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If you were about to embark on a complex building project, then you would start by consulting a construction engineer - not a building site tradesman. It is no different for complex software projects - you should consult a software engineer - not a coder.


Simple beginnings

You are homeless. One day you inherit an acre of land. You employ a joiner to build you a garden shed to make your life more comfortable

Later you want to develop your shed into a small, single-storey granny flat with more features. You think about consulting a construction engineer, but since your builder has many years of experience, you decide to cut costs and skip the design and engineering stage. The builder decides that your shed's framework is sound enough to support your ideas for development, as long as a few minor adjustments are made to eliminate the risk of hazards

You decide to go ahead, but already you are beginning to realise that a simple building could quickly become a complex building with many more points of failure.

Onwards and upwards - your friends are impressed

Over the following few months, your building team develops your flat until it looks and feels more like a single-storey house. You think they've done an amazing job because it is very cosy and comfortable, and the facade looks very nice. Everything works fine - there are no leaks, no plumbing or electrical problems, and the features are more than adequate for your needs. You invite some friends over to stay at your house, and they all agree that your house looks beautiful and is very comfortable.

But are your friends qualified to provide an in-depth assessment of your house? Do any of them have a degree in construction engineering? After all, beauty is only skin deep - a building consists of much more than just a pretty facade.

A complex system requires careful organisation

A couple of years later you decide to add an extra storey to your house. You try to contact the building team which originally worked on your project, but they are no longer available, so you find another foreman to take over the project.

The new foreman gets to work on your project, and just like the first foreman, he is a highly skilled building site tradesman. However, he is not a construction engineer.

The new foreman continues to follow the same style of development as the previous foreman. He takes no notice of established industry standards or practices. He imposes his own personal strategies and techniques. He makes no plans, and produces no engineering specifications, and there is still no proper documentation or schema which other construction engineers would need if they were asked to take over the project.

Getting extra help - briefing a new builder

The foreman continues to work on your project, but he also has other clients to take care of. Your house is becoming more complex, and so you need to find another builder to help out.

You manage to find another builder who also happens to be a construction engineer. He has all the relevant academic qualifications - including a first class degree in construction engineering. The new builder asks the foreman for your project's engineering specifications. Such a 'technical manual' would mean that the new builder would be able to get to work straight away on your project, and produce some actual results within a few hours.

The foreman admits that there is no such technical manual, and tries to convince the new builder that a thorough inspection of the house should be sufficient. The new builder says that he can do this, but it would take an inordinate amount of time to become familiar with the intricacies of the house, and that the project's owner would need to pay for his time.

The project owner is now beginning to understand that building developers do not possess magic powers which enable them to quickly understand complex buildings simply by looking at them!

After spending £1,000s, perhaps £10,000s on the project, the full horror of the situation and the harsh realities are now starting to pop up thick and fast in the mind of the project owner.

Some hard facts and difficult questions

Clearly, the project owner has not been duly diligent in performing research about building creation and development. He has allowed himself to become a victim of a form 'vendor lock-in'. Currently, the only developer who can readily understand the building is the developer who improvised it. Granted, the developer probably didn't do this deliberately, but his lack of proper training in construction engineering means that this situation was inevitable from the outset.

The building is not extensible. Nobody would ever be able to develop this house without a great deal of reverse engineering.

How many design faults lie in the electrical system, plumbing, etc. or in the structure or foundations? How long will it be before something collapses?

And it is not only hand-over costs which will be high - the cost of ongoing development and maintenance will also be much higher. Can the project owner afford not to rescue the situation - even if it means starting again?

The bottom line is this - if you're about to embark on a complex building development project, then make sure you that you use a construction engineer - not a building site tradesman. Let the construction engineer choose the builders.