Are You Getting What You Paid For?

 In Mark's Message

Are you Getting What You Paid For? – Furnishing Your Project with the Right Geotechnical Consultant

Architects, Owners, Developers, Contractors and Prime Consultants – Are you getting what you pay for from your Geotechnical Consultant?

After a recent purchase of some furniture for my house, I asked myself the question that I always do after a large purchase “Did I get what I paid for?”…We all do it, whether consciously or not.

Ideally, it’s the question we want to ask BEFORE we make any major purchase, to avoid “buyer’s remorse”.  Buyer’s remorse is the regret that may set in after we look at what we paid for our purchase, and question things like “is pink and brown leather the right colour for the livingroom?”, or “Is this going to be durable enough to last for 10-20 years with two dogs, three kids and a cat?”. In many cases we feel good about the value at the time of purchase, then something about the item doesn’t quite fit afterwards, leaving us wondering, “Did we get what we paid for?”

If you are an Owner, Architect, or a Prime Consultant procuring geotechnical consulting for your project, how do you know that you are getting good value for your money? I have been watching what the industry has been doing in the last decade, and have had the privilege of getting to speak to many great geotechnical professionals in the industry over my tenure as Chair of the CGS Southern Ontario Section about this subject.

I can safely say that you are often not getting good value… but you are getting what you paid for. What you are likely getting is not a lot of data, some basic recommendations that may or may not work for your project, and many conditions that prevent you from holding the Geotechnical Engineer’s feet to the fire. Here may be a few reasons why you are likely left with that “buyer’s remorse” feeling when you receive your geotechnical report:

You Don’t Have Enough Information – The Geotechnical Engineer is not given enough detailed information about the proposed construction, loading, existing and planned grades, the desired performance criteria, or the project schedule.

This can often occur because the geotechnical information is collected very early in the project. A geotechnical engineering report will always include a “project understanding” section. If this is sparse, expect the report to not be very specific or detailed in its recommendations. In order to receive meaningful recommendations as the project progresses and changes it would be wise to engage your Geotechnical Consultant along the way and not just at the beginning.   This will help you steer clear of potential pitfalls and will definitely get you more value!

You Didn’t Pre-Qualify Your Consultants – Just like furniture, there are all sorts of shapes and sizes of consultants out there!

Pre-qualification, although easier to say than to do, can help you avoid getting the wrong consultant on the project.  If you have a complicated project with lots of risk, you may want to set the bar higher on who gets to price your project for the geotechnical work, upon which everything else will be built.

You Went for the Lowest Price – You put it out a tender for consulting services and simply went with the lowest price.

When you select your Consultant based on the lowest price possible, the majority of the time you are not getting good value for your money because low-cost is likely associated with a reduced scope and detail.  Sometimes it’s in the scoping – and consultants have been forced to bid what’s there even though it may not be the right thing for the project. Watch for extras and expect push-back when you try to pursue your geotechnical engineer for problems after he gave you advice that more scope would be a good plan.

Going back to my earlier example, you can take back the purchased furniture if you think it’s not quite right in any way, or you can often get a customer service person to help you deal with the issue at no-charge. In the case of a geotechnical report, what you get is what you get. You can’t change the fact that you didn’t go deep enough with the boreholes, and you can’t send it back if you don’t like the soils or recommendations that you got. Furthermore, depending on what you paid for your report, you may not even be able to get the Geotechnical Engineer to come to a meeting to explain the recommendations. More often than not, that’s what a low bid will buy you.

So how do you recognize the value that a Geotechnical Engineer is providing you? Or perhaps the better question is, how do you ensure that you get what you actually need on your next project? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Ask your prospective geotechnical engineering firm to explain why you should work with them and not one of the many other geotechnical firms out there.
  • Ask them about their experience in the specific area of your project, as well as the things they will do for you to ensure the project goes smoothly.
  • Ask them what type of innovative ideas they put forth in the recommendations of their last report.
  • Ask them if they will stand behind their recommendations.
  • Ask them what they did for their last client to get them out of a jamb. What is their Value Proposition?

…But pay something fair for those services!

Stop treating the geotechnical report as a simple check box that you need to tick off before you can build – like getting a site plan approval or a permit to take water. If you pay fairly for what you require, engage the geotechnical engineer throughout the project (and not just right at the beginning!) and ask the right questions, you’ll discover that you can avoid “buyer’s remorse”, and you can enjoy your geotechnical purchase problem free!

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