Olsson Associates


Need an engineering consultant? We have some tips on choosing the right one for you

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Stacy Clouse, Client Services

No matter the size of your project, it’s important to you. Hiring an engineering design consultant for your project is not a one-size-fits-all thing. You want a firm that can do the job, and works well with your company. You’ve hired firms before. Some of them were amazing. Some of them were not so amazing.  Although there is no sure-fire formula to finding the perfect consultant, here are some guidelines to help you choose a consultant who will be a good fit for your project.

1. Capability

Make sure you don’t get a “yes, we could probably do that” type of answer. This could lead to many issues down the road and will cost you more money if you need to hire someone else to get the job done. Get an honest answer, and make sure the consultant provides you with examples of completed work that is similar to your project. Although no two projects are alike, you need assurance that the consultant can handle the job.

2. Experience

How long has the company been around? Longevity is a good indicator of a successful firm with experienced staff. You will also want to make sure the company has someone on staff with the expertise you need for your project. If you’re looking at a young firm, it might have someone who meets your needs – but, going back to capability, has that person (or the firm itself) successfully completed projects like yours?

3. References

Who are some of the consultant’s clients? Ask for a list of clients. When buying a product, many people look at what others say about the product before making the purchase. You want to see what kind of work the consultant did for other clients and whether they did a great job. Most firms showcase their prominent projects on their websites.

4. Cost vs. Quality

Going cheap can hurt you in the end. But, don’t confuse cost with a good consultant who can find cost-cutting measures through innovation.  

“Technology is becoming a growing presence in all aspects of the engineering profession,” said Justin Petersen, Olsson’s Traffic and Technology team leader. “In recent years, examples of this growth have been seen in intelligent transportation systems design, to benefit in operations and maintenance of roadways, to new design software that allows for 3-D modeling and GPS machine-controlled grading. It’s important that a consultant understands these technology trends in the industry and how they can be used to benefit the client’s bottom line.” 

5. Communication

How good is the consulting firm about project updates? Does it have a project management system in place that keeps the client informed about the project along the way? Do you want monthly or weekly updates? If a project’s scope changes in any way, do you want the project manager to contact you immediately before making any decisions? Be upfront with the consultant and clear about your expectations on how often you want to receive updates and whether you want a phone call or email.

6. Flexibility

Projects can change, and sometimes they evolve. Can the consultant accommodate changes in scope? If you foresee potential changes in your project, it’s best to be upfront and ask whether the consultant has the flexibility to handle changes. Ask what the procedure is when a project requires a small change or goes in a different direction.

“The client should be notified when out-of-scope work is identified and if that change impacts the budget and/or the schedule,” said Kerri Schuette, Olsson project management specialist. “Once the client has determined how he or she wants to proceed, the consultant will document the change and, if applicable, request a contract amendment.”

7. Compatibility

Does the consultant “get” you? Sometimes a consultant will have the capability to do the project but doesn’t seem to understand where you’re coming from. While a consulting firm might have its way of doing things, it should be able to effectively integrate what it does with what you want and how you want it.

8. Competition

A consulting firm should tell you what sets it apart from other firms. What are some services the firm provides that others don’t? Does it use the latest technology? If it’s a large firm, does it offer all of the services you need for you project under one roof? These can help you make an informed and thoughtful decision about which consulting firm is the best for your project.

Choosing the right engineering consultant takes time. You want to make sure you know what each firm brings to the table before making that choice, and it will benefit you in the future when you need to hire a consultant again for another project.

Stacy Clouse is a client services coordinator for Olsson. She conducts client interviews during project implementation and post-implementation to receive feedback, to identify and resolve issues, and to provide constructive and timely feedback to improve Olsson’s service delivery and overall client experience. You can reach Stacy at 402.458.5040 or

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