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Engineers in the Americas need a relentless focus on efficiency, says ICE President

09 June 2022

Ed McCann highlighted process as key to the productivity challenge during an online Q&A.

Engineers in the Americas need a relentless focus on efficiency, says ICE President
Ed McCann said that productivity could be greater if a focus was placed on the design stage of projects. Image credit: Pexels/ThisIsEngineering

Engineers can achieve massive improvements in efficiency by optimising the planning process, ICE President Ed McCann has said on a two-part, virtual visit to the Americas.

In addresses to the USA, Canada, South & Central America, and the Caribbean, McCann encouraged engineers to “think process not project".

"Eliminate the root causes of error, and improve inadequate planning in design," he said.

Cutting carbon and error costs

McCann highlighted the costs of error and rework and said that efficiency improvements of 30-50% could be achieved everywhere.

He also said that minimising carbon costs for clients does not have to be expensive.

Engineers spend considerable time researching exotic materials and carbon capture, he said, when the solutions are simpler: highlighting lean design, lean construction and eliminating error.

‘At our worst we do very poorly’

The president also called for reducing the gulf between the best and worst performers in the industry:

“At our best, we do well. At our worst we do very poorly. Engineers must ‘drag up’ the worst performing projects.”

He encouraged members in the Americas to join the ICE’s new Productivity Community Advisory Board and engage with the institution’s new international policy focus to help close this gap.

Managing risk

Members challenged the president’s remarks in a Q&A, asking questions on design, risk management and organisational inefficiency in recruitment.

Answering a question on risk management, McCann highlighted the commercial pressure associated with re-design and optimisation.

Clients must understand that engineers need time to manage risk and uncertainty. Otherwise, engineers will overdesign, and prices will rise, he said.

‘Controversial commentary’

Phil Holliday, the ICE Americas regional chair, said: “Ed McCann’s presentation introduced some stimulating and controversial commentary and potential solutions to some of the current demands facing our industry, in particular climate challenge, sustainability, and resilience.

“These challenges are especially relevant to the Americas region.”

“It was good to hear Ed McCann’s reflections on productivity above and beyond what its traditional definition is,” said Julian Lineham, ICE Council member, Americas.

“And also to hear some possible solutions that can be considered in the Americas and elsewhere in the world to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

“As we try to tackle the issues of climate change, civil engineers have a critical role to play with infrastructure projects and it was good to have the opportunity for ICE Americas members to share their thoughts about their role in this future.”

Talking Productivity continues

The theme of improving productivity runs throughout McCann’s 2021/22 ICE presidency, which launched with his inaugural film, 'How to thrive in the 21st Century'.

He’s currently holding a series of informal Talking Productivity online Q&As with ICE members around the world. Previous events include Africa, Australasia, Americas East and West.

The Americas events are available to watch online and members can continue the discussions on productivity and other topics affecting civil engineering via the ICE Americas LinkedIn group.

  • Thomas Compton, international membership operations manager at ICE