Recently, I read about an HVAC class being offered to individuals interested in learning how to be a design engineer. It is also probably a good refresher course for experienced HVAC engineering, too. If you Google “HVAC educational programs” you will find a whole bunch of courses. What is missing from these sessions is the topic of educating an HVAC designer to be a money-making engineer. There should be a book written on how to be a money-making HVAC engineer to train designers to focus on not only being a good, technical engineer, but also on being someone who can deliver a profitable project to the company he or she works for.
Over the years, I’ve worked with engineers who were excellent from the technical aspect point of view, but their companies could not make much profit from their expertise and, in many cases, couldn’t make any profit on certain jobs. What the company would do with these types of design engineers is a topic for another time, but for this column, I wanted to share with you my thoughts on being an educated, money-making engineer.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LESSONS LEARNED
I’ve strived for years to deliver each HVAC project on time and on budget while meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the client’s expectations. I also would make a point of looking back on each job and assess what I did right, what I could have done better, and what I shouldn’t do again. This assessment included reviewing the contract fee. In that process, I kept notes on how the project was budgeted, how I had broken out the fee into tasks, and what was the initial budgeted hours to be spent.
Based on this exercise I learned that, just like my mandate that every HVAC design begin with a system flow diagram and a written sequence of operation (refer to this column in March 2008), the design engineer needs a “roadmap” for what she is going to do to deliver the project on budget. A metaphor for this approach is to think about the last time you went looking to purchase an automobile and you had a budget of, say, $24,000. If you were smart with your time, you probably didn’t waste it going to a Mercedes-Benz dealership. The same can be said for scoping out what you need to produce contract documents and how much time you are going to invest in providing proactive construction administration.
Here is what a how to be a money-making HVAC engineer book’s table of contents should include:
• Identifying The Client’s Project Needs (including how much he wants to spend for the job and for the “soft costs”)
• Balancing Project Costs With Design Engineering Cost
• Creating The Fee Flow Diagram
• Design Phase Deliverables And Fee To Be Spent
• First Part Of Construction Administration Tasks And Fee To Be Spent
• Construction Administration Through Startup And Fee To Be Spent
• Commissioning And Project Closeout And Fee To Be Spent
• Performance Phase (A.K.A. Warranty Phase) And Fee To Be Spent
• Ongoing Client Maintenance
With more thought on the topic, I would probably expand the table of contents, and I’d fill the book with useful electronic checklists and spreadsheets for the student. This same approach would also assist the future money-making engineer in strategically and tactically implementing facility assessments, master-planning, and other engineered project delivery services.
Going back to my initial thought on why a course/book is needed, research some of these HVAC educational programs and see if you can find anything in-depth within these available courses on the topic of delivering a profit to the design engineering firm. Designers need to recognize they have an obligation to the company owner, as well as the client, when it comes to deliverables. If an engineer is brilliant but the company can’t make money utilizing his expertise, then the engineer really has limited value to the company. How many in-house resident experts can a company afford to have who are not contributing to the profits of the company?
It is also important to note that clients will most likely frown on hiring a consulting engineer who complains that the job didn’t go well because the client didn’t pay the consulting firm enough fee to do a good job (refer to this column January 2007). Clients know their organization must be profitable to continue to operate, and so they expect the consultants they hire to be equally responsible at being profitable. ES