Hang in there.  You almost achieved your goal of hiring the best marine consultant.  You searched long and hard, and now you finally have a short list.  But how do you evaluate your options?  Consultants rarely provide commodity services.  Each consultant has different strengths and weaknesses.  With such diverse options, what are some minimum expectations?  What criteria can you use to compare marine consultants?

In this video, I explain six stages of criteria that you use to evaluate your marine consultant.

  1. Webpage
  2. Publications
  3. References
  4. Resumes
  5. PE Stamp
  6. QA System




1.0 Webpage

It begins with the webpage.  This is the consultant’s equivalent of their storefront.  If you wanted to buy milk, would you shop from the street vendor with their milk sitting on the street corner?  Or would you go to the concrete building that stored the milk in a refrigerator.  The milk vendor recognizes modern expectations for how to present their product.  The same is true for a marine consultant’s webpage.  It should be well organized, have a presentation quality consistent with competitors, and it should teach you something.

A webpage is not just a flashy commercial.  This is the consultant’s first chance to explain who they are, what they do, and why they are better.  The webpage should provide you with useful content and improve your knowledge of either the consultant, or their field of expertise.  Example:  a structural engineering consultant may present information about welding standards on their website.

2.0 Publications

Publications are how we truly show innovation.  Every consultant will claim to be innovative, simply because that is the popular trend.  But innovation requires independent research and initiative.  Results are often published in peer reviewed publications: journals, conferences, single papers, etc.  The consultant should list their peer reviewed work.  This is the true test of innovation.

Innovation is not a requirement to be a good consultant.  You may have a well experienced consultant that never published a paper and works solely from established methods.  That can be perfectly fine if you don’t need an innovative design.

3.0 References

References will offer the most insight into your marine consultant.  The consultant should provide a list of past clients they worked with.  Contact those past clients and get their feedback on the consultant.  But remember that these contacts will have their own biases and priorities that don’t necessarily match yours.  You need to probe beyond asking, “Did you like them?”

Ask leading questions instead.

“What did you like about the consultant?”

“How did they handle problems?”

“What system did they use to organize and control the project?”

“How did you like the communication?”

4.0 Resumes

This is where you really start to learn about the consultant.  The resumes provide detailed information about the skills and experience of the marine consultant’s staff.  But don’t just look at the project leader.  Every consultant wants to show you the resume of the most impressive person on staff.  However, that person likely will not do the bulk of the work on your project.  Also examine the resumes of junior staff members.

Can’t find all the resumes you wanted?  Try searching on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedIn.com).  Many professionals include a profile on LinkedIn.  This is the equivalent of a resume, and often more detailed.  Even if the consultant did not provide resumes for all the staff, LinkedIn will reveal far more information and allow you to uncover the complete picture of the consultant.

Whether online or paper resumes, experience is king.  Experience is the primary indicator of how smoothly a consultant can deliver a project.  With increased experience, the consultant gains better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.  They work on a greater variety of tasks, improving the chances that your needs are already familiar to them.  In the video, I provide a guideline that matches years of experience to reasonable expectations for your consultant.

5.0 PE Stamp

There is a difference between being licensed as a professional engineer (PE), and stamping as a professional engineer.  If you want guaranteed quality, require a PE stamp on every drawing, every report, every specification.  PE’s are bound a large set of ethical requirements.  Among others, we are legally required to put the interests of our client’s first.  This is how you know you can trust the engineer’s advice, if they put their PE stamp on it.

A PE stamp signifies that the engineer takes personal responsibility for the document or drawing.  And that will make any good engineer hesitate.  They will re-examine the drawing again, reconsider all the assumptions, double check all their math.  The PE stamp guarantees you a golden standard of engineering.

6.0 QA System

Speaking of guaranteed quality, how will the marine consultant ensure quality?  We are all human and constantly make mistakes.  But engineering needs to be flawless.  We can’t risk people’s lives.  So how will the consultant review their work and detect errors?

If you ask a consultant, “Do you have a QA system?”, everyone will obviously say what you want to hear.  Instead, ask for details about the QA system.  Ask them to describe the QA review process.  Everyone will have a different system.  Some elements that I would expect from a good QA system are:

  • Reviewed by at least two people (author and checked), preferably three.
  • Document control system to track revisions to documents and ensure you have the latest revision.
  • Some quality standard that they compare against. This may be a checklist, a written procedure, a set of guidelines.  Something that provides clear expectations for the task.

You don’t need to do a full review of the QA system yourself.  There are actually international standards for planning quality control processes.  Many companies implement these standards and get certified as ISO 9000:9001 compliant.  The certification demonstrates that the firm developed a formal and comprehensive QA system.  They had that system reviewed by a third party to obtain ISO 9000:9001 certification.  Just remember:  certification costs money.  If they do not have ISO 9000:9001 compliance, they may just be keeping their overhead costs low.

7.0 Reach a Decision

Your marine consultant will always try to sell themselves in the best possible light.  It falls on you to educate yourself on reasonable expectations and learn the right questions to ask.  No consultant is perfect; we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  As the client, you have the power to expose that complete picture of the consultant.  Armed with this comprehensive knowledge, feel confident that you find someone you can trust and work with.  The right consultant to match your needs.