How To Find The Right Engineering Consultant
There are times you need additional insight with a project or problem. If you have not sought out or worked with an Engineering Consultant before, the thought of finding the right one can be a little daunting. After all, you will rely deeply on their skills and judgment long after the contract is complete.
Your company has a unique character, and so do the things you are seeking help with. You have specific needs — or you wouldn’t be seeking an engineering consultant in the first place. But how do you know which engineer will “get it” for your project? How do you protect your intellectual property and other proprietary information while letting someone from the outside work with it?
Let’s look at these questions and many more as we talk about how to find and hire the right Engineering Consultant.
How To Start Looking?
Before we start searching, let’s answer some questions to guide us. The Engineering Consultant to best help must fit your needs. Define these, and you’ve narrowed your search significantly.
What is the Field of Expertise?
Perhaps it’s Mechanical Engineering or Electrical Engineering, but let’s be more specific. Mechanical Engineering includes Aerodynamics, Hydraulics, Structural, Failures, Mechanisms, and a bunch more. Seeing the need is one thing — you already know that — but define it more exactly. For example: Our machine keeps destroying bearings causing production shutdowns. We need someone who understands rotating machinery and specifically bearings, shafts, loads, etc.. That’s not just any Mechanical Engineer. Likewise in the fields of Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Construction, etc.. The first thing is to be specific about the exact needs.
Here’s a good example of Mechanical Analysis as a Forensic Study to understand what went wrong to cause a terrible crash.
Do You Require Certifications?
If you work in a regulated industry, it’s probably best to have a consulting engineer with credentials in that field. For instance, issues with a building structure require consultants with Civil Engineering, and specifically in the type of structure you’re working on. They need training, and probably certifications with your specific structure type.
Be careful that you don’t pigeon hole the specifics too much, however. You might miss out on valuable cross pollination of ideas. Certainly if your industry requires certain certifications, look for those. Yet, not all work requires a certification. For example, there are many times Synthesis has consulted in an industry without certifications. In these cases, we work under the certified engineers of the company — they just need our eyes and experience from the outside to find solutions. Obviously the work is limited in such cases, and solutions pass through their approval.
Regardless, know what certifications and requirements are in your specific area of industry.
Is a Professional Engineer’s Stamp Needed?
A Professional Engineer’s Stamp is a special kind of certification. It basically means the engineer has passed a test of general proficiency. (Which may, or may not be applicable to your needs.) There are certain areas in Engineering that require a Professional Engineer’s “Stamp”. This basically means approval. Usually these are in areas of public safety — like buildings, bridges, roads, boilers, chemical transport, etc. If your project fits one of these areas, make sure you find a Professional Engineer with the required status.
For more about Stamps, please read our Frequently Asked Question about Engineering Certifications for design.
What do you need from an Engineering Consultant?
Do you need guidance? Or design? Or development? Perhaps you have a failure to sort out? Is it a repeating issue? Or a one time problem? Finding the right Consulting Engineer must include knowing what you want the outcome of the engagement to include. Make sure you articulate that when planning to hire. Also, make sure to express that when you contact potential Consulting Engineers.
Do You Need The Consultant At Your Place Of Business?
This might seem like a stupid question, but it’s important in guiding your search. The greatest Consultant ever might live in Brazil, but if you need him at your facility, that takes time and additional resources. If the consultation can be handled via Skype, then location doesn’t matter so much. That said, Skype (and other such technologies), are sometimes unreasonable for the consulting engineer simply because they often need to see much more than what is presented by a camera. Just something to think about.
There may be other requirements unique to your needs as well. The key here is to first understand what your needs really are. That will make the search for the right consultant much easier.
Seeking an Engineering Consultant
After you know the scope (above), then next step in choosing the right Consulting Engineer is the search. You can start with a Google, but you’ll likely get Employment Services, or Agencies, listings from Up Work, or Colleges, or other garbage. That’s one of the big issues with SEO — the big bucks dominate the first pages, even if they are mostly irrelevant. However, there are two exceptions:
- Ads. Yes, we hate ads too, but in some cases, that’s the only way the small guys can get space in the search. Google doesn’t show the best consultants at the top, they reward web budgets. That said, Cream-of-the-crop Engineering Consultants usually don’t spend vast time or money on elaborate websites or SEO. That makes Ads applicable for these searches.
- Local Search results. Google often includes a local bit with a map and links. Those local bits are often the gems — because they’re local, and because they are not competing the same way for Google’s page. Unfortunately, they show irrelevant companies too, but that is easier to sift.
In searches, be specific. Use answers to the questions above to drill deeper. Think of relevant search words based on your most important needs, then combine a few and see what you get. Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, and others will provide similar results.
Make a list of potentials by visiting their websites. If you see a few come up repeatedly with various search terms, then those might be the first to call.
The Next Step Is Connect
Now you have a list of potential consultants, it’s time to make some calls or use the Contact pages.
Ask your questions, and note the answers. Remember, you’re seeking to find those that are the right fit. Pay attention to the ‘feel’ you have as well. If it feels like you’re being manipulated or brushed off, then note that. It might mean something or it might not. Pay attention to how knowledgeable they seem with respect to your situation. Does it sound like “Old Hat”?, Or more like “Well, I’ll Try It”?
Be super careful of those that promise it all. We use the Triangle of Achievable Engineering as one tool for discussion to balance conflicting expectations. In what ways does your potential engineering consultant help you find the best balance?
The Onboarding Process
After choosing a potential Engineering Consultant, the next step is starting the work. We call the starting process “Onboarding”, and it includes negotiation of fees, signing of NDA’s (if needed), and setting expectations. See more on NDA’s below.
Another big piece is taking time to bring the consultant up to speed — not only about the situation, and associated history, but also about your company. Obviously, the work you need will dictate much of the information, but take time to bring them into the project. You’ve been working on it for a while, and though they are expert in the field, your details are different.
A big mistake of many Engineering Consultants is that of jumping in too fast. It’s natural to want to swoop in and show what a genius you are, but ego just gets in the way of solutions. If your consultant jumps right into the problem without seeking background, you might think about firing them.
As the customer, if you want a good solution from the consultant, make sure they have all the information. Take time and allow the Consultant to digest.
Non-Disclosure Agreements, Acknowledging IP
If what you are doing involves Intellectual Property — like proprietary processes, trade secrets, not yet patented ideas — then express that to your consulting engineer. Documents like an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) are very common. (If you need one, you’re welcome to download ours.) Such a document basically reminds all parties to “respect each others ideas”.
The goal of an NDA is to identify that intellectual property is involved, and stress the importance of keeping it under wraps. Technically, the NDA also gives a legal means for rectifying problems should they arise, but in my experience that is super rare — like almost never. Signing the NDA is a commitment to privacy with respect to IP, and that is usually enough.
NDA’s don’t have to be long. I think some attorneys charge by the word, but that makes digesting them unpleasant. More words don’t make it more meaningful, or provide more threat to keep secrecy. The parties either have integrity to honor their word, or they don’t. More words won’t change that.
Finally, make sure the NDA’s are ‘mutual’. In other words, make sure they protect both sides. It doesn’t help to muzzle the engineering consultant.
The NDA is a tool, not a millstone.
Engineering Consultant Contacts
How much of a contract should you have with a Consulting Engineer? Much of this depends on the processes and procedures of your company. Many companies, especially larger ones, require their standard Consulting contract. If that fits your paradigm, check with your HR department.
Other companies don’t have such an agreement. Is a contract necessary?
The purpose of a Contract.
In general, a contract will define what each party will do. For the engineering consultant, this is usually pretty straightforward, but it should still be in writing. That said, often other documents — rather than a contract — fill the need. For instance, a quote outlining what to do, and which party will do it fills the need. A specification, in the case of product development, also very much fills that need.
So, is the Engineering Consulting Contract really necessary? If not a contract, use something. It’s best to have roles and deliverables well defined, but don’t let the legal aspects of a ‘Contract’ undermine the project.
Good Luck In Your Engineering Consultant Searches!
The next step is knowing how to make your experience with the Engineering Consultant a success. Stay tuned.