Project engineers possess a wealth of good ideas and creative solutions, but too often these ideas are just not able to carry the day inside the bureaucracy of large capital projects. Project executives also understand that entrepreneurial and creative engineers can be their best allies in delivering quality, cost-efficient, timely new builds. So what is holding these engineers back?
Some of the most common barriers are the unintended consequences of well-intentioned efforts to mitigate risk:
- A sense that blanket design philosophies, technical standards, and previous designs cannot be questioned. While common standards across companies and industries foster consistency, they can blind stakeholders to potential breakthroughs — unless a culture of healthy challenging and questioning is encouraged.
- Removing responsibility for key technical decisions from the project team. Most organizations that undertake capital projects centralize the ultimate arbiters of technical design decisions (the very best subject-matter experts and engineers) in order to leverage economies of scale and achieve consistency. This can often mean that the most talented engineers have no skin in the game on any single project (except to ensure there are no major technical shortcomings) and develop a bias toward conservatism.
- An inability to easily determine the value of ideas. The rigmarole required to financially model most projects can make evaluating ideas extremely difficult for engineers, so they often assume that any deviation will produce nominal (or negative) value.
- A preoccupation with benchmarking against other projects. Comparing project costs can create a false ceiling by inherently casting doubt on innovative ideas that create value beyond the benchmark.
- Missing the forest for the trees. In managing the tremendous volume and complexity of work required to develop and build a large capital project, the notion of creating value is often lost in the flurry of activity to complete engineering deliverables.