Coordination between Contractors and Engineers is essential in order to successfully deliver projects to our Clients. Throughout this article, experiences will be described in managing Project teams in Contracting and Engineering teams in the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry. Our Clients have trusted both the Contractor and Engineer to work together, and it is our responsibility to respect this trust and provide the Client with a smooth and seamless project delivery.
Managing Project Teams in a Contracting Environment
You have to have the right people in the right seats. This statement is very true in order to ensure the success of your team.
Operating a Project division requires organization of the team with a clear understanding of which positions are required. The management of various technical staff must be complimented by the addition and management of administrative staff as the division grows. The more project work we take on, the more back office support that is required from a documentation, accounting, health and safety and human resources perspective. Additionally, supporting the team with the appropriate number of technicians capable of completing the work in the field is of utmost importance. This is often easier said than done, however must be held paramount in order to maintain Client satisfaction, and project timelines.
Further, the relationships that a Project team creates will of course directly lead to the team’s success. Creating strong working relationships with engineering firms working in the same industry will provide a solid stream of incoming opportunities for work. These relationships can be built by attending industry and association related events and meetings, and by participating in tender opportunities as they’re issued by different Engineering firms. It can sometimes be difficult to commit to submitting a bid based on the tender schedule and current workloads, however making every effort to do so can go a long way in making sure your company continues to receive these opportunities for work.
Additionally, as a Contractor, you have intimate knowledge of the buildings you’re working in and fantastic practical expertise regarding the mechanical systems that you service, maintain and install. Share this knowledge with the Engineers that you have relationships with, and propose design ideas during the investigation stage of a potential project. This will help ensure that the design and subsequent installation will serve the Client well, taking into account the building’s history and characteristics that only you may know about.
Communicate often and communicate well. In the contracting industry, work on having your team regarded as one of the most communicative groups your Clients have worked with. It is imperative to remind the team to provide information and updates before being asked to by the Client. Additionally, maintain well organized records and provide clear and concise documentation when required by the Engineer and Client. All of these items are very important, and are traits that will ensure your team is consistently busy with work.
Managing Engineering Teams
Engineering teams are often made up of several Engineers, Drafters and Administrative staff. In order to manage the group and Client expectations successfully, it is helpful to conduct regular weekly discussions of all ongoing projects. It is important to be diligent in defining the timelines for each project and outstanding work, while also assigning ownership of all tasks and deliverables. By doing this, we’re able to set realistic timelines for our Clients and maintain these timelines so that they’re able to plan other projects with ours in mind.
Engineering teams in our industry will often include many individuals that are well versed in various types of mechanical and electrical systems and equipment. It’s very important to have a broad understanding of these systems in our industry. At a certain point, specialization is required in order to optimize workflow and improve consistency in the deliverables prepared and provided to Clients. Further, by promoting specialization in certain areas for each team member, as a Manager you’re able to help plan their training and career development. This may also lead to additional licensing and certification opportunities, and will likely improve the quality of work being performed. Many of us have managed teams of individuals with general skill sets, and specialized skill sets. The latter is typically more productive and more eager to take on new assignments. The review of work performed also becomes efficient, as the deliverables become more consistent. This greatly assists in managing the team.
An Engineering team must remain up to date with industry trends, emerging technologies and new equipment. This will allow the team to provide Clients with several project options at the initial pre-design stage. Preparing options will allow the Client to provide input regarding the project direction, which may be required in order to meet certain project timelines and budget constraints.
Collaboration between Contractors and Engineers
The Engineer is often tasked with the role of designing the systems and planning the project prior to the involvement of the Contractor. This is typically true of a formal design and tender process. In this case, it is prudent for the Engineer to plan the work with construction in mind. Theoretical calculations and the placement of equipment and supporting infrastructure may not be practically feasible given site conditions. Further, the Engineer must consider equipment lead times, service clearances and installation logistics when selecting equipment to be installed in a new construction or retrofit environment. By taking all of these items into account at the design stage, the Engineer is more likely to design a project that the Contractor will be able to bid on and perform without conflicts, delays or scope of work changes. The Client will enjoy having worked with both the Engineer and the Contractor on the project, likely leading to additional opportunities for both parties in the future.
In some instances, the Engineer and the Contractor may work together from the onset of the project through a design-build relationship. Conducting an ‘Owner’s Project Requirements’ meeting at the pre-design stage assists in detailing the critical requirements and goals of the project for the Client. This meeting, and subsequent document, are used by the Engineer and the Contractor to begin developing the project and are referenced regularly along the way. In some cases, the Contractor assists the Engineer by conducting on-site measurement and testing of various utilities and services in order to provide accurate information regarding the existing site conditions for the design. The Engineer will discuss equipment selections with the Contractor, while soliciting alternative options based on the Contractor’s familiarity and experience with certain equipment manufacturers. The Engineer and Contractor must take advantage of the collaboration that is available through this design-build type of relationship in order to ensure successful project delivery for the Client.
In either arrangement, the Client has selected an Engineer and a Contractor to trust with their building and systems. The Engineer and Contractor must communicate frequently and effectively, keeping the Client abreast of project progress through field reviews and site meetings.
Technology is constantly evolving, with new systems and equipment always being released throughout the industry. It’s very important for Engineers and Contractors to foster and maintain strong relationships, in order to share their experiences and lessons learned in the design and installation of systems using new technologies and methods. Sharing this information will ensure the development of more robust system designs by Engineers, installed and maintained by experienced Contractors, and enjoyed by Clients for many years following completion of the project.