Posts filed under ‘Project Management’

Conversation With A Civil Engineer


Matt Barcus
President, Precision Executive Search, Inc
Managing Partner, CivilEngineeringCentral.com
  View Matt’s profile & connect with him on LinkedIn

In a January 2011 article in CE News titled Change is Good, John P. Bachner, CEO of Bachner Communications, Inc and Executive Vice President of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association stated that civil engineers right out of the gate have three strikes against them:

Strike One — Civil engineers are taught to be civil engineering professionals, not civil engineering businesspeople. The result: They know a lot about civil engineering and all too little about business in general and the professional service business in particular.

Strike Two — Many civil engineers are ineffective communicators. Some, it seems, sense these deficits at an early age and find comfort in math and science, where a lack of expository skills doesn’t matter all that much; numbers do the talking.

Strike Three — Many civil engineers have weak interpersonal skills, except when it comes to other civil engineers who want to talk about civil engineering. Regrettably, in the civil engineering business, most of the folks civil engineers deal with are businesspeople, administrators, “finance guys,” contractors (who may be graduate civil engineers but now live in a far different world), government officials, and so on. Those civil engineers who do not fit the stereotype — the gregarious extroverts — have a huge advantage over their less-outgoing brethren because the service business in general and the professional service business in particular are all about people.

Many of you have seen the wide array of satiric videos on YouTube published by xtranormal right? <blank stare>

In any event, I uncovered such a video that, though likely a little “over the top,” leaves no viewer scratching their head as to the point they are trying to get across:

I know, I know, those of you who are engineers and have taken part in these conversations yourself may be thinking,  ‘you’re right Matt, the message in this video is indeed quite clear, the homeowner is a knuckle head ! ‘ Often times it is the public that cannot see the forest through the trees, and that is exactly the point. As a consultant, you need to remove your engineering hat and put yourself in the shoes of the homeowner, the business owner, or the organization that is being impacted by the changes taking place. Like John mentions in Strike Three, civil engineering consultants do very well at speaking with the State Bridge Engineer regarding a cable-stay bridge that is being designed, or with the Director of Public Works regarding drainage issues on a major thoroughfare being built through the city, or with the home builder or developer in the design of a 3,000 acre master planned community. But what about homeowners whose property is being effected by a street widening? Or the citizens of a local community where a Wal-Mart Super Center is being proposed who are concerned about traffic congestion and drainage issues? The video very much makes light of this issue and for all intents and purposes is overly dramatic in order to make the point. Most civil engineers have a “knack” for what they do and the advanced math, physics, and engineering courses they study in school build upon that innate ability and passion they have for civil engineering.

So, what is the best way for a civil engineer to hone their communication skills when dealing with the public?

-> Is it the trial-by-fire method where they are just sent to public meetings and expected to learn through immersion?

-> Do they tag along with project managers and company principal’s and learn by example and mentorship?

-> Will seminars alone on this very topic make a difference?

-> Should one join Toastmasters?

-> Or does this ability just come along with maturity in the profession?

What has your experience been in relation to this topic? How have you honed your communication skills when interacting with the public? What strategies would you recommend implementing in order for a civil engineer to improve this particular skill set?

civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

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April 27, 2011 at 10:38 am 12 comments

Whose billable time is it, anyway?

Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

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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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

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

How About Asking Yourself What’s Right?

Featured Guest Blogger: Anthony Fasano, P.E., CPC, LEED AP
Maser Consulting
Associate Civil Engineer and Professional Career & Leadership Development Coach
Click to Connect With Anthony on Linkedin and Facebook
Anthony is the author of a soon to be launched FREE service for engineers called A Daily Boost from Your Professional Partner.  Click here to read about this service.

I recently completed a certified professional coach training program at the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and it was an amazing experience. I have to say I was extremely nervous going into it, being a civil engineer with a technical background, however I instantly fell in love with coaching and it is now totally natural for me.

As part of the training, one of the books we were required to read was “Breaking the Rules” by Kurt Wright.  The book focuses on being your best and how people and organizations can achieve their maximum potential.  The author states that being at your best cannot occur until you gain real-time access to your intuition or your “right brain.”  This was extremely scary to me being a civil engineer who operates mostly from the analytical portion of the brain or the “left-brain”, however as I read the book I became fascinated with the message.

The left and right hemispheres of your brain process information differently.  The left side of the brain processes information linearly, from part to whole.  It processes in a logical order; prior to drawing conclusions. The right brain processes in reverse from whole to part.  It starts with the end-result or solution.  It sees the big picture first, instead of all of the details.  Everyone tends to have a dominant side of the brain; however, the thinking process is improved when both sides of the brain participate equally known as whole brain thinking.

Engineers, and pretty much all of human civilization are always looking for “What’s wrong”? We are always analyzing situations to try to identify a problem so that we can fix it.  The author of the book states that by asking “What’s wrong?” questions, you cause all of your thinking to be done by the analytical part of your brain.  Asking “What’s wrong” questions constantly puts you into a negative state of mind.

So what’s the alternative?  How about start by asking the question “What’s right?” For example, let’s say you meet with your team on a certain project that is taking much longer than it should and likely will be over budget.  We are programmed to ask the team “What’s wrong?” and start discussing all of the problems on the project and try to figure out how to fix them.  What if you were to start by asking the team “What’s right?”  By reviewing all of the things that are working for the team, you can focus on applying some of your success to the lacking portions of the project, while maintaining a positive attitude and atmosphere within the team.  This brainstorming exercise will foster use of the right brain and move the team members towards whole brain thinking.

The thought behind the “What’s right?” mentality is that people are at their best when they are doing what they are good at and what they love to do. By focusing on people’s strengths you can ensure that they are extremely productive and engaged in what they are doing and thus the organization will be more effective as a whole.  So next time you are faced with a problem or a challenge, stop, be creative, access your right brain and explore all of the things that are right about the situation and see where that leads you!

Do you or anyone that you know follow the “What’s right?” mentality regularly?   How has it worked for you?

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

January 19, 2010 at 9:46 pm 12 comments

World’s Tallest Building Opens -How Tall Is Too Tall?

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of CivilEngineeringCentral.com

The Burj Dubai – Arabic for Dubai Tower – opens today, January 4, at a supposed height of 2,717 feet. Construction began on September 21, 2004, with the exterior of the structure completed on October 1, 2009.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP (Chicago) are listed as the architect and engineer of record. Bill Baker, the Chief Structural Engineer for the project, invented the buttressed core structural system in order to enable the tower to achieve such heights economically.  Adrian Smith, who worked with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) until 2006, was the Design Partner on the project. Turner Construction Company was selected as the construction project manager. Under UAE law, the Contractor and the Engineer of Record are jointly and severally liable for the performance of Burj Dubai. Therefore, by adoption of SOM’s design and by being appointed as Architect and Engineer of Record, Hyder Consulting is legally the Design Consultant for the tower.

The total budget for the Burj Khalifa project is about US $1.5 billion; and for the entire new “Downtown Dubai”, US $20 billion. The metal-and-glass spire is touted as a “vertical city” of luxury apartments and offices. It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

According to the Burj’s developers, they are “confident in the safety of the tower, which is more than twice the height of New York’s Empire State Building’s roof.  Greg Sang, Emaar’s director of projects, said the Burj has ‘refuge floors’ at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency. And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.”

Engineer Baker reported that the Burj developer continued to push the design higher even after construction began, eventually putting it about 984 feet taller than its nearest competitor. This push came from Dubai’s determination to “reshape itself into a cosmopolitan urban giant packed with skyscrapers.”

How tall is too tall for a building? How complicated is too complicated for a bridge?  What do you think?

AP photo/Kamran Jebreili

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

January 4, 2010 at 6:14 pm 7 comments

The Key to Success Starts With Listening not Answering


Featured Guest Blogger: Anthony Fasano, P.E., CPC, LEED AP
Maser Consulting
Associate Civil Engineer and Certified Professional Career Development Coach
Click to Connect With Anthony on Linkedin and Facebook
Read The Career Development Blog – A Newly Created Support Forum for Civil Engineers

Ernest Hemingway one said, “When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”  I believe this quote to be so very true.  Until I attended coaching school and learned how to listen, I was often guilty of selective hearing.  I believe this was in large part due to my engineering background.  Engineers as well as other technical professionals are always geared towards problem solving.  Therefore when we listen, we listen for “answers” needed to solve problems.  Once we have these “answers” we tend to tune out the rest of the conversation as we are already solving the problem in our heads or we start looking for the next problem to solve!

Why don’t people listen?  People like to hear themselves talk.  Admit it, we all do!  We have a lot of thoughts and experiences on our mind and we want to share them.  Sharing your thoughts is great but engaging and listening to those we are speaking with is important to your relationships both personally and professionally.  Do you find yourself cutting people off before they finish their sentences?  We are all anxious to keep moving forward, so much so, that we sometimes don’t hear important messages that people are trying to tell us including managers, co-workers, clients, friends, spouses, children, etc.

There is  a very valuable skill called Acknowledging.  Acknowledging is when you repeat back to someone the words they just told you.  For example, a client may say to you, “This is our largest project and it means a lot to us.”  You would acknowledge the client by saying, “Bob, we understand that this is your largest project and that it means the world to you and that is why we have our best civil engineers working on the project non-stop!”  This shows the client that you are listening to them and as trivial as acknowledging may sound, it can be extremely powerful in building relationships.

How many times have you heard someone attribute a problem in the workplace to “mis-communication?”  Do they mean “mis-communication” or do they mean someone wasn’t listening and missed out on what they were supposed to do?  I believe many times it is the latter.  Communication is a two way street, it has to be!  If someone tells you something and you don’t listen, what’s the point?

Over the next few weeks, make it a point to listen.  Even during the holidays with your family, try acknowledging them, you’ll be surprised at the response you get.  Companies lose money, projects and employees when people repeatedly don’t listen.  By improving your listening skills you will set yourself apart from other professionals and your professional and personal life will be much more rewarding!

Remember the key to success starts with listening not answering!

Happy Holidays!

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

December 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm 7 comments

One More Blog About Form vs. Function

Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

Stop salivating. I’m not going to be discussing the eternal dialectic between architects and engineers. I know the engineers take what architects design and somehow make it function. I know architects take what engineers design and make it aesthetically pleasing.

I’m talking about what form you take to make yourself functional. In any context.

How would you characterize your form? Are you a shape shifter? Do you constantly morph? Are you the same form regardless of situation? Does anyone know what – or whom – to expect when you interface with them? Do you take your form on and off like a suit of clothes? Are you play-acting? Are you authentic…Ever?

How does the form you take impact your function – and your value – to your organization? Are you the loose cannon no one wants to deal with because they never get the same “you” twice? Do you hide behind your engineering degree and your technical jargon so that you are impenetrable except to your peers – and therefore difficult to communicate with? Are you constantly striving to earn style points (literally) by putting yourself on an artistic pedestal and making your clients feel uncomfortable – even though they are the ones writing the checks for your services? Are you confused about what folks are expecting of you, and therefore inconsistent in actions and, consequently, performance?

We are at the time of the year – and this year particularly – when we need to take stock of ourselves. This is a thought process we should always be engaging in an ongoing basis. You know, continuous self improvement? Why just confine it to your architectural, engineering and planning projects?

If you are so many different things to so many different people based on what you think they want, how do you keep all this functional role-playing straight? Why on earth do you feel that you wouldn’t meet yourself coming and going, eventually?

It’s easier to shape shift than taking some personal inventory and aligning yourself so your form and function are fluid, continuous and authentic time after time. No surprises for anyone anymore. Although this new “you” may surprise you, yourself. Have you ever thought how it would be to effortlessly answer a question from a unified form-function position without thinking out a scripted response aligned with whatever politics you feel you need to support at that time?

So you guys think you don’t have time for this stuff. Too busy hustling new business or completing projects by year end? Compartmentalizing your professional form with function again?

Guess again. There’s no better time than now to figure out how to create steady-state dynamics between your form and function. Unfortunately they didn’t teach you – or any of us – about this in engineering school. The real world throws continuous curve balls at us. Most of us spend our lives dodging them or avoiding them rather than anticipating them and incorporating them. The big secret is that compartmentalization of the personal from the professional side of things doesn’t work.

Look around you and figure out how many shape-shifters are in your workplace. Is shape shifting encouraged? Does it result from a management style that leaves everyone in the dark…. Perhaps on purpose? Is this type of atmosphere toxic to your career and personal development? Are you ignoring this situation and hoping things resolve? How functional is all this shape shifting?

OK. I’ve made my point. I also encourage you to follow a similar discussion titled: “Are You Impeccable With Your Word?” on my blog at Sales Aerobics for Engineers. You see, I couldn’t compartmentalize this week, writing one distinct blog for my readers and another for the Civil Engineering Central audience. The two blogs are both parts of a whole. They invite dialogue.

Your thoughts?

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

November 30, 2009 at 10:49 pm 5 comments

Are You Doing The Heavy Lifting?

Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies

Babette Burdick Head ShotFeatured Guest Blogger: Babette Burdick
Sales Aerobics for Engineers
Internet Business Development Strategies for Manufacturers, Distributors and Service Companies
Connect With Babette On Linkedin Linkedin Logo
Read The Sales Aerobics For Engineers Blog

At the 2008 Pack Expo, after a successful presentation, one of my colleagues complemented me and told me I really knew how to do the heavy lifting on a project. I had never heard the phrase before (yes, sometimes it’s like I live under a rock). It’s just the way I do things, and the way the folks I respect go about their business.  After he explained the phrase to me, I thanked him and thought to myself : “Is there any other way to do things?”

I got curious. And being an observer, I started paying attention to Random Episodes Of Heavy Lifting throughout 2009.

I found out there weren’t any. Random acts, that is.

Heavy Lifting is a conscious decision. You Heavy Lifters out there, you know who you are. Some of you own your own companies. Others of you have incredible working relationships across departments within your organization. You may not even be the top dog or the top salesperson or the top achiever. You may not even be a world leader or the captain of the team. You are, however, known as being The Person To Go To: the individual who brings excellence and perspective to the task at hand.

Heavy Lifters are not the same folks as the Hard Workers. Nor are they the same folks as the Savvy Employees. This isn’t about churning and burning or game playing. It pretty much encompasses your  code of personal ethics, which you carry into your work ethics. You either do the work, and do it thoroughly and most excellently, or you don’t do it at all. And you encourage others to join you in doing excellent work. You bring out the best in your collaborators. And you inspire. Because ultimately, when you present, you evangelize because you believe in what you and your team are doing. You plant Possibilities in the minds of others.

Heavy Lifters do not Go Through The Motions. They are not Smiling Joes. Heavy Lifters do not survive because of thin veneers or changing agendas. There is no recipe for Heavy Lifting. You learn by doing. You do so because it’s part of who you are.  And you are not afraid of falling flat on your face, trying.

So who are the Heavy Lifters in your organization? Are they recognized? Are you in a position to recognize them? Do I need to suggest that you recognize them? And incorporate them into your team, if you haven’t already done so?

I’ve had so many extraordinary client discussions in the past few weeks with Owners who are entrepreneurial yet fiscally rooted. They have done the due diligence and heavy lifting to move their organizations out of the economic mire, in a forward direction.

I’m having some wonderful LinkedIn discussions with engineers who have done the heavy lifting necessary to implement change management into their organizations, resulting in new product or service capabilities.  And the potential for creating new revenue streams.

These are the Heavy Lifters. They end up moving mountains, but not alone. They are ordinary folks who become extraordinary simply because they don’t back down in their belief in what they bring to the table on behalf of their organization.  And they have vision – which means they always have their eye NOT on the prize…. but on the horizon.

We are in the midst of creating a new economic business paradigm shift. And perhaps we are making it up, winging it, as we go along. Aren’t most paradigm shifts achieved in this manner?

What can you bring to your organization by shifting your focus to the horizon? Or taking a 50,000 foot eagle’s eye view of your organization? Are you capable of heavy lifting? It shouldn’t be something to shy away from. It’s probably always been your forte. Perhaps you have dumbed it down for various reasons.

Wouldn’t it be so much more comfortable to do what you do naturally?

Are you a Heavy Lifter?

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civil engineering jobs :: civil engineering resumes :: civil engineering blog :: civil engineering discussion

Trust Me, I’m an (Unlicensed) Architect
If you don’t have an architectural license, it’s illegal to call yourself an architect or perform architectural services—but people still do. Who are they, who’s policing them, and can they be stopped?

November 4, 2009 at 10:49 pm 2 comments

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