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Constructive Candor

The Added Value of Listening

canstockphoto11294394Land development is my passion. I and many of my peers chose civil engineering for a career because we wanted to do work we could be proud of, and land development gives us that feeling. We also recognize that land development adds value to our communities in a variety of ways, such as increased property tax rolls, a greater quantity of real estate inventory that appreciates over time, and the construction of public infrastructure via private investment. Land development is a noble undertaking because it adds value to the places where we live, work, and play.

Likewise, development consultants (civil engineers, surveyors, landscape architects, planners, etc.) should be focused on adding value for their clients. You’ve probably heard that mantra from many of the consultants you’ve worked with. But what does it mean? After spending the better part of three decades working in land development, I think I’ve figured it out. The best part is it’s very simple.

Adding value is all about listening.

Before proceeding, I’d like to acknowledge the obvious: developers and engineers don’t always understand each other. Sometimes it’s as if we live in different worlds. We engineers tend to be detail-oriented, which is something every developer should appreciate. However, we’re also prone to getting bogged down in the details and losing sight of the overall goal. Developers, on the other hand, are all about the end goal. Our work is a necessary step in achieving that goal, but to a developer it’s simply a means to an end. This paradigm isn’t good or bad - it just is, and we consultants need to understand our role in helping add value for our client in the process, beyond just providing a scope and fee.

This is why I believe adding value comes down to listening. Take the analogy of designing a car. In this example the developer wants to create a new car. Their car, not our car. It may be that they want to build a car just like some others they’ve built before, or it may be that they want to build a unique car that will outperform others they’ve built before. To really add value we must endeavor to understand why they want to create this new car so we can then design to help them achieve their goals. The car developer probably isn’t consumed with the structural engineering of the chassis, the blue prints for the engine, or the details of the wiring harness. They are, however, likely very interested in how it will look, how much it can carry, how fast it will go, and how much it will cost to complete.

My point is that I understand that much of our work as development consultants isn’t something you as a developer want to pay for in and of itself. We offer something developers need to realize their actual dreams. Our work needs to be correct, efficient, and timely. But we can’t focus solely on the plans and permits. Our industry’s goal should be to make the client more successful and to tailor our correct, efficient, and timely work to help the developer achieve his or her goals. First comes the mindset, then comes the details. That’s how a consultant can say they’ve added value.

What's been your experience - have your development consultants listened and tried to understand your goals, or have they simply set about generating a set of code-compliant plans? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dusica

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Topics: Land Development, Residential Land Development, Commercial/Industrial Land Development

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