Years ago, Walter “Wally” Schirra, one of the original seven astronauts, was asked what he thought about when he was on the launch pad, about to rocket into space. His famous response: “As you are lying there just before liftoff you think, all of these hundreds and thousands of parts were put together by the lowest bidder.”
Luckily for Wally, the engineering and construction worked out okay and he lived to joke another day. However, this is not always the case in engineering. Too often, companies look to the lowest bidder when making major purchase decisions. Sometimes, this practice is mandated by government or institutional policy. And while most can understand the need to be frugal, sometimes it’s wise to give heed to the saying “You get what you pay for.” Or the corollary “If you don’t pay for it, you probably won’t get it.”
In a recent Atlanta Business Chronicle article, entitled Engineering firm with local presence a plus, author Nicole Bradford touches on this subject. Raymond Wilke, the new Director of Watershed Management for the City of Atlanta, discusses how it’s important to do your due diligence on potential bidders and to know what is considered to be a good price or perhaps too low for the expertise needed.
Wilke suggests going through a Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) process. From the article:
Through this process, used by public agencies, the problem is outlined in a request for proposals, and firms responding are ranked based not on cost, but on a track record of prior projects, experience and references, among other factors. The client then sits down with the top-ranked firm to discuss cost. “If you can’t come to terms with the No. 1 company, you move on to No. 2,” Wilke said. “The bottom line is to never bid on engineering services, because if it’s the cheapest price, you probably don’t want it.”
Hiring the lowest bidder could actually end up costing more over the long run due to higher construction costs, exclusions in services and higher operating and energy cost. Doing some homework on firms isn’t very hard. All you have to do these days is hop on the Internet and do a little searching. In fact, reputable firms will have a portfolio of their work on their websites, making it that much easier. Additionally, ask to speak to some references and have a good list of questions ready when you do. You need to know how well the firm responds when problems or questions come up during construction and after occupancy. Do they listen to your concerns and design to achieve your goals, or do they do “safe,” repetitive design?
To help you find the right engineering firm for your project, the author suggests using the following tips to guide you:
How to select an Engineering Firm
- Know what work needs to be done, and seek a professional with experience in that particular area.
- Low-cost engineering is not always best. A well-designed project is an investment in lower construction and long-term operating costs.
- Look for a firm knowledgeable about local permitting requirements.
- Choose an engineering firm with experience in the type of work you need. Look at previous projects and check references.
- Check credentials. Both firms and individual engineers are required to be licensed by the state.