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Re: Am I Just Too Detailed Here?

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Welcome to the club!  I don't think you're alone and I don't think there's any real solution to this, except as allowed by market conditions.  You'll learn from your experiences and your future estimates will presumably be closer to the mark.  At the same time there will *always* be pressure to be "good, fast & cheap" when in fact only any 2 of those are possible at any one time, IMHO.  If there's a shortage of engineers in your area who are willing to do such work you'll have better luck getting a reasonable fee.  If there are a lot of "bottom feeders" who are willing to work quick and dirty then it'll be a struggle.  In the end, considering the Big Picture, I believe that people get what they're willing to pay for.  If they want their work done by a moonlighting, barely licensed person they can get it done cheaper.  If they prefer a better job, done by an experienced and competent engineer (such as you and me :), then it will cost a little more.  In my experience clients are all over the range, from those desiring the cheapest, like they search for the best price for a car or a hamburger, to those who recognize that getting more/better costs a little more.  The vast majority are somewhere in the middle--they don't want to throw their money away but they'd still like to get what they see as a proper job.  Unfortunately I don't think people realize that there is a range of competency in engineering, as in any endeavor.  They think all they need is a "stamp" and everything's fine.  We all know better. 

To address the question in your subject line:  In wood construction one can hardy get "too detailed."  Details cost money (to design and draw) and thus we have to try to hit the happy medium where we've provided what's needed, but not too much more, because nobody wants to pay for those additional details.

My bottom line is that I try to provide a high-quality, professional service, not cutting corners while still trying to be efficient.  But there are still cases where something requires a lot more work than I anticipated.  Some clients are understanding and some are not.  I sometimes fall into the trap of doing some additional work/details because "it's better for the project/client" when in fact many clients see only the additional cost, not the additional benefit. 


Ralph Hueston Kratz
Structural Engineer

Fax 510-215-2430

724 McLaughlin Street
Richmond CA 94805-1402 USA

In a message dated 11/22/04 2:28:25 PM, bill(--nospam--at) writes:

In the last couple of months I've had four jobs with two clients--two
custom homes and a sort of architectural sign structure (the archy calls
it an "Icon") for a commercial client of his.

In each case, the amount of time it took to complete ended up being
about three to four times as much as I I originally suggested it would
take. Needless to say, this has caused friction with my client
and--quite possibly--a determination on their part not to use me again.

Adding insult to injury, of course, I'm really not getting paid for the

This is my fault initially, of course, because I just "messed up" on the
amount of time it was going to take to do these jobs.

The "Icon" structure is easy to explain, because it was such a "one-off"
kind of thing, pretty unique. I'm not likely to do anything much like it
again. Besides being cold-formed steel--which nearly always in my
experience needs more "attention to detail," I had to come up with a
conceptual approach that would work for resisting lateral loads, which
took a few turns down blind alleys before I finally hit on what to do.
But that doesn't save the project from being "a mess" in my client's
eyes. I guess he promised it to his client in a short time, that didn't
work out and I'm at fault.

The three custom homes were something else again. I have not until this
time done any residential work to the degree that this required. Always
before it was an expansion of an existing home, and of course a whole
lot of foundations. Had the houses been "typical" that would have
helped, but they tended to have a lot of "wide-open spaces" and required
some ingenuity on my part to come up with a sufficient structural system.

I enjoyed the challenge, but I took W-A-A-A-Y too long to finish, and
once again I think this guy is "not happy" the extent that he probably
won't call on me again.

I guess I'm not really looking for an answer to the rhetorical question
"what did I do wrong?" I'm just looking for some similar experiences so
I don't have to feel so crummy about it. As it is, I realize that part
of my problem is seeing what can happen to a structural engineer when he
doesn't dot all "i"'s and cap all "t"'s, from my legal work. The thought
of being sued in future because I messed up trying to "hurry up" is
disquieting, to say the least.