Taking the time to get it right the first time will lead to faster approvals, better plans, and overall project quality.
We all know that driving too fast can kill, but speed can also kill your project. If you were to ask any quality architect or engineer how they are doing, you are likely to hear that they’re very busy! Yes, our economy is good and as such getting the right team on a project can be a challenge, especially if you are in a hurry to get things moving. However, it is more important than ever to not use timing solely as a determination of hiring the right team.
I spoke about the importance of quality and the perils of going with the low-cost proposal in my last article, but it’s equally important to give a quality firm the time they need to do a project correctly. I am sure almost all of us can think back to a school paper we wrote at the last minute and thinking that if you had more time, it would have been much better and may have resulted in a better grade. The same holds true for engineers and surveyors. Rushing can lead to inadequate surveys or designs that are not well thought out and, even if approved for permit, could lead to construction issues. It is no surprise that the quality firms are the ones that might have greater lead times. Typically, firms that can jump on a project immediately are not the ones that will produce quality results.
As professional civil engineers and land surveyors, we know that quality can make or break a project. Unfortunately, too many people look at our profession as a commodity, and if a firm can finish a project cheaper and faster, that’s what many clients will go with. As with cost not making a project cheaper, faster does not actually mean the project will be done faster.
A great example is a request we received for a topographic and boundary survey and subsequent civil engineering services for a luxury house on a large lot in a tough jurisdiction. Having a great deal of experience in this jurisdiction, we let the client know, based on our current workload, what the ultimate time frame would be to get the survey done correctly. Our estimate was not out of line with other quality surveyors in the area. They said our timeline was unacceptable and opted for a surveyor who could get out to the site within three days. (Big red flag!) They were lesser in quality than us and ended up missing a fair amount of detailed information required by the town. We then sent a proposal for the civil engineering as well, with the caveat that the surveyor acquire all the necessary missing information. We lost this as well when we were honest with them about the missing information and timing to do the engineering correctly. They wanted our services to be performed in an impossible timeline and did not want the survey updated. Disappointed, but realizing this was not a client we wanted to work with, we moved on to better clients and projects.
As time went on, we kept an eye on the town’s planning commission meetings, as is typically required for a project like this. We noted that many of our newer projects, with similar scopes, were on the agenda much earlier than the one we lost out on. Finally the project we lost out on, due to timing, came up for the planning commission’s consideration. I knew the planner well and asked about the project. He said they had about six rounds of plan checks due to the missing information and said he wished we were on the project.
The hiring of their design professionals based solely on their timelines (and cost!) ended up costing the client several months of headache! Imagine the interest costs of six to eight month of mortgage payments on a multi-million dollar lot and the frustration of months lost due to inadequate plans!
Aside from speed, bringing the engineer onto the team early can also save time and money! We are routinely asked to join a team at the last minute to do a grading and drainage plan. However, as with a lot of projects, our involvement is better served if we are brought on early. Most projects require some sort of storm water management and the days of doing a quick grading plan are long gone. It is standard practice to require room on a project for bioretention and other stormwater quality measures. If we’re not brought on early and allowed to work with the design team up front to properly size and place the required measures, we typically have to ask the design team to go back to the drawing board and allow for the required measures to be designed into the layout. If this happens, the entire design team must reassess their designs to allow for the required measures. Bringing the entire team into the project at the beginning allows for complete collaboration and can help prevent costly and timely redesign.
Our motto: Treat all projects as if this were your own project. Give it the care it deserves, do not rush, and get it done right! Getting it right the first time will lead to faster approvals, better plans, and overall project quality.
Jim Toby is a principal and civil engineer with Lea & Braze Engineering, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.