Dealing with Design Issues: A Data Engineers Perspective

Regardless of the size of a job, there are always issues. This does not mean that the entire job is a mess; it involves everything from simple questions to the occasional melt down in design sense. There are many ways to handle issues like these, read on for the best ideas I have used in my career.

Realizing a Level of Importance
Not every issue requires us to hit a red button and stop the presses. It is critical for the data engineer to get a firm hold on what is important and what does not matter. Here are some thoughts;

 • There may be a detail that does not make sense, or a parking lot slope that you just don’t like. We often build the model, note the area on the screen and send the job out to get started. Finish grading will not happen for months, no reason to hold up the job for something this small.
 • Obvious areas where an elevation was entered incorrectly. Back in the early days of data, (15 years ago) we would build the job exactly like the plans then propose a ton of changes. This caused two major problems, the engineer had to answer a ton of rhetorical questions and we had to rebuild the job which brought a new round of issues. Only experience can tell you what you can do and what needs to be questioned. Learn how to read a site and if it does not make sense, something needs to change.
 • The obvious areas are the easiest to deal with. When something makes no sense at all; it’s time to ask questions. In that instance, we leave the data in this area out until changes are made as to not hold up the entire job.

With these three levels of problems identified, let’s get answers and finish the job.

Asking Questions; the Right Way
Believe it or not, there is a better way to ask a question. A lawyer never asks a question when they do not know the answer. We follow the same logic. For this example, I have two areas of a job that need to be changed. It’s hard to step on someone’s toes without ruining their shoeshine. Here is what the exchange may look like;

Our Email to the engineer;
Dear brilliant engineer; working on this parking lot job, we found a couple issues that we help with.
 • Storm rim #4 is at 989.72 as shown on sheet U-2 of the plans dated 2013/04/25. It seems higher than the areas around it, if we keep the slope coming across the parking lot consistent, a rim elevation change to 989.27 would help this to drain better.
 • In the parking area on the extreme NW corner of the parking lot, the slope of the parking stalls is 7%. This seems a bit steep, please confirm if this is to stay or some updated elevation information is available. All other areas are approximately 2%, if we slope this area at that grade the landscape areas outside the curb seem to work also.

Our experience shows that in 95 of 100 engineers contacted in this manner were happy to get the email. Usually they responded with some version of “thanks for making us look good”. We have no ego when it comes to data. Our only concern is a job done well that performs to the expectation of the owner.

A few more points;
 • NEVER do this over the phone. Often times the engineer will call you and tell you your ideas are OK, or what changes they want. Use an excuse about your bad short term memory as the reason for an email. It will keep you out of trouble later. You may even want to call for a small issue, resist the temptation; write it down and press the send button.
 • Sometimes the engineer will still feel threatened and avoid you. Just go through the owner, (the person who wrote the check to the engineer) and results will follow.
 • Often times the job has gone through a ton of revisions and everyone is tired of working on it. This is the first time you have seen this and it’s still fresh and new to you. Understand the position of the engineer. Their profit decreases every time they touch this. You sending an email just adds to the frustration.

To Summarize;
Many jobs need questions answered. Make sure you know the plans and CAD well in order to avoid embarrassment. When you have done all that you can; put your issues in writing. Send the email to the engineer and make sure all involved know that changes are in the works.

Sometimes after we make adjustments to a job, the engineer will issue a new set of plans with those changes. Check them with your work for accuracy, as well as other things that may have been reworked.

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