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PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)
4

PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

(OP)
Hi there,
It has been about 16 months since I started my Structural Engineer career. In our design office, I have observed that a lot of times, modifications/changes regarding design projects are exchanged verbally and there's no record of these at all. Sometimes, when things go wrong and there is a need to review changes made previously, there's a lot of blaming and pinpointing.
So, I'd like to know how you guys manage it. Do you have any management tool or docs which keep track of all changes and important information regarding a specific project? Kindly help me out with this.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

Ideally everything is documented properly but as you are finding out things don’t necessarily work that way in practice.

When there are consequences of any sort (no matter how mild) be it due to initial design problems or subsequent changes there is the usual finger pointing. As my construction professor told us: “when things go wrong on your projects, and they will, people will pass the blame around and the person whose fault it is is the person the blame ends up landing on”

Often a paper trail can be used to hang people so there’s not always a great incentive to fully document everything, especially if people are turning a blind eye to things, or cutting corners to get a job over the line.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

There are two situations: documenting things during design and during construction.

During design, before plans are submitted to the client - usually there are muliple submittals - the plans are reviewed by an independent reviewer, ie, someone not involved in the day-to-day work. We keep a hard copy and usually a scanned copy of the comments. The originator is supposed to respond to the comments. Then the reviewer verifies that his/her comments have been adequately addressed. Sometimes, it doesn't always work that way. For example, I reviewed some plans before the final submission and noted that there was an incorrect pay item. However, the design team, for whatever reason, didn't address the comment and they submitted the plans without giving me the opportunity to see that my comments were addressed. Anyway, during construction, that incorrect pay item cost the owner $140,000.00. For whatever reason, the owner didn't back charge us and no one got into trouble.

Changes during construction generally have a paper trail. If you have to issue revised drawing(s) it's hard to hide. Most of my work deals with bridges. In NY, the DOT never hires the designer to supervise construction. The design is usually retained to provide support services during construction; having an independent party oversee the construction prevents the designer from burying their mistakes.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

Try small written notes on drawings or specs.

Too many forms/paperwork are time consuming and do not get done unless is embedded in the company culture.
If you go for a paperwork documents to record changes, it has to be tailored to your company, simple and fast to fill.

We used to ensure that any comments or suggestions were wrote in small synopsis format follow by the date and if possible signed by the engineer who made the comment or by the person getting the comment in which case, the note will also include name of who made the comment.

If the suggestion was used latter on, then we could go and ask the engineer the meaning of his/her ideas before implementing it but ultimately, it is your design and therefore you are responsible for it and all info in it.

Engineering practices should be a collaborative environment, helpful suggestion are needed to improve the designs but important changes have to have some sort of record. Worst case follow verbal comments with an e-mail asking for further information or confirmation.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

There are programs that offer a way to link RFIs and comments to a record set of PDF drawings (bluebeam). The older school method is to keep a physical set of drawings in the office and add notes directly on the paper sheets.

With minor issues, a follow up memo is sufficient. "we talked about X issue and Y solution is structurally sufficient." This makes it clear what you agreed to so you avoid misinterpretations.

You never want to end up in a situation where the contractor says, "we didn't put reinforcing in the wall because useman3301 said we could use fibermesh."

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

In a word: e-mail. Be it internal or external. A lot of contractors love to talk by phone.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

[Edit: From the OP, I'm envisioning blaming and finger-pointing within the design firm. Inter-company finger-pointing should be dealt with using email, as someone above suggested.]

I think "how to communicate to avoid being blamed" is the wrong question.

The office culture is poor and the leadership is probably not good if you've only been there 16 months and you've observed a lot of incidents of supposed professionals blaming other people. It sounds like the entire office needs a course on ownership. The culture of blame probably comes from some of the leaders.

For some personal help, I recommend studying Extreme Ownership, Dichotomy of Leadership, and Leadership Tactics and Strategies by Willink and Babin. They are the most useful books on professional conduct that I have ever read.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

Quote (271828)

xtreme Ownership, Dichotomy of Leadership, and Leadership Tactics and Strategies by Willink and Babin
Great books. A related but not quite as directly related to professional conduct is Sovereignty by Michler.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

Quote (Usman3301)

when things go wrong and there is a need to review changes made previously, there's a lot of blaming and pinpointing

I thought blaming and fingerpointing was just part of the job when it came to Civil Engineering. Honestly, it gets tiring sometime and is one of the biggest turnoffs of this industry. Everyone is so scared of litigation and lawyers that people point fingers the second something goes wrong. In all seriousness, though, are you talking about issues within your own company or issues with consultants that you work with (other Engineering disciplines from outside your company)? Most often, issues for us come when the Civil Engineer or Electrical Engineer (maybe Architect in your case) changes something on their base file and doesn't tell us. Sends us the updated CAD file and we don't catch it. That's when $hit hits the fan. Anytime we have a submittal or are sent new Base Files/Backgrounds we copy all of our drawings over to a new folder and retain the old folder for archiving. That way, if any issue occurs, it can be traced back to one of those folders.

When dealing with other Engineers from different disciplines in different offices, I always like to have an email chain. This not only serves as a memory bump for me but also to track exactly what it is that you are concerned about. If the Geotech tells me (even preliminarily) that he wants the drilled shafts 80ft deep over the phone, I'll follow up with an email confirming this conversation.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

(OP)
Thanks for your valuable suggestions.

Quote (Altu1967)

I'll take your advice and keep a log having important notes along with Engineer's name as well.

Quote (kipfoot)

Exactly, I've heard that for big projects, a formal RFI process is used. I am more into looking for a definite solution, which can help me in keeping all this important information in one place, so I can access it when required without having to waste time searching for relevant information.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

(OP)

Quote (271828)

Thanks for the recommendations, I'll definitely look into them.
Yes, it's within design firm.
I totally agree, office culture is very poor here. We are a team of four structural engineers and four draftsmen. All of this has more to do with one of my senior engineers, as compared to my Boss. My senior is very reluctant to any improvisations and thinks that we are overshadowing him and he might lose his job. Due to this, I think we are still way back into 80's and 90's. My Boss is seventy years old, but he is one of the best structural engineers in our country and a great person. He always tells us to improvise things, but my senior doesn't want us to be direct with him and keeps telling us that if we want to convey anything, we should let him (senior) know.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

(OP)
[quote STrctPono][Everyone is so scared of litigation and lawyers that people point fingers the second something goes wrong.]
This is exactly why I have asked for help through this platform and have received great advice.
Right now, I am a bit young for my senior to put blame on me. But I have seen many times this blame game between other structural engineers and draftsmen, and this scares me a lot. As others pointed out, this pinpointing goes to another level when you are dealing with contractors, architects etc, then I think I should make sure this doesn't happen to me so often.

RE: PROJECT MANAGEMENT (Structural Design Office)

Quote (Usman3301)

...
I totally agree, office culture is very poor here. We are a team of four structural engineers and four draftsmen. All of this has more to do with one of my senior engineers, as compared to my Boss. My senior is very reluctant to any improvisations and thinks that we are overshadowing him and he might lose his job. Due to this, I think we are still way back into 80's and 90's. My Boss is seventy years old, but he is one of the best structural engineers in our country and a great person. He always tells us to improvise things, but my senior doesn't want us to be direct with him and keeps telling us that if we want to convey anything, we should let him (senior) know.
Definitely read the three books by Willink and Babin, and Sovereignty. They're fast and efficient reads. You'll get 90% of the idea after the first one, Extreme Ownership.

It sounds like your senior engineer wants you to stick to company standard methods, you want to be more creative, and that makes him uncomfortable. The authors talk a lot of about this exactly kind of problem. Couple of quick thoughts:

Ownership is for everyone on the team. If I'm a junior engineer and my senior engineer is uncomfortable with what I'm doing, I need to ask myself "Am I doing something that's causing him to feel that way?" (likely the stuff in the next paragraph) Consider how much more power there is in that approach than trying to fix the other guy. If you point a finger at him, he'll just point one back at you, and no progress will be made.

The issue is probably lack of trust. Underlings build trust by making the superior's life easier and making him or her look good. If your senior engineer wants you to stick with methods he's comfortable with, then comply -- promptly and excellently and without second-guessing or complaining. Building your relationship with your direct superior is part of your job because it'll grease the rails in getting what you need and want.

If you employ sound principles and can't improve the environment, then you would need to talk to your boss. If not, then eventually it'll just be you and the senior engineer, and you'll probably need to find a better team.

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