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Why Early Estimates in Civil Engineering Can Be Misleading

January 19, 2024 Civil Bites 4 Comments

Estimates aside, we’ve all been there: a shiny new project, brimming with potential, rolls in. The drawings are slick, the specs sound promising, and everyone’s eager to grab the proverbial brass ring.

But before you crack open the champagne, civil engineers, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Early estimates based solely on drawings at the concept or feasibility design stage can be seriously misleading.

Cost Planning; Three-Point Estimation

Here’s the harsh truth: those big-ticket items, the hidden complexities that can make or break a project’s budget and timeline, are often missing from those early-stage plans. We’re talking about:

  • Unexpected subsurface surprises: Geotechnical reports haven’t been drilled, so the seemingly stable ground could harbour lurking sinkholes or hidden bedrock. Boom, there goes your foundation budget.
  • The infrastructure tango: Drawings rarely show the intricate dance between your project and existing utilities. Imagine rerouting a major gas line—ouch!
  • Permits and approvals purgatory: Zoning regulations, environmental impact assessments, and historical preservation concerns can add months (and millions) to your timeline. Trust me, the permit gods are fickle.
Cost Planning
Cost Planning

Now, I’m not saying early-cost plans are useless. They provide a ballpark figure and a starting point for discussion. But treating them as gospel can lead to a nasty case of sticker shock down the line, eroding trust and putting projects at risk.

So, what can we do? Here’s my recipe for responsible early-stage estimating:

  • Transparency is key: Flag the limitations of your estimate upfront. Be clear about what’s included (and what’s not) and emphasise the need for further investigations before locking in numbers.
  • Expect the unexpected: Build in a contingency buffer; think of it as an “oh crap” fund for those hidden nasties.
  • Embrace collaboration: Get your geotechnicians, planners, and permit experts involved early. Their insights can prevent nasty surprises later.

Civil engineering is about building real things in the real world, not just lines on a page. Let’s treat our early estimates with the respect they deserve, as a starting point, not a finish line. By being upfront, transparent, and prepared for the unexpected, we can avoid the dangers of premature celebration and build projects that are not only successful but also survive the reality check.

Now, let’s hear from you! What are your experiences with early-stage estimates in civil engineering? Share your stories and tips in the comments below.


    February 1, 2024 REPLY

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    February 24, 2024 REPLY

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