Whose billable time is it, anyway?

March 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm Leave a comment


Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
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What is your time worth? To you, your company, clients and end users of your products and services?

When does the value that you perceive you bring to your company become less-than-valuable?

There is a fine art in bringing projects in on-time and at or under budget. And in this economy, that fine line is becoming razor sharp. Delighting customers and exceeding expectations may result from the economics of the project rather than cutting edge design that carries a high price tag and unappreciative end users.

This week, some project engineers and I were discussing how to tell when a project is complete.  They related how they are continually striving to make the project outcome better, add more enhancements, ask more questions of the client, constantly refine the design and contents of the project…. until their managers start breathing down their necks wondering why the project hasn’t been completed.

Let’s face it. It’s the nature of the engineering discipline. Analysis, design, improvement, redesign. Plan-Do- Check-Act. To infinity and beyond.  Except, very few clients hire engineers and technical specialists simply to think….and think….and think.   If that were true, we could all go to the mailbox each day and receive a huge check for all the great thoughts we had during the week before.  I don’t think so.

Billable time. You know what that is.  And you know the rate that you or your company bills out your time. The question becomes whether or not your company recovers that cost in terms of profit on your project.

Civil Engineers enjoy challenges and are tremendous analytical thinkers. They do, however, sometimes confuse discussing a potential project with being engaged in business development (aka, “sales”). For you civil engineers who have been thrust into a sales role without understanding the dynamics of a sales conversation, beware. Engineers are notorious at spinning out ramifications of a design, constantly asking “what if?” of themselves and other engineers. And thinking they are “selling.”

How many times has an engineer from one company called up an engineer from your company (you, perhaps?) to kick things around… on a project that is neither approved nor funded? An hour later, on your company’s dime, you/ your engineer has provided lots of consultative design insights to the other engineer. And your company never is awarded the project, if they are even asked to bid on it. And for those companies who have been forced to rely on the bid process on public projects, your profit margins are being squeezed to bare minimum.

While this scenario has been more common in the manufacturing arena, it may become more prevalent as less staff attempts to provide more functionality within civil engineering firms.

While I’m not suggesting that you dumb-down your project design and/or management efforts, I am asking you to consider how many of your projects are brought in on-time and at- or under-budget? Do you hold things up or move things forward? Do you understand when you have arrived at the best solution, although it may not be the optimal one?

Ask yourself what the gross and net profit of these projects are to your company. What was your billable time and at what rate? What is your salary?

Now you can begin to calculate what your time is worth and the value that you bring to your company. Working in a vacuum outside the context of the bigger picture surrounding your role is not a viable strategy in any economy. Especially this one.

Think about it.

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Entry filed under: Civil Engineering, civil engineering blog, Civil Engineering Issues, Project Management, The Workplace, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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