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President’s Report
The ASFE president’s final act in office is preparation of an annual report that discusses highlights of the ASFE year. Here follows the report prepared by ASFE President 2010-11 James W. “Jay” Martin, P.E. (AMEC Earth and Environmental, Inc.).

Serving as president of any major organization is an honor few professionals are fortunate enough to enjoy. Serving as president of ASFE is an extraordinary honor, because the organization itself is extraordinary. Compared to many of the organizations we associate with – ASCE, ACEC, and the like – we’re not very big. But in terms of our ability to innovate; to make meaningful change happen; to get things done extremely well, fast – we just may be the biggest of all. And we do that thanks to a dedicated pool of talented volunteers and a willing staff always ready to roll up their sleeves. I’ve seen what they’ve gotten done during the 20 years I’ve been involved with ASFE, and I’ve always been impressed.

The purpose of this annual President’s Report is to update the membership on our progress this past year and, in particular, the status of our three-year strategic plan. We’re now two years into our plan and, despite the economy, we’re on schedule. We have embraced the new purpose, completed the realignment of the organization, and, as outlined below, made significant advancements with our allied and client organizations and the implementation of key membership initiatives. Through the hard work of our committees, led by the Program Committee, we have had two very successful meetings with programs focused on our new purpose.

Let me recap what ASFE has done for you lately, starting with materials. In reading about them, be mindful of how we’ve expanded our scope. Ten years ago, I would have been listing new risk-management items. Now, in addition to those, I’m relating a list of materials designed to help firms and the individuals who comprise them serve as trusted professional advisors; the kind of individuals no intelligent client would even dream of marginalizing or commoditizing. As always, work progresses at a fever pitch, as we develop continually more effective programs, services, and materials for our members and for all geoprofessionals and the professions they serve.

Much of the new “stuff” has been developed by or with the assistance of our newly constituted Education Committee, which has taken the bull by the horns to survey our members to learn their preferences for educational materials, and then create an entirely new way of getting those materials refined and produced. The Committee has also taken on the task of reviewing everything we have, to identify what’s still good as is and what needs updating. The Committee also made time to develop three new Lunch & Learn presentations, on workplace harassment, scope development, and professional ethics. Then, working with the Geotechnical Committee – one of our three new practice committees – it produced ASFE’s Professional Ethics, a three-part, three-hour ethics presentation originally created about a decade ago. ASFE Practice Alert 49: Ten Things You Need To Know about Client Representatives was also the doing of this committee.

As for updating key items, this year we issued our newest edition of Recommended Practices for Design Professionals Engaged as Experts in the Resolution of Construction Industry Disputes. This is a document we conceived as a means principally to overcome the biased testimony of hired-gun experts, and it works. We now have 42 endorsers of this document: ASCE, ACEC, NSPE, AIA, ASME, ASHRAE, APWA, and many more. In fact, to the best of our knowledge, no construction-industry position statement has received more endorsements than this one, offering further proof that ASFE has charted more new association-service territory than any other organization serving our industry and our professions.

Our extraordinary Limitation of Liability Case Index and Economic Loss Doctrine Bibliography have both been updated, thanks to Skellenger Bender and the Legal Affairs Committee. The Legal Affairs Committee has also provided guidance on amicus briefs we need to become involved with, at the same time expanding ASFE’s outreach to other, like-minded organizations. The CoMET Committee has been active, too, making ASFE the organization for CoMET consultants. Now, you can enter “CoMET” into our website’s search field and locate dozens of relevant programs and materials. The Committee is also putting the wraps on three new message brochures and an updated Important Information… report insert.

We’ve also been successful in bringing in new materials from other sources. Thanks to the Environmental Committee, we’ve added 27 new guides and texts about environmental issues, as well as four new publications focused solely on brownfields.

The New Leaders’ Committee worked with the Education Committee to launch our first-ever webinar, which was a stunning success. Our goal is to do at least four webinars in the year ahead, with one of them led by the New Leaders’ Committee, addressed to the younger professionals of our member firms’ staffs, telling what they need to do to get ahead. And because the New Leaders’ Committee has been so effective, we’re going to recreate it. The original chair – Joel Carson – is this year moving up to the Board, and all the other members of that committee now have key roles on other committees. They are contributing new knowledge, new outlooks, and new energy. Their key task this year: Find replacements. Our future needs them.

In terms of programming, Peer Review had another good year, with our newly created Peer Review Task Force focusing on making the program even more robust as we move ahead. We also had another well-enrolled Fundamentals of Professional Practice, with survey results showing what we already know: It’s an extraordinary program that garners extraordinary results.

And speaking of surveys: The Business Practice Committee continues to keep us informed with its annual Financial Performance Survey and its Industry Snapshots, giving us a reading on the industry’s pulse. The Membership Committee is behind some important surveys, too, including its effort to track members’ attitudes about our progress as well as data that comprise our critical success indicators.

As for getting our message out to allied and client groups, our External Relations Committee has been extremely busy. It developed the all-new geoprofessional value proposition that will be an essential guide as we move forward establishing new relationships with allied organizations as well as organizations that comprise clients and those who influence clients’ decisions. Our Membership Committee has also done a great job in that respect, developing new categories of associate membership that enable ASFE to encompass ever-more geoprofessional diversity: Collaborative Members, comprising geoconstructors with or without in-house design capabilities; Government Members; and Student Members. Doing so has necessitated a modification of our bylaws, development of new membership recruitment materials, and a significant, behind-the-scenes website overhaul that staff has almost completed. We’ve also created some new policies and procedures to encourage meeting attendance by Faculty and Student Members, as well as younger members of local Member Firms’ staffs. Last year we overhauled our long-standing meeting format and this year we’ve added the concept of meeting sponsorship, to add more value and interest to meeting attendance. And how we choose our meeting sites, and the kinds of materials we distribute at meetings, have changed and will continue to change, thanks to our new focus on sustainability, articulated so well for us in the sustainability statement crafted by the Emerging Issues and Trends Committee.

And now, to expand our outreach, we’re going to other groups’ meetings, and not just as onlookers. The External Relations Committee this year created the new ASFE exhibit booth that we launched at GeoFrontiers and, with the Environmental Committee, at the Brownfields Conference in Philadelphia. We can also thank the External Relations Committee for the creation of new collaterals to help us make our presence better known. A major element of that effort is now evident on Wikipedia where, for the first time, we have a comprehensive definition of the geoprofessions. The Committee has also identified the most important allies and most important client groups to target, and is considering the concept of developing a geoprofessional organizations coalition whose members would all contribute to efforts designed to maximize the geoprofessions’ importance and value to the marketplace. In unity we will find the strength we need; the External Relations Committee is working to make it happen.

Our CoMET Committee has been engaging in outreach, too, with articles aimed at client representatives and client influencers, upcoming in Sustainable Facility and Environmental Building and Design. It’s reaching out to others, too, by becoming involved in the growing efforts to subject CoMET field representatives to state prevailing-wage rules.

The Geotechnical Committee is also working on outreach, developing a PowerPoint presentation template firms can apply to develop their own unique messages about the value they provide. Our other practice committees will be following suit. And of course, we are using our columns in CE News and GeoStrata to beat the drum for our cause and our organization, and we’re doing the same with other articles in other magazines.

All told, saying that this has been an exciting year filled with progress is an understatement, thanks to the hard work of a dedicated crew of volunteers, focused on making things better for us all. Of course, we’re ASFE, so we’re impatient. We want the difficult things done now and the impossible things done two days from now. That’s not going to happen unless we can go beyond volunteered efforts alone. To change the outlooks, attitudes, and actions of those who make the marketplace what it is, we’ll need more person-to-person outreach time than volunteers can afford to donate, and we’ll need to provide more assistance to volunteers so they can focus on those tasks where having volunteers involved can maximize results. To that end, we have developed a Director of Outreach position; we expect to have an individual onboard before the end of the second quarter. We’ll also need to advertise and engage in more high-level PR. And to sustain our outreach activities we’ll need more members to give us more volunteers; a louder voice; and more revenue from dues…the long-term resources we need to succeed. To help jump start our outreach activities, we are building a Foundation for the Future, by encouraging all ASFE members to provide four years’ worth of dues over the next three years. We will use those funds for outreach activities only, and manage the expenses involved and the income they generate separate from our operating budget. We are confident the funds raised will allow us to make tremendous progress over the next three years, which is exactly what we will be planning to do when this summer rolls around, and the Board meets to once again develop a three-year strategic plan.

This has been a great year. I am privileged to have been involved. I look forward to next year, with David Gaboury at the helm, and to many more years after that. You are the people who have made ASFE great. With your help, we will accomplish what needs to get done to help the geoprofessions and geoprofessionals ascend to their rightful positions in the markets they serve.

Thank you for this opportunity.

James W. “Jay” Martin, P.E.
President 2010-2011
ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association

Wed, 06 Jul 2011 23:01:00 +0000

A Call to Action
From ASFE President James W. “Jay” Martin, P.E.

Congratulations! You are a vital part of ASFE/The Geoprofessional Business Association. Our purpose is to “maximize the geoprofessions’ importance and value to the marketplace.” To do it, we must overcome the commoditization and marginalization that affect all too many geoprofessionals in all too many markets.

Realistically, we’ve done this to ourselves: Commoditization and marginalization are largely the result of ill-advised business practices geoprofessionals must change if their fortunes are to change. Even ASFE-Member Firms and the people who comprise them can do better in order to better demonstrate the insight and skills needed for client representatives and others to change their opinions about geoprofessionals. But more than ASFE members are involved in the geoprofessions. As such, if we are to establish an overall geoprofessional “brand” that will truly “maximize the geoprofessions’ importance and value to the marketplace,” we will need widespread geoprofessional self-improvement. At a minimum, this means improved grasp of the business issues circulating in the marketplace every day. And not just geoprofessional business issues. Our clients’ and colleagues’ business issues are just as important if not even more so. By recognizing that, and doing something about it, we can become better – more valuable and more valued – consultants.

ASFE can help, because we have created an astonishing, unmatched array of proven-effective programs, services, and materials geoprofessionals can use to contribute meaningfully to more gratifying, satisfying, and profitable outcomes for all project participants. If we cannot increase our value to others, our claims will ring hollow. I therefore urge you to use more of what we have, almost all of which is available to you free of charge.

ASFE cannot do it alone. We will need the active cooperation of allied organizations with geoprofessional components, and our plan calls for us to engage them. We will also need the active support of organizations whose members – owners, developers, contractors, construction managers, and other design professionals, among others – will benefit from recognizing and seeking the value geoprofessionals are truly capable of providing. Our plan addresses that issue, too, and the plan is well-underway.

And there’s one more element we absolutely must engage if we’re going to move from here to there…


We need you to carry the ASFE message to everyone in your firm, so you’re all on the same page. We also need you to carry the message to other groups you’re involved in, so they, too, can join the effort. And please consider getting more involved in ASFE. We have new committees and more of them; join, if not as an active member, then at least as a corresponding member; someone who stays involved by staying aware, and who from time to time antes up with your own two cents. Just go to our committee list for information about each of our committees or click here for the form I urge you to fill out to indicate “I want to make the future happen.”

And, finally, this note: ASFE needs to generate more income to do what we have to do. I’m not asking you to give more, but merely to encourage peers in nonmember firms to at least give membership their consideration. Remind them that, when they belong to ASFE, ASFE belongs to them. Their dues will purchase an unrivalled opportunity for self-improvement and for improving geoprofessionals’ value in the marketplace.

This can be an exciting, rewarding future for us all, and we can make that future ours by working to achieve it. I echo the sentiments of many others by saying that being part of the solution is one of the most satisfying things I've ever done.


Wed, 11 Aug 2010 18:40:00 +0000

What an amazing year! President's Report Now Available
What an amazing year! ASFE was able to transform itself in order to gear up to achieve its new purpose - to maximize the geoprofessions' importance and value to the marketplace - while simultaneously delivering an array of programs, services, and materials to help all ASFE-Member Firms enhance their business and professional practice. Gearing up included not just changing our name and logo, but redeveloping our entire committee structure so that each committee now focuses on a unique, member-service mission while at the same time contributing to accomplishment of our new purpose. ASFE's 2009-10 President David E. Lourie, P.E., D.GE has developed an outstanding President's Annual Report summarizing a year of unparalleled accomplishment. We invite you to read about the progress we've made...for you! Click here for a great read.

Thu, 10 Jun 2010 19:50:00 +0000

Stand Up and Be Counted
The following screed represents the opinion of the editor, not ASFE. Your response is encouraged.
John Doe, Esq. is an attorney.

John Doe, M.D. is a physician.

John Doe, C.P.A. is an accountant.

John Doe, A.I.A. is an architect.
And I suppose you’d expect me to once again say something like
John Doe, P.E. is a licensed professional engineer, except John Doe, P.E. refers to himself only as John Doe, unless the P.E. is required or highly appropriate within a business context.
But I’m not going to say that, because
John Doe is an engineer – and a very good one – but he has no professional designation because he doesn’t need one. He’s exempt. He works for a government agency or an industrial organization, or the kind of engineering he engages in is unregulated; e.g., aerospace engineering, software engineering, biomedical engineering, nuclear engineering, and so on. (Wild, isn’t it? You need a P.E. to design a slab for a double-wide but not to design a nuclear bomb.)
I believe I’m correct in saying that America’s engineers outnumber the nation’s attorneys, physicians, accountants, and architects, but you’d never know it, because those with a designation don’t use it much, and the rest – the majority – have no designation. Wouldn’t all engineers be better off if they at least had some type of honorific (e.g., Esq.) that would readily connote their profession and their status within it? I sure think so, if only because it would make all engineers feel part of an important whole, create more visibility for the profession and its practitioners, and contribute to the prestige that should be associated with what is, arguably, mankind’s most important endeavor.

Actually, creating an appropriate recognition system would not be that difficult. It would require some of the nation’s largest and most prestigious engineering organizations to agree that general recognition of engineers would benefit them all, and to form an agency of some sort – let’s call it the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Engineers (JCAE) – that would function to recognize those who would qualify for an honorific of some sort.

P.E. would not work, because it represents a license that is awarded by a given jurisdiction; most commonly, a state. John Doe, P.E., who is licensed in New York, may actually get himself in trouble should he refer to himself as John Doe, P.E. in New Jersey.

Something like M.D. would not work, because M.D. refers to a graduate degree. Most engineers have not earned master’s degrees, and those who have did not earn them in the same disciplines.

A designation like C.P.A. would not be appropriate, because no common test is available for engineers, given the diversity of their disciplines. And A.I.A. would be out of the question, because engineers are represented by dozens of organizations, a situation that epitomizes the problem: lack of professional unity. In fact, that lack of unity is precisely what has led to engineers’ disproportionate lack of strength and their disturbing inability to respond as a profession when an important, overarching issue arises.

One of today’s overarching issues is the “engineer gap”; i.e., the growing chasm between the number of engineers we have and the number of engineers we need. If we had a lawyer gap, you can bet that attorneys of all kinds – corporate attorneys, plaintiff’s attorneys, divorce attorneys, et al. – would be in middle schools telling students (along with their teachers, counselors, and parents) about the many different types of law one can practice, the marvelous rewards of each, etc. Physicians no doubt would do the same, as would architects and CPAs.

Engineers don’t do that.

When engineers go into the schools at all, they don’t talk about engineering; they talk about their kind of engineering; e.g., how civil engineers are custodians of planet Earth (providing their clients want them to be), how software engineers make tomorrow happen today, and so on.

Why are engineers so oblivious to their roots? I don’t know, but I do know that the result confuses the public and that, as a consequence of their parochial outlooks, far too many major engineering organizations harm the profession in an effort to glorify their own particular sliver of it. But let’s say they are somehow able to rise above all that; that the civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical and electronic engineers, chemical engineers, software engineers, aerospace engineers, automotive engineers, et al. were to agree to form the JCEA in order to settle upon a single, unifying honorific. And let’s say, solely for the purpose of discussion, that the honorific the JCAE chose was Accredited Engineering Professional, or A.E.P. P.E.s would automatically become A.E.P.s, and each discipline would establish appropriate educational and/or experiential criteria to establish a means for A.E.P. recognition.

The federal government would be petitioned to invest some money in the effort, and all indications are it’s in a mood to do so. Any number of Senators and Representatives are concerned about our engineer gap, especially given the number of engineers who are entering the workforces of China and India. For the comparatively small sum of, say, $1 billion, the JCAE could mount a $200 million/year effort to gain awareness and recognition for engineers, thereby encouraging more youngsters to enter the field while encouraging more engineers to come out of their closets.

Each engineering discipline would benefit from this effort, because each would gain prestige by being part of a prestigious profession. And because each discipline would gain practitioners, America would benefit.

“We’ve tried to do that,” I’ve heard from a number of leaders in various disciplines, “but the [fill-in-the-blank] engineers aren’t willing to get involved.” If that’s really the case, then, in my judgment, not enough effort has been made. Those who are willing to take the first steps need to band together and, if necessary, publicly embarrass those organizations that put their own interests (or dim-wittedness or laziness) above the interests of the profession and the nation.

If you agree that it’s high time for the nation’s engineers to stand up and be counted, then you have to agree that, first, they need to be visible. Creating something akin to a JCAE and an A.E.P. designation would be an important first step. And who knows where the rest of the journey might lead.

Mon, 17 May 2010 19:07:00 +0000

The Little Blue Engineer
Once upon a time in the little village of Tinytown, there was a professional baseball team called the Mightymites. They played all their home games in the Tinytown War Memorial Stadium. But the team’s owner did not like the Tinytown War Memorial Stadium. “It’s too old,” he said, “and it’s too small. So unless I get a new stadium, I’m moving the team out of this burg to a town that appreciates such a good franchise.” And when they heard that, many of the Tinytown villagers were alarmed.

“Elect me to another term,” said the mayor of Tinytown, “and we’ll sell municipal bonds to finance a new stadium. Mightymites forever.” The election was important to the mayor. He had been the Gray Party’s successful candidate for 20 years and wanted to make it 24. But this year there were new issues to deal with, and the Blue Party made those issues their own. “We need to fix the Tinytown Bridge,” the Blue Party’s leaders said. “And expand the Tinytown Waterworks and fix the Tinytown sewer system. We also need to widen the Tinytown Turnpike. The mayor has not done a good job.”

“Nonsense,” said the mayor. “The bridge looks fine and the water tastes great. Mightymites forever.”

The League of Tinytown Voters held a meeting to discuss the issues. The Blue Party brought a little engineer to speak. “We need better infrastructure now,” he said, “or the bridge might collapse, the water quality will fall, people will be infected by E. coli, and we’ll lose productive time and residents because of our bad roads.”

“Mightymites forever,” was all the mayor said, and many people cheered. But not members of the Blue Party. Even though the mayor had let things go, they were unable to find someone willing to oppose him. So they called the little engineer who spoke at the League of Tinytown Voters meeting. “We need a candidate,” they explained. “And that candidate needs to really understand infrastructure.” The little engineer had never done anything political, but he knew discussing the issues was important. “Do you think you could you pull this party up the big hill to victory?” the Blue Party leaders asked. The little engineer thought for a moment, then nodded his head and said, “I think I can.” Well, the next thing you know, the Blue Party’s leaders unveiled a sign with the engineer’s picture on it. “Our Next Mayor,” it read. “The Little Blue Engineer.”

“Do you think you can win this election?” reporters asked the Little Blue Engineer at a press conference. “I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer.

“Can you raise the money we need to fix things?” they asked.

“I think I can.”

“But can you keep the Mightymites?” they asked.

“I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer. “We can fix the old stadium and add more seats. Then, with better infrastructure, we’ll attract more residents and more business. We’ll expand our tax base. That way, in just a few years, we’ll be able to build a new stadium, if that’s what the voters want.”

“TO HELL WITH MIGHTYMITES, SAYS LITTLE BLUE ENGINEER,” was the headline of the next day’s Tinytown Gazette. “Little Blue Engineer Unfit To Govern” was the title of the paper’s editorial, endorsing the mayor.

“You’re an engineer,” the Little Blue Engineer’s wife said to him that night. “You have important things to say, but you don’t like speaking in public. And you can’t stand rejection. Will you be able to go through with this?”

“I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer.

The next night, the Little Blue Engineer debated the mayor on TV. “We are about to lose the Mightymites, our most precious resource,” the mayor said, “the glue that binds our community together.”

The Little Blue Engineer was uncomfortable but sincere. “I like the Mightymites, too,” he said, “but our resources are limited and we have other important needs to consider. We need a bridge and a water system and a sewer system we can trust, and a road that will make our commute faster and safer. Improving our infrastructure will make us a more prosperous town, better able to afford new developments that the people want. Can I lead us to that future? I think I can.”

It was just two days before the election and WWEE-TV Action News reported that a new survey said the mayor’s race was too close to call.

The Little Blue Engineer had only enough money to pay for one TV ad. He ran it on election eve. “This election is not about the future of the Mightymites,” the Little Blue Engineer said. “It’s about our future and our children’s future. We need to maintain what really holds our community together. We need to create infrastructure we can trust. And to have that, we need a mayor we can trust to do it. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

The mayor’s slogan – MIGHTYMITES FOREVER – was pasted on a thousand placards all over town. In his pre-election TV ad, which ran 500 times the week before the election, he looked into the camera and said, “My opponent knows infrastructure, but that’s all he knows. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. That’s why he’s blowing our problems all out of proportion. The small improvements we need we’ll be able to pay for easily, from the money we generate from the new Tinytown Mightymite Stadium in the first year alone. In five years, we’ll have enough for two bridges, two highways, and the best water and sewer system in the whole state. A vote for me is a vote for the future of Tinytown.”

The next day’s voter turnout was the largest in 20 years.

It took a week to count the votes. And another week to count them again, because just one vote separated the loser from the winner: the Little Blue Engineer.

“Can you do your very best to preserve and protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare?” the judge asked the Little Blue Engineer at the swearing-in.

“I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer. And to do just that, he spoke to the Village Council. “My friends,” he said, “we need to check our infrastructure. We need to know what needs to be fixed. We need an engineering firm to rely on.”

“We agree,” said the Village Council. “Put out a call for bids.”

“No,” said the Little Blue Engineer. “It makes no sense to select a firm just because it gives us a cheap price. It will have to give us cheap service, too, and that’s something we really can’t afford. I know how much a good firm will charge for a good service. And we all know that the best quality delivers the best value. Let’s select a firm based on its qualifications, as long as it asks for a reasonable fee.”

And the Village Council agreed.

“MAYOR LETS NO-BID CONTRACT,” was the headline in the Tinytown Gazette. And the Little Blue Engineer was upset. “I think you may not understand,” he said to the editor over lunch. And he explained that, when companies compete on quality, each offers the best it can deliver, not the least it can live with. “And when we select the services together, we’ll get exactly what we want,” said the Little Blue Engineer. “No frills. Just excellence, and all for a reasonable price.”

“I get it,” said the editor. “But can you explain it to the people?”

“I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer. “But only if you help.”

And the editor did, in an editorial she wrote called, “Quality Just Makes Sense…and Saves Dollars.”

But then came the bad news. “The Tinytown Bridge is in terrible shape,” said the engineering firm Tinytown retained. “It’s been neglected for years. You need a new one. Fast.” So the Little Blue Engineer called on the governor. “Governor,” he said, “the Tinytown Bridge is almost ready to collapse. We need help.”

The governor turned to his state director of transportation. “How bad is it?” the governor asked. “Well,” said the state director of transportation, “According to our rating system, it’s SSDRC.”

“What does that mean?” asked the governor.

“Seriously structurally deficient and ready to collapse.”

“And what do you propose doing about that?” asked the governor.

“Change the rating system,” said the state director of transportation. “We don’t want people to be alarmed. So what used to be SSDRC will now be GBNSP.”

“And what does that mean?” asked the governor.

“Good but needs some paint.”

“Well, there you have it,” said the governor, offering the Little Blue Engineer a cigar. “Problem solved.”

But not for the Little Blue Engineer. “I’m an engineer,” he said. “I took an oath to protect the public’s safety, and that bridge is dangerous.”

“Well, you can’t make us spend money we don’t have,” said the governor, puffing on his cigar. “I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer, and back he went to Tinytown, and made a lot of calls.

And guess what: Two weeks later, when the governor looked out his window to see what all the shouting was about, there were 200 engineers parading around the governor’s mansion, holding signs. “Safe Bridges, Not Safe Words,” the signs said, and people were surprised. “Engineers never rock the boat,” they said. “This must be serious.” And you know what? The Little Blue Engineer was on television all over the state, telling people the truth: “The governor doesn’t want people to be alarmed because the governor doesn’t want people to know what a bad job the government’s been doing. People should be alarmed. Maybe then they’d demand better infrastructure. And not just better bridges. Better roads, too. And better water and sewer systems.”

Well, as you might have guessed, Tinytown got its new bridge, designed by an engineering firm selected for its integrity, experience, and ingenuity. Which is why the new bridge won so many national awards.

“Do you think you could tell the Tinytown story on national TV?” a television producer asked.

“I think I can,” said the Little Blue Engineer. And he did, letting people know that “the quality of design is so good, our bridge was actually less expensive to build, and will be less expensive to maintain. And that will give us some extra money to help us improve our roads, and make our water and sewer systems safer, too. That makes Tinytown a better place to live, and that helps us grow. With more growth we have more revenue, and that helps us improve our schools and public services. We’re even able to start design on a new home for the Tinytown Mightymites.”

People from all over the country liked what the Little Blue Engineer had to say. They even told their children to think about engineering for a career. And more engineers began to think about running for public office. And before you could say Karl Terzaghi, more and more towns and cities elected engineers to lead. There were even a few engineers trying to become governors and Congressmen. And talk of something more. But as for the people of Tinytown, they all lived happily ever after.

# # # # #

Wow, Dad. That was really a great story.

Well, thank you, Tommy.



Do you think it could ever come true?

I don’t know, son. I’d like to think so.

You know what, Dad?

What, Tommy?

I want to be an engineer when I grow up.

That would be great, son…. Do you think you can go to sleep now?

I think I can.

Fri, 26 Feb 2010 18:26:00 +0000

Stop Being a Commodity!
“We didn’t get the project because our price wasn’t low enough.” How many times have you heard that, often followed by general clucking and head shaking among staff members who complain, “We’re just a commodity”?

Gimme a break.

You don’t lose projects because your prices aren’t low enough. You lose them because you’ve allowed price to become the only issue. “We didn’t get the project because our price wasn’t low enough” actually means “We didn’t get the project because we didn’t establish a relationship with the client’s representatives, so they like us, trust us, and understand that value is more important than price.”

Of course, establishing relationships takes time. You can conserve that time if you make contact only by telephone or e-mail. But if you don’t bother to invest the time required to visit with client representatives, how will they know you are different from everyone else in the marketplace? And if you do nothing to show you’re unique, why shouldn’t client representatives assume that the voices they hear in voice mail and the words they read in e-mail belong to people who are more or less the same and, that being the case, they might as well differentiate on the basis of – and so deal with – those who charge the least?

One of the major contributors to this sad state of affairs might well be the notion that “we’re problem-solvers.” Understand that it’s not a good thing to be a problem-solver. Plumbers are problem-solvers…except the best of them have come to realize something that geoprofessionals need to understand, too.

To be regarded as a “real pro,” you do not solve peoples’ problems; you fulfill their needs. One of those needs is to fix the problem. But that’s only one need of many.

What does the “real pro” plumber do? Upon arriving at the customer’s home, the plumber says, “You have a beautiful home. How long have you lived here?” He is surprised that it’s that many; the home looks so much younger than that. Taking that approach doesn’t fix any problems, but it sure fulfills the homeowner’s need to be admired, enhancing the homeowner’s perception of the plumber’s discernment and sophistication. After presenting a value-based, flat-rate bill (that results in an hourly rate that’s probably 20 percent more than a senior geoprofessional’s), the plumber imparts some advice on avoiding future problems, demonstrating concern for the customer’s best interests. And then the kicker: The plumber asks for help: “Your tulips are the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Mine don’t look nearly as good. What am I doing wrong?”

Will the homeowner regard the plumber as a professional? Absolutely. Will the homeowner call the plumber again, assuming the work was okay and the price was reasonable? Yes. Did the plumber fix the problem? Yes, but more important, the plumber fulfilled needs. In fact, fixing the problem was probably the least important aspect of the entire service, because the customer expected the problem to be fixed. What delighted the customer; what made the plumber stand out and appear to be “a real pro,” was the manner in which the plumber identified and addressed so many unspoken needs.

What needs do your client representatives have? Do they need to be respected? Of course they do. And do you demonstrate respect by failing to take yourself to the client representative’s office? No.

Most client representatives you deal with report to higher-ups and they want need to look good in the bosses’ eyes. Are you conferring with your client representative to provide guidance or ideas that “could make you a real hero with your bosses”?

Are you taking the client representative to lunch even when a project is not ongoing, to address your client representative’s need to be appreciated? If you’re not, is your failure to do so interpreted as aloofness? Do your client representatives think, “I guess I’m not good enough to be taken to lunch”? And do you flatter your client representative by asking for help; e.g., “Who else do you know that could use our services? You’re probably known by more people than anyone else I’ve ever met. I really envy you your Rolodex.”

Have you taken the time to learn more about the client representative’s company and the industry it’s in? Do you take the time to record the names of the client representative’s family members? Make notes about events important in the client representative’s life? special interests? Have you done anything to fulfill what many say is the most important need of all, to “make me feel important”?

Of course, you have ten million reasons why you cannot do these simple little things that can make all the difference. But, until you “just do it,” the situation will worsen. You’ll be just another faceless so-called professional who sends an e-mail, submits a bid, does the work, and then goes home, complaining all the time that “I’m just a commodity.”

You owe more to yourself. You owe more to your profession.

Wed, 28 Oct 2009 19:51:00 +0000

Q: Why Is It That Engineered Construction beneath the Surface of the Earth Remains the Number-One Source of Claims? A: Duh.

“Dance of the Goony Birds” is how ASFE Past President Jerome C. “Jerry” Neyer, P.E. (NTH Consultants, Ltd.) describes the gyrations project participants engage in when serious problems arise and disputes and claims seem likely. Chances are you’ve seen the dance, where most project participants shake their heads in disbelief and despair, point their fingers at everyone else, and yell at the top of their voices, “It wasn’t me.” Then, just to spice things up a bit, each brings in a lawyer and an expert who do the exact same thing, but at much higher hourly rates.

Face facts: Any project problem tends to eventually involve all or almost all project participants, meaning that all project participants have a vested interest in preventing problems to begin with, and addressing those that arise while they are still molehills.

Here’s another fact: The leading cause of construction-industry disputes is problems associated with engineered construction beneath the surface of the earth. Subsurface information that’s inadequate for effective bidding. Unanticipated conditions. Delays. Unpredicted settlement. Floor-slab heaves and cracking. Pavement failures. Retaining-wall bulges and collapses. And so on. As such, all project participants – the owner, the prime design professional, other members of the design team, the contractor, and a number of subcontractors – all have or should have a particular interest in keeping subsurface problems to a minimum. But they sure use some odd techniques to demonstrate that vested interest. Examples:

  • Recommend opening the geoprofessional “competition” to all “real” geoprofessional in the area (i.e., firms and individuals listed in the Yellow Pages).
  • Suggest that “it’s a waste to pay those rates, because any firm can do a good job” when someone intelligent suggests that it may be wise to select a well-known geoprofessional firm based on competence and experience.
  • Even though countless case histories demonstrate that project risk is inversely proportional to project size and complexity, take every available shortcut when the project is small and/or lacks complexity.
  • In every stage of the project’s geoprofessional aspects, recognize that a dollar saved early on could easily grow to $1.25 in two or three years; i.e., only sissies go for the long-term cost savings derived from quality.
  • Base selection of the geoprofessional on the fee to be charged, knowing that this encourages all participants to propose the cheapest service they can live with, while eliminating from competition those that know they cannot outbid firms that have no assets (and usually no worthwhile insurance) and so don’t worry about getting sued.
  • Limit the bidding only to firms that have insurance, not realizing that the policy they have in place at the time they submit their bid will not be the policy (if any) that will respond when a problem occurs.
  • Do not engage in mutual service-scope development (it takes so long, anyway), and instead have each firm dream up its own scope to bid on, or have people who are not geoprofessionals (but who arrogantly believe they somehow know so much more than geoprofessionals) create a scope that “levels the playing field.”
  • No matter how the scope gets put together, cheapen it up before implementing it in order to save a few bucks, and/or do not spend anything extra when conditions suggest that more exploration, testing, or analysis is really, really needed.
  • Always ask geoprofessionals for a “value engineered” approach in order to avoid paying the higher cost of implementing better recommendations. (Remember to whine, “This is just way more than we thought it would be.”)
  • Do not retain geoprofessionals to review others’ interpretation of the geoprofessional findings and recommendations, because the others can get it right (their lack of geoprofessional competence and insurance company data notwithstanding) and, besides, it’s just anther ploy that geoprofessionals apply so they can charge more.
  • Do not retain the geoprofessional of record to be on site during excavation, because – even though the geoprofessional knows more about the project’s subsurface conditions than anyone else – some other firm can do it cheaper (in part because their field representatives won’t waste time calling the geoprofessional of record when they are confused by what they see, because the geoprofessional of record is a competitor).
  • Retain the cheapest firm available to perform construction materials engineering and testing (CoMET) services, because they all claim to meet the same standards, all claim to have the same quality employees, the same quality equipment, and so on.
  • Don’t bother having the CoMET personnel on site full time. The contractors can be trusted to meet all the specs.
  • Don’t ask the geoprofessional to prequalify contractors. Bidding works great (even though, in the recorded history of mankind, the price bid has almost never been the price actually paid).
  • And no matter what, treat geoprofessionals like the bastard children of the design team or, better yet, don’t include them on the team at all, because, after all, what do they know

You’re in a position to inform owners and design professionals about some simple steps they can take to sit out the next Dance of the Goony Birds. Remind them that the dance takes a long time, is never much fun, and the cover charge can be a real killer.

Tue, 30 Jun 2009 17:24:00 +0000

A client is a client is a client. Not so.
“I’m having lunch with a client.” That’s not true and you need to understand why. It matters.

A client is almost invariably an entity: a corporation, a jurisdiction, an institution of some sort. The person with whom you’ll be dining is not the client, but rather a representative of the client. So what does that matter? It matters in the sense that you need to remind yourself about where the client representative fits into the client organization, and how the individual’s role within the organization affects you.

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that the client representative with whom you deal is fairly low in the pecking order. The individual asks, “So when will your report be ready?”

It’s important for the client representative to know that, because your report has to be on hand for the next step to commence, and the next step will be in the hands of the client representative’s boss. The boss, in turn, knows about how long it will take her to implement her package of responsibilities, so she can let her boss know about when he’ll have to start getting his portion of the assignment going, which will give his boss a good feel for when the project will be in “high gear.”

So, when will the report be ready? “In eight to ten weeks,” you say, knowing full well that the client representative hears eight and you mean ten, but only if everything goes smoothly, which is unlikely.

Why not just tell the truth up front? “I don’t want to disappoint the client,” is a response I sometimes hear, and I don’t know how true that really is. But I’m not about to contest it, especially because I don’t have to: No matter why geotechnical engineers do it (and they're not alone in this), they shouldn’t. It’s a sure way to lose client representatives and, of course, clients. It can also make people sore enough to become upset – and litigious – over even the smallest problem.

When you deliver your report in, say, 11 weeks, your client representative will already have gone to his boss to tell him the bad news, forcing his boss to tell her boss, and so on up the food chain, until there’s a whale of a lot of frustration and anger at the top. If the client consisted of just one person, maybe it wouldn’t matter that much. But the client consists of many people, and any number of them want to please those above them. In fact, the most important responsibility most project managers need to fulfill is to make the client representatives they deal with heroic in their respective client organizations. You can do that by referring to client representatives as who they really are: client representatives. Every time you force yourself to say “client representative” instead of “client” – doing it is awkward at first – you remind your self that you have a duty to your client representatives, to help them succeed in their organizations. That may just be enough to inspire you to engage in expectations management, a technique every good automobile mechanic knows inside and out. By allowing yourself enough time, you can almost always deliver on or ahead of schedule. And by quoting appropriate fees and expenses, you can almost always deliver on or below budget. Doing that makes your client representative heroic, which makes you a hero to your client representative… putting you well on your way to helping your firm develop a client for life.

Fri, 01 Jun 2007 15:20:00 +0000