Canadian Consulting Engineer

Project reviews should be the norm

January 1, 2009
By Bronwen Parsons

Most engineers celebrated the Quebec government's decision last fall to hire consulting engineers and architects not based on fees, but based on their qualifications and experience (a practice known a...

Most engineers celebrated the Quebec government’s decision last fall to hire consulting engineers and architects not based on fees, but based on their qualifications and experience (a practice known as quality-based selection, or QBS).

But now engineering firms who work in the province’s public sector are facing a different aspect of the new procurement regime. At the end of every contract, the government client will review the consulting engineer’s work, and if they find it unsatisfactory, the government will have to issue a report. According to Johanne Desrochers, president of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Quebec (AICQ), based on draft documents she’s seen from Transports Qubec these post-project evaluations will be “quite comprehensive.” The public client apparently has 60 days after the end of the contract to issue a report. The consulting engineer will have 30 days after that to respond and oppose the charges, then the client will have another 30 days to reconsider

Since the post-project report will be consulted any time the engineering firm responds to any future government requests for proposals, the stakes are high. There will be a great deal of angst if a poor report seems imminent.

Perhaps foreseeing trouble ahead, Transports Qubec was planning to issue reports not only when a consultant has failed to live up to expectations –which is all that is required under the regulation –but also at the end of every project, whether transportation staff are happy with the work or not.

Hopefully the other Quebec ministries will also avoid issuing only negative reports. The reality is that it’s often personality clashes that cause projects to run into trouble. A solvable problem becomes an impassable mountain when personalities on each side don’t like or respect each other. So in light of the fact that subjectivity and emotion play a big role in determining if a project runs smoothly, it’s fairer to issue the evaluations in all cases. Also, the more comprehensive the evaluations have to be, the better. Otherwise it would be too easy for the clients to hastily fire off a sharply critical report that would paint the firm in such a poor light its future could be jeopardized. Then the lawsuits would fly and we’d find ourselves in a bigger mess than ever.

The AICQ supports the idea of post-project evaluations being done in every case. Desrochers says: “[Evaluations] should be part of every quality control program.”

And surely quality control is part of every firm’s practice. Don’t engineers already make it standard practice to go back and reassess their projects? They would do this both to see how well the building, bridge or plant is performing, and to talk with the client and iron out any issues with them. Painful as such reviews might be, without them how do we learn from our mistakes?

It’s important to remember that the new procurement policies came about in Quebec as a direct result of the Laval overpass collapse in 2006. The subsequent Johnson Commission’s recommendations made it clear they thought consulting engineers need to stay on top of things, and that the quality of work needs to be assured.


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