Digital Engineering: Top 10 Mistakes

As a consultant in digital technology for design, engineering and construction, I have compiled my 10 top mistakes made in this field. These are not just observations or a critique of other people, but mistakes I’ve made myself.

Each item is important and many items are interrelated, so there is no particular order of priority.

#1 Making it too complicated

Simple, quick and easy solutions (in line with a solid longer-term strategy) are frequently much better than complex, lengthy or highly sophisticated ones.
Quite often, the best solution is much simpler than you might think and allows early ‘quick wins’ to be incrementally improved upon in a stepping-stone fashion

#2 Thinking technology is the silver bullet

Don’t think that simply buying & installing new, more advanced software will automatically solve all your problems.
Process and people are much more important than the technology alone & all of these ingredients need to be properly measured & combined to be successful

#3 Not having a strategy

A strategy or plan need not be a long or complicated document. In fact, usually the shorter, the better. However, it does need to be carefully thought through with clear objectives and measures of success.  This should contain a simple description of the goals ahead and the steps which will be taken, when and by whom.

#4 Giving the wrong person (or people) the job

Brainy but very technical & detail-driven people may not be able to see the forest for the trees, leaves and berries. For these people, technology is not a means to an end, but the end itself.
A balance is required: enough technical knowledge to make an informed decision, but not so much that it clouds everything else.

Equally, committees are great at discussion, but often poor at decision making and even worse at execution. They tend to dilute great ideas & elevate mediocre ones.
So: decisiveness and action is better than watered down ideas or nothing at all.

#5 Starting with the details

Technical folk (of which I am one) are inclined to get into irrelevant details way too early. Ask for a metaphorical BIM ‘game plan’ and you’ll frequently get a lengthy technical specification, completely forgetting about the fundamentals of just who is going to pick up the ball and where they will run.

The details matter at some point in time, but only need to be considered in meeting a specific goal or target.

#6 Believing your own bullshit

All organisations need to promote themselves, and often this involves a certain amount of creative licence, mild exaggeration or embellishment. There is really nothing wrong with this- but the problem is when this spin is confused with fact or reality.

I once worked with an organisation who were convinced that we were the ‘industry leaders’ (we were not, although could easily have been). This arrogance and resulting complacency meant that competitors quickly overtook any initial advantage.

#7 Believing someone else’s bullshit

Software vendors are motivated purely by making a sale (with subscription of course), so it is no surprise that a sales pitch will usually contain wildly optimistic, if not patently false, claims. That’s just how the world works. However, combined with a belief in the ‘silver bullet’ (#2), this means disappointment is inevitable.

#8 Having unrealistic expectations

Tied in to #6 and #7, it is easy to get caught up in the Digital techno-hype, fuelled by buzzwords such as ‘digital disruption’ and ‘thought leadership’. The technology is there to drastically improve design, engineering and construction, but expectations of success need to be carefully set and managed.

#9 Forgetting the ‘why’

Elsewhere in this blog, I have covered the tendency for excitement in new technology to overshadow rational decision-making. The result is the use of technology just ‘because you can‘.

Tangible, realistic and measurable goals are essential. Why are we doing this? What improvements in efficiency are we aiming for? What cost reductions do we expect? What risks will be reduced?  How will we quantify our success (or otherwise) in meeting these goals?

Despite the excitement of using new technology, the ‘why’ must always be the driver for the ‘how’

#10 Adding more stuff (not replacing)

The mentality of the serial-hoarder in keeping something ‘just in case’ or for sentimental reasons can be seen in a digital context.
For example, new processes (BIM) might just be added on to existing ones (CAD). The result is obvious: more work & cost, not less
This can also be seen in client specifications which essentially says “we want everything in PDF, everything in CAD & everything in BIM


This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many other factors that should be considered. I have covered some of these topics in more detail elsewhere on this blog, so I’d encourage you to browse through these posts

If you or your organisation need help in any of these areas, please feel free to get in touch.

An independent view and a fresh set of eyes can help see the forest as well as the trees.