At the recent National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Annual Conference in Detroit, I presented a seminar with Donn Zang, P.E., entitled “Satisfying the Owner: Knowing What to Do and What to Avoid.” As you can guess from the title, we discussed current problem areas in the construction industry and recommended possible solutions. While speaking about how business relationships and attitudes can negatively impact a construction project, I discussed some unfair generalizations several segments of the construction industry have created for one another, and I was unprepared for the response I received: Audience members began asking pointed questions that suggested they thought I was protecting the installer. It was obvious I had touched a nerve.
After I declared my impartiality and stated my objective intent (in other words, “Don't shoot the messenger”), the tension eased. Nonetheless, I got the attendees' point. These engineers are tired of “getting it from both sides.” They are tired of being hammered by owners, end-users, and architects to do more for less. They are tired of being the scapegoat for poor working drawings and the lightning rod for installer criticism. And they are tired of having their services treated as a price-sensitive commodity. I learned some valuable lessons from this experience: Don't dwell on negative aspects to increase attention, and don't assume problems will diminish or everyone will make a reasonable profit when the construction market is strong.
Obviously, the poor working drawing problem still exists. Owners and end-users still need to be educated on the value of investing the required funds for a good design. The same goes for the architect who searches for the lowest bidder to be a member of the design team. We need to develop a grass-roots approach to solve this problem. As a member of the construction industry, you can emphasize the importance of a good design by pointing to the cost savings resulting from fewer extras and reduced claim litigation. Why pay a lawyer to sort through the mire when an upfront investment in a good design eliminates so many more problems? It's a tough, uphill struggle, but one that will benefit us all.