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  • Selection of a Professional Engineer

    (Based on the Association of Professional Engineers Ontario "Guideline for the Selection of Engineering Services" - PDF Icon)


    The selection of an engineering consultant is one of the most significant decisions leading to the successful completion of a project. On any project, the client's and consultant's staff should work together in a professional manner based on mutual trust, understanding, and respect. This ensures a good working relationship to the betterment of the project. The interests of both the client and the engineering profession will be best served by this approach.

    In selecting an engineering consultant the following factors should be considered:

    • ability

    • experience on similar type projects

    • personnel available for the project

    • reputation

    • location and/or local knowledge

    Johnson Engineering Consultants has provided engineering services for over 40 years. In that time, we have satisfied clients in a wide variety of projects.

    A client may select an engineering consultant by:

    • direct appointment, or

    • a formal selection procedure.

    If the client knows an engineering consultant well suited to the project, a direct appointment is the most efficient manner of selection.

    A formal selection procedure may be required for projects unique to the client. It is also useful when the client is not familiar with a suitable consultant or needs additional information to make a decision. In this case the procedure can be supported by a consultant engaged to assist him. A formal procedure involving proposals and interviews is costly both to the consultant and their prospective clients. The cost ultimately has to be borne by both the consultant and the client. Thus, the formal procedure should be applied only in cases where the client requires additional information or data to make a sound decision and the project is large enough to justify the additional management cost.

    A client can, and does, often negotiate contracts separately for the various divisions of engineering services. Although it is not necessary that all divisions of service be carried out by the same engineer, it is often beneficial to the project to have the majority of these services carried out by, or under the coordination of, a single engineering firm.

    Johnson Engineering Consultants offers a wide range of engineering services - allowing for one-stop shopping on many projects.

    Scope of Proposed Work

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    When engaging an engineer, clients should describe the work to be done and try to ensure that the engineer understands the requirements. Engineers assume responsibility for performing tasks in a competent manner, so that they meet the agreed-upon project objectives, technical requirements and regulations. In the interests of both engineers and clients, the details of the services to be performed should be set out in a formal agreement.

    Before initiating the process for selecting an engineer, the client should define the scope and objectives of the proposed work. This is particularly necessary if the client will be evaluating proposals from several engineers. The description of the scope should include a general description of the work's nature and all other factors pertinent to the engineering services to be provided. Where the scope of work is well defined, the engineer is better able to provide an accurate estimate of the cost of services.

    It is important to list all the categories of work that an Engineer is likely to be called upon to perform, and also those items that are considered to be outside the scope of the contract.

    Items which require particular attention in drafting, especially on design and construction projects include:

    • preparation of tender documents for sequential bidding;

    • changes to drawings to suit contract changes arising from events outside the control of the Engineer;

    • the degree to which the Engineer is involved in obtaining approvals from authorities having jurisdiction;

    • preparation of itemized lists of construction materials, including reinforcing schedules;

    • the extent of field services to be provided during construction;

    For certain work, the client may be unable to prepare a proper description of the scope of work. In these cases, the services of an experienced engineer familiar with the particular engineering field should be retained.


    Fee Arrangements

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    In independent practice, there is a tendency for some clients to seek professional services through competitive procedures. Although fees are a consideration they should not be considered of prime importance in the selection process. The Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) recommends that selection of an engineer should not be based on a tendering procedure.

    With professional services there are ultimately only two elements that clients are retaining, i.e. the engineers' knowledge and time. An engineer applies professional skills and reasoning to a unique set of conditions for each project. Shortchanging on a professional engineering fee will result in the substitution of less skilled engineers or less time put into the assignment.

    The selection on the basis of price rather than ability does not ensure the best or most economical overall engineering solution. In addition, since price selection promotes a reduction in services, this may lead to an adversarial relationship between the client and consultant to the detriment of the project.

    Percentage Of Construction Cost Fee Basis

    This method for determining fees may be used for projects where the engineering has been established over many similar projects, and where the scope of work is very well defined.

    But experience has shown that it is difficult to accurately predict engineering costs as a percentage of actual construction costs. For this reason, this fee basis should be applied only if a comprehensive outline of the project is agreed to by both the client and the engineer.

    Fixed Fee Basis

    This method is applicable only to projects and divisions of services where the scope of work is clearly defined and where construction, if applicable, will be under known conditions. Fixed fees for assignments should be negotiated following preparation of a comprehensive estimate of the engineering person hours and cost. If the scope of the work and construction schedule can only be defined in terms of targets and objectives, then the fee developed should only be referred to as an engineering budget, until more specific information is developed.

    A detailed agreement, defining the services to be provided, together with all categories of cost included in the fixed fee, is essential. The agreement should cover schedule, time limits, inflation, and such other identifiable items as reimbursable expenses. The agreement should be compensated for, after the fixed fee has been established.

    Time-Based Fee Basis

    This method of determining fees should be used where the scope of work is not fully defined, or where the amount of time required on specific stages of a project is unknown. Time-based fees enable costing of work actually done, and billing at the time work is performed.

    Fees are calculated by multiplying the number of hours each member of staff expends on a project by the respective hourly billing rates and then adding the reimbursable expenses.

    All time expended on the assignment, whether in the engineer's office, at the client's premises, or elsewhere, and including travel time, is chargeable. This also includes clerical staff engaged in the preparation of documents such as reports and specifications.

    In order to provide data for the calculation of fees on a time basis, the engineer must keep a detailed record of the hours worked by the engineer's staff employed on the project.

    We at Johnson Engineering Consultants believe that this fee arrangement is most fair to both JEC and the client in most cases. The required number of working hours is often difficult to determine in advance when projects require approval through government authorities and so engineering firms "pad" their quotes to account for uncertainties.
    Although we will give fixed fee quotes if asked, we feel that it is most beneficial to the client to provide an estimate for budgeting purposes and proceed with work based on a time based fee arrangement. In this situation, if the project proceeds without any problems, our client will benefit.

    Retainers

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    For some projects, a retainer fee may be required and may not be refundable. The retainer establishes the minimum payment under the contract, and is payable upon execution of the agreement between the client and the engineer.

    Johnson Engineering Consultants will refund any amounts on retainer that are not used by our clients.

    Why Are Agreements Needed?

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    An Engineering Agreement is vital to establishing and retaining an effective working relationship between the Client and Engineer. In a very basic sense, the agreement defines the scope of the services to be provided, and the compensation to which the Engineer is entitled.

    However, this is an over-simplification. Perhaps a deeper understanding of the significance of having good engineering agreements can be had by examining some of the common causes leading to poor relationships between Clients and Engineers. Some common causes are:

    • Misunderstandings as to the scope of the work expected of the Engineer, or the information to be provided to the Engineer by the Client;

    • Misunderstandings in respect to the basis and magnitude of fees;

    • Frequent changes in personnel, both by the Client and the Engineer. Contact personnel can be designated in an Agreement.

    Such an agreement is the formalization of a relationship which exists between a Client and an Engineer -- a relationship which must be built to a large extent on mutual confidence and trust. Regardless of the contents of specific engineering agreements with Clients, the Professional Engineer, in carrying out his work, is already bound in his duty to the public, to his fellow Engineers, and to his Clients, by virtue of the provisions of the Professional Engineers Act, Regulations, Code of Ethics, and By-Laws which are in force at the time the services are performed. He is further guided, in most instances, by the provisions of the various Performance Standards of the Association which are published from time to time and which are available to all members.

    An Agreement should set out what each party expects of the other. Although this concept may be simple, it has been shown in practice that a lack of use of engineering agreements, or inappropriate use of agreements, has been a major source of poor relationships between Engineers and Clients resulting in difficulty for both Clients and Engineers over the years. It is expected that both parties will ensure that the Client/Engineer agreements which they enter into are fair, just and professional ethical.

    Each engineering project is unique. Thus the agreement for engineering services to complete the project cannot be completely standardized.

    Johnson Engineering Consultants will prepare an agreement that can be customized to suit you and your project.

    Change Orders

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    In the performance of professional services before and after construction, the application of professional judgment is required. The preparation of instruments of service does not mean that all details of a completed project will be covered. In addition, clients often change their determination of their budget or the desired scope and quality of the project during the construction phase. Site conditions or external influences, such as code changes or government regulations, may also result in a needed modification.

    The use of change orders is a basic element of the design and construction process in Canada. While every client and design professional wants plans and specifications to be carefully co-ordinated and unambiguous, the reality of the situation is that it is not cost-effective for a client to pay a design professional for the level of service necessary to achieve a "perfect" set of instruments of service; and no matter how extensive design services may be, certain aspects of the design will require modifications to reflect conditions at the construction site. Construction is not manufacturing; there is no ability to refine the project through prototypes, destructive testing and redesign. Reasonable practice involves a certain level of flexibility in the development of a project as it moves from final design through the construction process so that change will improve the outcome.

    Johnson Engineering Consultants will identify any need for a change order as quickly as possible and the actions will be carried out in a timely manner to prevent delay to the project.
    Johnson Engineering Consultants will make decisions with a mind towards increasing the value of the project to our client.

    Confidential Information

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    Unreserved communication between practitioner, clients or employers is essential to effective delivery of professional services.

    Section 77(3) of the Regulations for the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario covers confidentiality, making it clear that professional engineers should not divulge any confidential information to third parties unless expressly or implicitly authorized by the client or employer, or are required by law to do so, pursuant to other such legislation as the Environmental Protection Act. Unreserved communication between practitioner, clients or employers is essential to effective delivery of professional services. Clients/employers must feel completely secure and is entitled to assume this to be the case, without making any request as to the maintenance of confidentiality. Clients/ employers must feel completely secure and is entitled to assume this to be the case, without making any request as to the maintenance of confidentiality. Clients/employers are similarly entitled to assume that the duty of confidentiality will survive the professional commission that required it, and continue indefinitely after the termination of contracts or relationships.

    Professional engineers are expected to avoid the disclosure of such information and to avoid the use thereof for the benefit of themselves or a third party, or to clients' or engineers' disadvantage. Engineers are expected to decline employment or a commission that would require such disclosures.

    Johnson Engineering Consultants will provide confidentiality of private information so that our clients can feel completely secure. In addition, that confidentiality will continue indefinitely after the termination of contracts or relationships.

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    Last Modified: Tuesday July 12, 2005
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