Work smarter, not harder

By incorporating new tools and ideas into the engineering process, firms can enhance their business development in several shrewd ways.

By Amara Rozgus, Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 20, 2015

At a recent gathering of friends and family, I was talking to a longtime high-voltage electrician. I knew that he’d been laid off for close to 2 years. But when I asked how work was going, his face lit up and he said he was busy. So busy, as a matter of fact, that he felt guilty for putting in overtime. He hadn’t seen overtime pay in some time, and was happy to say that he felt that the construction industry was on the mend.

In a different conversation with engineers based out of Houston, I heard similar sentiments. In one case, an electrical engineer was putting in 50 to 60 billable hours per week, and could work even more due to a heavy workload. Projects—most of them in the health care and post-secondary education markets—were rolling in, and they needed to work more hours, hire additional staff, and streamline their project review processes to keep up.

Finally, chatting with manufacturers at a conference earlier this year, I learned about several ways they’re enhancing products and systems to help engineers make faster calculations, learn new systems more quickly, and specify familiar products without having to request detailed information because it’s already available at the touch of a button.

Within all levels of the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, the “work smarter, not harder” mantra keeps bubbling to the surface. This low rumble will likely become a dull roar in the near future as fast-growing industries, like hospitality, manufacturing, and health care, continue their upward climb.

To work smarter, engineers should take note of a few things:

  • Many manufacturers are now providing calculators, tools, and other specialized software to help engineers work through a proposal or specification more quickly. Ask your manufacturer rep to explain them to you, and incorporate them into your proposals and workflow to save time on designs and models.
  • Keeping on top of industry trends is key to the business development process. Data may come from business-to-business references, research reports, or education sessions. Make sure someone on your team remains on the cutting edge to give your firm that extra leg-up within the marketplace.
  • Succession planning takes time but pays back when done correctly. Engineering firms approach this in different ways—some hire engineers straight out of college and mold them to fit the firm’s needs, while others hire people with much-needed knowledge and abilities already in place. Both are good approaches, but without training and mentoring, neither will play out in the long term.
  • Think differently—and encourage your team to contribute ideas from outside the engineering community. Some of the best ideas are “borrowed” from divergent industries—think TED talks, Google’s hiring practices, or about other nontraditional thought leaders.