In the design realm, you must have the client’s trust before you can innovate

April 18, 2018 Mohit Soni

Here are 4 things to keep in mind when positioning your teams to do groundbreaking work

 

I’ve been working with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for more than 18 years. Recently, our team was recognized with very high marks on several projects we delivered for District 2 and 4.

While we love seeing high marks, what do these rankings mean? What did we do to achieve the high marks? And, more importantly, how does it relate to doing innovative engineering design work?

I was asked by my colleagues how our team achieved these high ratings—and my answer was simple: It’s about designing it right the first time. Understanding the client’s expectations is huge, and once you understand them, you really must commit to beating those expectations.

You need to show a commitment to exceeding expectations by demonstrating a knowledge of the latest changes to the design code, the client’s practices, policies, manuals, and incorporating all of that into your design. I’ve found that if I am proactive, heed lessons learned, and keep my ears to the ground with industry partners, it is the formula for earning the District’s trust—and that’s where the opportunity to innovate came about for my team.

 

A pile foundation on the US 17 Trout River Bridge in Florida shows deteriorating concrete and exposed rebar.

 

Design innovation is a risk—make sure it’s a calculated risk

For one of our recent District 2 projects—the US 17 over Trout River bridge rehabilitation—we capitalized on the trust we had built previously with the client.

How?

The team proposed the use of an innovative material under FDOT’s Transportation Innovation Initiative. During construction, we collaborated with the construction partner and determined _q_tweetable:Are your clients comfortable experimenting with you? Do they trust you?_q_that this was a perfect pilot opportunity to try Glass Fiber Reinforced Polymer (GFRP) reinforcement in the substructure (in select locations). In a typical project like this, the “status quo” is to use carbon steel to reinforce the bridge (with steel rebar). However, steel rebar gets corroded in a marine environment, making the life of these structures very short. Because of schedule constraints, we camped out in the client’s office and worked out all the specs and details to make it happen.

Of course, there was some risk on our part. Using new technology or materials can present challenges. But, in the end, it paid off for our team. We received a constructability grade of 4.8 out of 5.0 from FDOT District 2 in 2016.

My biggest takeaway: don’t be afraid to try new approaches. Oftentimes, newer practices or materials have a longer shelf life (resulting in saving taxpayer dollars) and it results in a project you will be proud of for decades to come. For those reasons, it’s well worth taking the risk. When you assist clients with embracing new technology, you both benefit by becoming seen as industry leaders.

 

After: An innovative approach to correcting this deficiency features glass fiber reinforced polymer in the US 17 Trout River Bridge foundation.

 

How can your team position for innovative work?

  • Be proactive by researching industry trends, approaches, technology, software, and materials.
  • Vetting the trends by using research, list pros and cons, and interview industry peers about lessons learned.
  • Provide constant communication with the client about any opportunities to capitalize on new information.
  • Take a calculated risk!

In the end, the biggest factor in leading the engineering industry with truly innovative design work is twofold: 1) Are your clients comfortable experimenting with you? 2) Do they trust you?

If you and your team exceed expectations on your regular projects, your chances of being asked to take on pilot projects increases exponentially. And when you take on new technology then you start setting standards for the future of the industry, which is something that motivates me to give my best every day.

 

About the Author

Mohit Soni

Mohit Soni brings more than 17 years of experience in designing and managing roadway, bridge, and other infrastructure-related projects throughout Florida. His areas of focus include designing concrete and steel bridges as well as other structures.

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