The ability of a engineer to influence the cost of a project often goes unnoticed, but it shouldn't. The ability to influence costs at the beginning stage of a project versus the end of the project could have HUGE consequences (or should I say YUGE).
For example, what kind of material do you select upfront when deciding on your design? How much more labor is going to be introduced because you select concrete beams versus steel? There's a lot to consider.
Let's look at the way civil engineers can influence the costs of projects, and why it's so important to do it from the start.
If this is something you find interesting or something you are actually engaged with at your own office, read on! I think you'll find something interesting here.
Bidding on projects costs the company you work for a LOT of money. It's important to think of all kinds of different scenarios so that you are getting the best quality and the most cost effective solution. The bidding process can be a messy one, so make sure you understand the complete scope of the work required. Not completely understanding the scope of the project could cost you some serious money.
Project Influence Timeline
Let's look at the stages of a project from the planning process all the way to getting it submitted and issued for construction.
The first step of a project is the conceptual planning. This is obviously done when you've started to bid on the project. Your ability to pick and choose what you want to use doesn't affect anything right now. You're just estimating, doing conceptual designs in your head, figuring out what will work and what won't. Your ability to influence cost is very high at this stage.
The next step is the design. Now that you've done the planning, you start the design phase. Plans become concepts with the appropriate calculations, modeling, etc. to get something you can actually work with. You can still make changes at this stage of the game and it doesn't affect the total project costs that much.
Once you're heavy into the design stage, there's usually various levels of this stage you mark, like 40%, 60%, 90%, or whatever your company decides to come up with. Once you've hit the 90% design stage, the ability to influence and change the project can still be done, but the costs have just increased.
Once you've finished the design stage, drawings are sent out for bidding. Each of the next stages becomes harder and more difficult to change so when you decide to move a wall, or change out a beam, or move a room, or replace anything, the cost to do so skyrockets. It can still be done, but now that the ship has sailed, we can't make a major course correction without it hurting. After you've bid out the job, you then enter the fabrication/erection stage quickly followed by the installation and final project.
Check out the chart below showing the ability to influence a project.
Figure 1: Time vs Influence
The next chart shows the costs of a project over its lifetime. It's obvious that as time marches on the cost to make any changes increases greatly. Check it out:
Figure 2: Time vs Cost
So, what's the point of looking at this? As an engineer, it's important to understand your ability to influence cost on a project, as well as the costs associated with changes as the project moves forward.
Nobody wants to change things as the design moves on, but trust me, things change. Owners make decisions that change things, you as a engineer might have made a mistake on something, OR sometimes when you get out in the field versus what was planned on a computer doesn't quite match up, and the list goes on.
The ability to simply recognize this will give you a leg up on your projects, especially when you plan them out. I hope this article was helpful to you. What do you think? Have you had an experience when you've been asked to change your design? How much did that cost? Let me know about it!
Thanks for being here and keep on rocking it as a civil engineer!