldn't design engineers also have a quality process for every fee? We need to learn how to build a quality product that meets the client's budget, on time, and deliver it running on all four cylinders. And we need to do this with enough money/fee left over for us to get out to the job site on a regular basis so we can learn firsthand how we can do a better job the next time (a.k.a., continuous quality initiative).
Instead of solving the problem of inadequate construction documents and limited construction administration to enhance our design efforts, all too often I hear, "Our fee got cut," or "We had to go in low on this job," or "There isn't enough money." We have become numb to these statements, thinking that these excuses absolve us from not delivering a complete, cost-effective, efficient product. Unfortunately, these excuses really don't absolve engineers because construction phase issues will still occur and raise questions such as "How did this get missed?" and "This is a problem," and "Who is going to pay for this?"
When I hear these excuses (and I hear them often), I say that this is too simple an answer. Are engineers saying that they are taking projects at reduced fee, but don't intend to deliver a quality product? If we don't have enough money to buy a new automobile, are we willing to buy most of the vehicle minus maybe the tires? Are we sending the wrong message to building owners by doing the job and leaving it up to others to make it work because we agreed to a reduced fee?
This chronic problem opens the door to those four problematic concerns: engineer liability, errors, omission, and owner dissatisfaction. If a designer were to spend more time on a job site and work with the construction documents provided, she would begin to have a better appreciation for the implementation phase of the project and the problems that arise on the job site. The byproduct of this experience is that it will inherently make the engineer a better, more efficient, and more cost-effective designer. The construction experience helps the designer engineer to better understand what really needs to be documented on the drawings and in the specification, as opposed to packaging lots of drawings and numerous pages of specification.
Review And RebalanceThe solution to the problem is to reassess the deliverables and determine how the engineer is going to deliver a quality $12,000 automobile instead of a $50,000 car minus the engine. This engineer should take the time to go back and look at what was produced for schematic phase documents, design development documents, and construction documents. Were all those drawings needed? How many of them got carried on through to the next phase of the design? At an average of 80 hrs per drawings, did the number/cost of drawings balance the design fee? Does the engineer leave ample fee to provide ample construction administration, so that he can continue to learn what is essential, cost-effective useful construction documents? The benefit of more fee/time for construction administration is more opportunities to get better at construction documentation.
We need to make the time to be on the job site participating in equipment startup and, hopefully, spending a day working with the air and water balancing contractor. Sure, someone is going to say we can't afford to do those things, but think about it: I don't believe we can afford not to spend more time on a construction site. More and more owners are paying for commissioning services because they don't believe they are receiving a quality product from the design community, as well as from the construction industry. Here again, the design engineers can't control the construction industry, but they sure can improve the design deliverables.
As someone who is involved in third-party inspection, troubleshooting problems, and commissioning, I have the luxury of 20/20 hindsight. I also hear the owner's point of view, and based on what I see, more often than not, the owner has some real valid issues and concerns. We are producing a lot of paper, but are we producing a quality product? For this reason, engineers need to go out to a job site and contribute to making the design work. More importantly, the engineer is guaranteed to leave the job site with a wealth of useful information. For those readers who work for a construction firm, take an engineer to work today. ES