The Dangers of Being Too Productive as a Civil Engineering Professional

You won’t find a bigger proponent for productivity in the workplace than me. I write and podcast regularly on how you should use the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80/20 Rule) to stay focused on what matters in your career, among other productivity strategies.

That being said, the other day I was thinking more deeply about productivity in civil engineering and realized that, while productivity is seen as a good thing, it can also present some challenges – the main one being a negative effect upon the quality of your work.

“How so?” you might ask.

I provide coaching and training to civil engineering firms across the United States, and it’s rare that the pace in any firm is slow, or the stress level low. I think this is common among all industries these days. However, when civil engineers are rushing through projects, they can miss something. Now, nothing against chefs, but if they forget to add an ingredient to a dish, they may have one unhappy customer on their hands; however, if a civil engineer forgets to double-check his or her calculations, tragedy can strike.

In this post, I want to share a few recommended strategies for staying productive as a civil engineer, but in a way that will still allow you to be thorough in your work. And if you have tips to provide in addition to mine, please leave them at the bottom of the post, so that we can collectively help civil engineers to be more productive without sacrificing the quality of their work.

1. Use Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) processes on all of your projects.

QA/QC is the combination of quality assurance, the process or set of processes used to measure and assure the quality of a product, and quality control, the process of ensuring that products and services meet consumer expectations.

Many civil engineering firms have checklists or written procedures to facilitate QA/QC on their projects, but that doesn’t mean everyone is using them. You as the designer or project manager must make sure there is a QA/QC process in place. If you work for a smaller firm that doesn’t have a formalized process, create one. Even if it is a relatively simple checklist, it’s better than nothing, and having it in checklist form will help to streamline the process.

2. Budget time and money for QA/QC on your projects.

Lack of time or money should never be an excuse for skipping QA/QC on a project. Let me repeat that: lack of time or money should never be an excuse for skipping QA/QC on a project. The proper amount of time should be allocated during the proposal phase for your QA/QC processes.

When you neglect to budget for these items, you increase the chances that QA/QC tasks get skipped on your projects because … “there wasn’t enough time for them.”

3. Always have someone else check your work.

No matter how many times you have used a program or run the same calculation, you should always have someone else check your work. You are not a robot, and even if you are, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it right every time.

Remember, it takes only one mistake in civil engineering to ruin your career and possibly cause physical injury to citizens. In terms of productivity, spending a little extra time now through a double-check may prevent costly redesigns or construction change orders later on.

4. You can’t go too slow when it comes to quality assurance.

I know, the mentality of “time is money” has been instilled deeply in all of us, often causing us to work as quickly as possible. However, if there is ever a time for deeper reflection, it’s during the QA/QC review of your projects.

Give yourself some time to really review every aspect of your projects before they go to construction.

5. Consider some worst-case scenarios.

If you are struggling to budget time for QA/QC procedures into your projects, consider what might happen if you don’t. There are several recent, real examples I could give of projects gone wrong, but you probably know them already from seeing them on the nightly news.

So please, continue to be as productive as you can possibly be as a civil engineer, but always remember to spend the proper amount of time checking the quality of your work, because in a world focused on getting things done, civil engineering is one of those things that we must get right.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute (previously known as the Engineering Career Coach), which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and he is the author of a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills by clicking here.

Anthony has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers:

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  1. Dimensions, types of fasteners, etc. should be listed in one place on the plans. They can be referred to from other places so that if information changes and is updated, it will not be in conflict in two different locations within the construction documents.

  2. The article is very useful for working civil engineers to rethink their products themselves to analysis the performance. It will better for us towards new construction activities in short period to get quality products based upon input.

  3. The first step in QA/QC is a self-check by the originating engineer. It is a common misconception that a work product reviewer will simply find all the errors in a design or drawing. Also, an independent review by an experienced engineer not directly involved with the project will cost money, but that investment in an outside perspective will pay dividends in avoided construction costs, or worse, later on.

  4. You mentioned about the importance of QA/QC on their projects. I am working currently as a subcontractor and we don’t have QA/QC process in place. Can you give me an example of a formalized process? A checklist, just to have an idee. Thank you

    • Teodor – it’s really different in every industry. Consider taking a course in your industry where they provide templates.


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