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Job Skills Headless chickens at my engineering consulting company

  1. Oct 17, 2017 #1
    As a titled engineer I’ve worked in manufacturing and electric utility. Now, I’m working for a consulting group.
    I’m wondering, is it normal for consultanting companies to be disorganized?
    Example, we don’t have general breakdowns for the type of work we do. It could be substation, switchyard, motor controls, processing, oil and gas, what ever. Depending on the job, we take a spec that may not be written well and custom tailor it to fit our current project. This effort feels like reinventing the wheel.
    We also do not have a consistency and of time structure. Each project manager, or lead engineer uses different folder titles for different information.

    I’m curious if I just got lucky with this company or if that’s normal for this type of work.

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 17, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 17, 2017 #2
    It depends a lot on the consulting firm. Generally, there are those that are good at landing contracts, those that are good at organizing to deliver on those contracts, and those who make up "other resources".

    You can expect to heavily involved in keeping the customers happy and maintaining the reputation of the firm. Beyond that, adapt as need be.

    BTW: Decades ago I work for Arthur D. Little as well as several Washington DC "Beltway Bandits". So I am very familiar with consulting firms.
  4. Oct 17, 2017 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    Not for very long, no.

    What is common is for smaller companies to have less rigor, fewer set-in-stone policies, smaller libraries of previous work or templates, fewer layers of management, grayer divisions of labor, etc. I suppose you could call that "organization" by definition, but I'm not sure that's the word I would use. I'd probably call that bureacracy or perhaps just culture or even "being small". It isn't anywhere close to the same word usage as "running around like headless chicken." It also doesn't have anything to do with being a consulting firm or the type of work being done. It's strictly a matter of being small.

    And there's pros and cons with it. I'm not sure what your experience is between smaller and larger companies, but it is common for smaller companies to have more relaxed and flexible cultures as well as sometimes greater efficiency due to less management overhead/complexity. They also may provide greater responsibility, learning opportunity and advancement opportunity due to the need for people to take on broader roles. So you take the good with the bad.
  5. Oct 18, 2017 #4
    Thank you Scott and Russ.
    The company has a relaxed and positive environment and seems to be in between a small and big company in attitude.
    As far as work environment, willingness to support work/life style, I have no room to complain. The company encourages engineers to attend local PDH/CEU and out of town classes and also covers the costs for those classes.
    A little history of the firm. A decade ago, the firm was purchased by a construction company to support the construction aspect as well as maintain engineering for previous customers. The firm seems to be good at the special projects where just one aspect of a large project is needed or bid on. They also seem to be good at coordinating with other ventures.
    But the general feeling, at least for me, is as long as the construction side is profitable, everyone is ok and will have a job tomorrow. So there doesn’t seem to be a push to make engineering better or more organized.
    My challenge is in developing good engineering practices geared for consulting... it may be possible to stay at the same job for the remainder of my work life, but I’d prefer to have the skill set to make that a choice and not a nessestiy.
  6. Oct 18, 2017 #5


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    Gold Member

    You've definitely hit the nail on the head there. Companies like yours are fairly common (small, as Russ said) and the lack of engineering and project management rigor frequently goes along w/ it, which makes it, as you are aware, very hard for a young engineer to learn the rigor that most bigger and better companies expect. What's worse, in my experience, is that it is very hard to get such companies to impose such rigor. My advice, take courses in Project Management (even if you plan on staying in engineering). Good luck.
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