Fresh eyes and a 60/40 split will take you a long way toward success.

When I started out in this business, I was fortunate to have a few mentors who emphasized process, communication, and engineering - in that order - while other firms place a strong emphasis on engineering and little, if any, discussion on process or communication. This month, in sync with our two-part webinar titled, “Design and Construction for the 21st Century” (visit to register and view the archive), I want to share with you a couple of thoughts on the importance of communication and high performance process when it comes to construction documents and construction administration (CD&CA) using a 21st-century approach to consulting engineering.

My analogy for this discussion is to suggest that if you are going to travel and haven’t been to the destination before, you will probably go to Google or MapQuest to get directions from point A to point B. Everyone does it to save time, money, and to avoid getting lost. A design engineer needs to also have a road map when contracted to provide CD&CA services, and yet most don’t even have a project business plan (a.k.a. CD&CA roadmap). Instead, they go on past experience and instinct thinking every job is the same process/destination, and it’s not. Every job is a new trip with new requirements, and the designer needs to recognize this. Otherwise, he will get lost or waste time, money, and quality control getting to point B.

Plotting the CDCA roadmap

So what is a CD&CA roadmap? It is your process to save time, money, and to avoid getting lost while delivering the product and exceeding the client’s expectation. Roadmap Milestone #1 is to clearly communicate the starting process by documenting the following. 
  • OPR: Do this by using a standardized electronic document that can also be continuously improved upon on a job-by-job basis. When completed, review and have the client sign-on (not sign off) with the mutual understanding of what is required to meet the owner’s expectations.
  • Document the pertinent job milestones (the process), again using a standardized series of important deliverables following the OPR and finishing with the transfer of electronic documents and smart software to the building owner.
  • Communicate and agree upon associate due dates with the owner, including the financial cost to fulfill the process.
  • Communicate and agree upon the level or product you will produce in that period of time that a builder can build from through proactive preconstruction services from a builder.
A builder once told me that in all his years in the business, he had never had a consultant engineer ask him (a.k.a. the builder authority) what he needed to build the project. Instead, many consulting engineers historically design in a vacuum, thinking they know what is needed to build the product and (more importantly) how to include enough documentation to ensure there is enough CYA to direct the blame to the construction team. If there are pre-construction services, get the builder to join in on the communication and process.

keeping your fees

Saving money - or to be more specific, avoiding losing your fee - is an important skill if you want to continue to be successful for a long, long time. Instead of wasting time and fees on a voluminous specification and excessive number of drawings, the consultant and builder should mutually agree on the required documents needed to satisfy the OPR and to ensure the HVAC system can be furnished and installed to everyone’s satisfaction.

Roadmap Milestone #2 is to consider the following when producing high-performance contract documents in sync with assessing the available fee.
  • Produce a system flow diagram (you now own the entire concept).
  • Write the system sequence of operation (you now know how the system will work).
  • Show the main distribution (you now own the infrastructure).
  • Inventory the terminal units (don’t show it) and associated pipe and ductwork (you now own the distribution).
  • Specify the equipment in one place (in the specification or on the drawing, but don’t split the data).
Important tips: First, budget no more the 60% of your fee to be spent on the construction document phase; secondly, ask a builder what they need from you to build your project so that you don’t exceed the 60% fee allocation.

So what do you do with the other 40% of that engineering fee? Work together with the builder in the initial phase of construction called the field coordination phase. Remember, you didn’t lay out the terminal devices but instead inventoried the terminal units, so now it’s time to work with the trades about how these units will be installed. For more steps in this process, visit the webinar archive at ES