3 Strategies for Building Efficiency into Structural Projects

“Efficiency” is a term you’ve probably heard often in a typical consulting engineering office. However, what does it mean? Is it efficiency in time management, project management, or design time? There are many ways to build efficiency into the daily routine of a structural engineer and it can be done in some simple ways. The challenge is dedicating the time necessary to execute and maintain these functions. Below are three ways structural consulting engineers can build efficiency into their projects to stay within budget, meet deadlines, and maintain quality.

  1. Templates, Templates, Templates
    Every engineering consultant’s office likely has several “standard templates” to use on various projects. However, templates can kill efficiency if not done correctly. In my experience, over years of building them, templates need to be inclusive of everything that can be encountered on a specific type of project for them to be effective. For example, for a repeat client or specific type of project that is common within an office, such as a wood-framed structure with pre-engineered wood trusses supported on monolithic slab/turndown, any details, and plans utilized in the past should be included in the template file. This includes a lot more than just saving an old project and calling it a template. It would need to be a complete collection of all projects of similar conditions to compile a comprehensive template. Afterward, details should be filtered out and removed if they are outdated or no longer code-compliant to ensure no confusion takes place when a new project is started. Finally, you need to make sure the template is kept up to date, either on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. New details can be added, and old ones removed to ensure the relevance of the template. Once developed, the template must be used to start all projects. The more it is used, the more effective it will be at improving efficiency on those specific types of projects.
  2. Project Management
    It may be tempting for smaller firms to ignore the importance of project management as it adds sometimes unnecessary man-hours to the budget. However, in my experience, dedicating 10-15% of the project budget to project management has been a good measure. Doing this allows for two main things: it allows the project manager to have budgeted time to ensure that quality control measures are followed as well as time for proper scheduling to ensure deadlines are maintained. Regardless of the budget or size of the project, these tasks are necessary to produce a final product that will meet the client’s expectations and timeline. On projects with budgets below $20k in structural fees, the project manager, design manager, and designated Quality Control (QC) engineer can be one person. It is often impractical to introduce another individual to the project. Furthermore, projects with smaller budgets are small enough to allow them to be checked for quality within one 8-hour workday or less, which is usually well within the 10-15% measure. Finally, having a solid, well-maintained template reduces QC time as it provides the designer with a good starting point to ensure the final product is within the parameters of the qualifications for the QC engineer..
  3. Checklists
    Most engineers may not like them, but they can be the sole difference between a successful project and a problematic one. Having a good checklist that encompasses all the points that the QC engineer will be looking for can help reduce the QC time and improve the final product. Not only is it a useful tool for QC efforts, but a checklist can also provide a new engineer or designer with a guideline to what they need to include on a set of drawings. Just as templates need regular maintenance, checklists do, as well, to ensure they are relevant and any modifications that need to be made are made on a consistent and regular basis. In my experience, requiring the designer/engineer to run through the checklist before submitting the check set to the QC engineer is crucial to ensuring that larger issues are caught early. Once sent on to the QC engineer, the designer checklist should be provided to ensure that they have everything they need to complete the review and provide markups/comments.

Although these tasks require regular checks and balances, they are crucial to maintaining an efficient design flow in a consulting engineer’s office. Site reports and forensic investigations to multi-million-dollar projects with hundreds of thousands in fees can be run through this system.