Researching and selecting an engineering firm
Q: We need to revamp our production line because we're developing new products and increasing production dramatically. We're considering hiring an engineering firm to design the line for us. How do we go about finding a firm to work with?
Hiring an engineering firm is similar to hiring a new employee. You must do your homework, know what you want, advertise, and communicate your expectations. The following guidelines will help you research and select an engineering firm:
Know what you want
Just like you would when hiring a new employee, make sure you understand what you really want from the candidate and have a good understanding of the job description (project mandate) for which you're hiring. Determine whether the work will involve engineering only or whether it will include procurement and construction management.
Once you've determined your project needs (engineering, procurement, construction management, or a combination of these), begin your search systematically.
Search as you would for an employee
How you advertise your project is similar to how you would advertise for an employee. First, determine whether you want the firm you work with to be nationally or locally based. Next, conduct internet research of engineering firms using keywords related to your proposed project. Include social networking sites such as LinkedIn. Consider approaching firms that you've worked with before, because you may be more comfortable working with a firm that you've had a positive experience with in the past.
Another approach is to request recommendations from your industry peers. Check peer company websites for public information regarding current projects and engineering partners. If you really want a particular firm because of its expertise or some other criteria but it's missing one capability, consider having it subcontract that component, resulting in two firms working on the project in their respective areas.
Hiring professional engineering services isn't the same as choosing a widget supplier. You understand the need for technical supply specifications and performance criteria when buying widgets, but perhaps you should think along the same lines for hiring professional engineering services.
Interview the candidate
Just as you would with a potential employee, meet the actual engineers who will be working on the project to ensure compatibility, because you'll likely be spending a significant amount of time together as a team. You’ll also want to determine that the firm has the capabilities you need. If you’re spending $1 billion on your project, for example, you'll want a service provider who has systems in place to help manage a project that size. You'll also want to verify that your project won't compete for resources with any of the firm's other concurrent or upcoming projects.
Watch out for the old "bait and switch." This is when a firm promises to have a particular person on the team but once the project is awarded, that individual is no longer available. However, you must be reasonable about your expectations. If the proposal-to-purchase-order duration is 18 months, it's unlikely that you'll retain the same team, you interviewed when evaluating the proposal.
Check the firm's resume
Once you've selected a candidate, review the firm's resume, including the portfolio summaries of completed projects. Not only should you check the firm's resume, but also those of the key engineers and project manager who are assigned to the project.
Call the references
Finally, take an important tip from your human resources department by calling the firm's references. This is a critical step in selecting the right firm for your project. You may have a candidate that has an impressive interview and project history, but once you talk to the firm’s former clients, you may find that they were difficult to work with, had difficulty adhering to the schedule or budget, or had some other significant issue.
All this research will take time and effort, but it's time well spent. Just like hiring an employee, you would take a more thorough approach when hiring someone to build your house than when hiring a kid to mow your lawn.
The Professional Engineers of Ontario offers the publication Guideline for the Selection of Engineering Services
on this topic. This resource offers a good basis for engineering services selection. To read this publication, click here
. Check with your engineering jurisdiction for similar resources.
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