on November 7th, 2007

Dear Colleagues

1. A response from last week’s blog suggested that I was denigrating women. It was unintentional and I apologise unreservedly.

2. Accountants are killjoys and engineers over-engineer

Most accountants are seen as misers and killjoys by engineers. They are seen to spoil the fun we engineers have in undertaking projects -they have an innate desire to measure and to ensure that we under spend on a project. On the other hand, accountants feel that we are obsessed with over-engineering and ignore costs. Rather than do battle we should try to optimize the strengths we each have in an effort to improve the project quality. A project must be environmentally sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, have engineering integrity and have long term financial benefit that recognizes risk. The point I would make is that accountants and engineers need to combine forces, with a focus on the overall vision of the project.

As we all know, engineering is intellectually demanding and is about constructing enormously positive things such as water purification plants in third world countries, supplying electricity consistently, building our streets, bridges and hospitals,  transporting us and our “things”, linking us all together, providing TV and entertainment and sending people into space. But we engineers, with these visions of creating and constructing, often forget to communicate this to our peers, the powers-that-be and the accountant. At times a project may be initially unprofitable when measured in purely financial terms. But long term the profits (both tangible and intangible) are often far in excess of what we had originally envisaged. But we need to communicate this to our financial peers – the accountant – to ensure they buy into the vision and support us in our hour of need – when the chips are down and the powers-that-be want to terminate or chop back.

The construction of the Sydney Opera house is a case in point. Initially, it was marred by enormous budget overruns and fights over the architecture and engineering. The engineering was futuristic and enormously challenging, but resulted in the architect being humiliated by the powers-that-be. However, over the years, no one could have imagined the tourist attraction it would become – an Australian icon. It is an enormously valuable asset and in pure financial terms it has generated far more than could ever have been envisaged all those years ago. Beyond this the intangible benefits have been even more significant and arguably far exceed any financial benefits. If this vision had been communicated more vigorously in the beginning, perhaps things may have progressed more smoothly. Perhaps.

In short we must have a vision of the project and make the accountant part of the project and the vision. Perhaps even  a philosopher on the board could help articulate the vision more clearly.

So what do we do about our next project:

• Keep the overall vision of the project in mind – all the time
• Work on the innate humanity within your engineering soul to make the vision tangible and significant
• Establish a close relationship with the accountant
• Ensure the accountant has a clear idea of the overall vision
• Communicate to him clearly and simply regarding engineering issues; whether it be the electrics/instrumentation or structural challenges
• Understand each other’s fears – we as engineers are traumatized when a structure or project fails – an enormous professional humiliation
• Understand the basics of costings and finance – terms such as NPV and risk should be second nature to you as an engineer

Obviously we are not God working on a project; but this gave me something to grin about:

God is not dead but alive and well and working on a much less ambitious project.

Yours in engineering learning


My heartfelt thanks to Kevin Delbridge, an accountant crème de la crème, who suggested the topic over a few glasses of ale

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