Ever find yourself in a frustrating situation with your project’s structural engineer? Honestly, we’d be shocked if you said no. We’ve found the biggest frustrations are rooted in poor, or sometimes the lack of, communication, and stubborn industry misconceptions + baggage from prior projects. We can all do better. Let’s start fresh each + every project.
We spoke with several practicing structural engineers inside + outside of Schaefer to get a consensus on the most common communication themes during construction. We hope the following tips will help clear the air and result in a better, and dare we say more fun, relationship between structural engineers + contractors.
Before we get into the tips, a couple items to keep in mind:
- Confirm with the architect of record on how they wish for lines of communication between construction + design teams to be established. Sometimes, architects will want all communication to go through them first.
- In the case where architects are ok with contractors + engineers in direct communication, architects will still need to be kept in-the-know on all conversations including requests for changes.
Pro tip #1 | Building codes change – and so must our designs
A structural engineer + contractor may have designed + constructed a certain type of building a certain kind of way many times over. And then one day, the structural engineering design changes for that same type of building. This can be frustrating for both engineer + contractor.
Let’s start off by trusting each other’s experiences.
Trust that what’s on structural drawings is not superfluous and that we’re following building code requirements, which continue to become more refined (a whole separate topic for a different day), and project conditions that are not always the same.
Trust that the construction team’s experiences with regards to methods + constructability.
We understand that trust is earned which is why we’re happy to discuss the factors that lead to our design and consider other options if it results in a time/cost savings while meeting structural needs.
Pro tip #2 | Patience is a virtue (but time is of the essence)
If + when an issue arises, we both know each party knows their stuff, but since structural engineers aren’t always aware of construction progress + schedule, we need to be brought up to speed. During tenuous moments when time is the enemy (isn’t it always?) and you need the engineer to assist, quickly identify the limitations, challenges + goals collectively with the engineer so that they can determine a solution.
The concrete wall needs to be poured today, but you just noticed certain rebar or steel embed plates are missing. Making the decision to pour the wall anyway and asking the engineer afterwards for a fix can lead to several timely + costly consequences.
Instead, give us a call to identify limitations + challenges associated with getting additional rebar/embeds installed, and exchange ideas on how we can move forward with a workable solution.
We understand that solutions may be needed promptly, but all solutions must be vetted holistically. If not, they may cause coordination issues in the future. Typically, structural engineers are kept in the peanut gallery during construction and will not always be aware of the construction schedule. Therefore, it’s helpful to keep us in the loop when you anticipate any challenging construction stages so that we can be prepared to respond quickly.
If we know ahead of time that deep foundations will be installed in a tight corridor during a specific week, we’ll be more prepared to respond.
We recognize the value a quick response can bring to a project, especially during a tight schedule, so the more advance notice, the better we can assist the construction team.
Pro tip #3 | Always follow directions
When the sign says, “hard hat required,” ALWAYS wear a hard hat. Treat structural drawings the same – ALWAYS follow them. Deviating from either one puts lives at risk. This is not an exaggeration.
If something changes, communicate, and be specific about the situation.
We love sketches.
We love proposed solutions.
Communicate your ideas or concerns with us BEFORE proceeding so that we can get a chance to review and help you reach your end goal. We do not want to overcomplicate things further down the line. This will sound extreme, but a small deviation today could result in devastation tomorrow.
Pro tip #4 | Prepare
Put us in, Coach! We WANT to be involved as soon as possible with a new project. Let us brainstorm with the construction team and help develop strategies for executing the project. We’ll share initial concerns + challenges encountered during design where we need the construction team to exercise extra caution.
Talk with the architect. Know what is included (+ excluded) in the engineer’s scope of services (refer to the fee proposal). Recognize that we’re here to help, but that there are limitations on our services that can result in added cost. Just as contractors need to meet a construction budget, the design team is also trying to stay within a design budget and scope which may not include field changes. We are all much happier when we can avoid the fun conversation of asking the client or owner for an additional service order.
Lastly, review shop drawings before submitting to the design team. We believe thoroughly reviewing shop drawings to identify coordination conflicts fosters productivity down the road. And more of the same – make a point to familiarize yourself with structural drawings (including the New York Times best seller: the general notes). Just like when baking a cake, making changes to the design ahead of time is easier before the eggs are mixed in.
Pro tip #5 | Finish out the project
And by that we mean host a post-mortem. A formal end of project review can be incredibly helpful to discuss what worked well, where there are opportunities for improvement, and what actions/decisions affected the budget + schedule.
However, that doesn’t mean we don’t value immediate + informal feedback! End-of-project evaluations are similar to end-of-year evaluations – they’re a great way to look at the big picture. But as any good manager knows, it takes continuous, in-the-moment feedback to keep focused on the end goal.
On the flip side, we want to understand your pain points and hear if you have recommendations for a more efficient approach for projects. If you have ideas, let’s discuss.
Let’s work as a team and start every project fresh, without preconceived notions or stereotypes about how the other will operate. At the end of the day, we all have the same goal to provide a safe + efficient structure that meets the owner’s expectations + all code requirements that govern our industry.