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RE: Design fee guidelines

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Title: RE: Design fee guidelines

Bill Polhemus:

In the Transportation game (where we do the bridges), we wouldn't think of taking less than 6-7% for our part.

That's what you-all get for working for ******* architects!

This helps explain why, a few years ago, I received a job offer from an very eminent structural engineering firm in Oklahoma City, and was astounded to realize it was about 60% of the salary I was receiving at the time.

In fact, it was by far the lowest salary offer I'd ever received since becoming a P.E.

You all really ought to be ashamed.


Stan Caldwell responds:

Since no one agreed with my position on engineering compensation, I really have tried to avoid contributing to this thread on design fees.  However, Bill Polhemus has struck a nerve and now I just have to toss my thoughts into the mix.

There is no shame in working for architects!  The shame is in letting architects, developers, or government agencies dictate your fees.  As Bill Allen has ably written, if you let others dictate your fees, then you have no one to blame but yourselves!

It is true that bridges generally result in higher fees as a percentage of construction cost, but they do not necessarily result in higher fees in terms of total dollars per project.  Also, a steady diet of bridges will turn most engineers into pretty dull souls.  Building projects are necessary to keep an engineer excited and challenged by their work.  In a perfect world, structural engineers get a steady stream of both building projects and bridge projects.  The former keep the engineers happy, and the later keep him fed.

My approach to fees on any building or bridge project is to carefully and honestly estimate the effort that will be required to do the work, using a sharper pencil when a lot of information is available, and vice versa.  Hourly rates for myself and my staff are not negotiable.  Man-hours can be estimated based on sheet counts, or other means.  The best method is to keep accurate records of all hours spent on previous similar projects, and then honestly evaluate the perceived degree of similarity.  Essentially, this becomes a math (spreadsheet) exercise involving plenty of judgment.  The end result is the fee, and it is not influenced by whether the "client" is internal or external to the firm.  If the client is internal, they have an opportunity to complain, but that doesn't usually affect the fee.  If the client is external, they can always hire another firm.  Yes, we lose some external clients by using this approach, but not many good ones!

Best Regards,

Stan R. Caldwell, P.E.
Dallas, Texas