Considerations for Small Survey Business
The day-to-day problems of surveyors would be easier to handle if they were only the technical and mathematical ones that can be systematically solved. Many of the demands placed upon us, however, do not have a formula for the answer, as it is often based on experience. Time management, asset allocation, client and employee relationship, effective communication, interpersonal skills, etc. all have empirical elements that can only be gauged by trial-and-error. In this manner, there may be as many answers as there are surveyors.
The following list of considerations is a conglomeration of proposals over the past decade that has helped improve the operation of small- to medium-sized survey divisions. I do not propose that these are immediately applicable to your situation because each situation is different, much like the people involved in the situation; however, I do hope this provides a reservoir of thought that can help spark debate or perhaps reconsiderations, which is a key part in improving survey operations and business as a whole.
Allocate Resources 1:1
Consideration: designate one vehicle, one total station, and one set of GNSS tools to one field member—indefinitely
- Assign one field surveyor the responsibility of care for a specific vehicle.
- Assign a field surveyor one total station, collector, set of GNSS units, and level.
- Note that assignment does not mean “to have on-hand” but means that if needed, the crew member uses the one assigned to them.
- Provides the greatest opportunity to become the most familiar with the given vehicle and equipment among everybody in the business.
- Allows the intimacy necessary to use the equipment to its fullest capabilities and efficiencies.
- Allows the field surveyor to properly prepare for and successfully accomplish each task in an efficient manner.
- Allows the field surveyor to quickly identify any equipment or vehicle malfunction.
- Minimized differences in systematic errors found between different sets of equipment.
- Heightened sense of personal responsibility (not to be underestimated).
By assigning a specific vehicle and set of equipment to one field member, it allows them to become the most familiar with that particular equipment. This is what allows the equipment to be used to its fullest capabilities and efficiencies and is what will allow the field member to accomplish his task correctly and in the shortest amount of time possible. It is this field surveyor who can best detect when the equipment needs calibrated or doesn’t function properly.
Assigning a vehicle and set of equipment to a specific field member will also offer the opportunity necessary to develop a sense of personal responsibility short of actual ownership. As they spend time relying on, caring for, and accomplishing tasks with the same vehicle and equipment, they will develop a sense of responsibility that goes deeper than that of “just doing the job.” This is most evident in cases where the surveyors reference equipment in the possessive case and become more protective of their inventory.
Unassigned, constantly rotated sets of equipment cannot be accounted for as well as individually assigned equipment, which hardly provides the right environment that calls for an increased sense of responsibility. Like all other people, field surveyors are apt and ever eager to create consistency and form a reliable routine because more often than not, it’s the only thing that’ll be in order on a chaotic job site.
Equip Vehicles Individually
Consideration: each vehicle should have its own set of field equipment
Develop an inventory list of necessary surveying equipment and ensure that each vehicle is equipped with said list.
This does not include high value assets i.e. total stations, scanners, GNSS units, etc. as discussed in the previous section.
- Mitigates, and can virtually eliminate, the need for coordinating equipment during the work day.
- Offers the highest amount of capability and interchangeability among crews.
- Affords crews the time necessary to manage and organize the equipment, resulting in better care.
- Allows the crew to develop a routine for inventory assessment.
This will virtually eliminate the need for communication dealing with coordinating equipment, allowing for smoother daily operations and less time and money spent on drive-time to exchange, drop-off, or pick-up the equipment. This can also allow for a near-perfect interchangeability among crews because all crews will have the necessary equipment already in their vehicles. Their response time to on-call demands will be much quicker because they will already have the necessary equipment.
Notes on Personal Equipment
Businesses should not rely on personal survey equipment (bring your own device, as it is becoming known), but allow it to be an option at the discretion of members within the business, such as the field coordinator or licensed surveyor. If the business wishes to perform its contractual duties in a correct and efficient manner, then it is in its best interest to burden the responsibilities inherent within the correct procedures to complete each task. This includes the business providing all equipment necessary to complete this duty.
Personal equipment may be of great benefit by heightening the performance of the site surveyor; however, it may be just as detrimental and provide greater liability to the business, hence also the site surveyor, should the surveyor be in a position where they are forced to use personal equipment; or, should personal equipment be used that has not been approved by the designated member(s).
Consideration: develop a code list
Develop an official business code list. It should be formatted into pocket size pages. Print, laminate, and bind with spiraling as needed, then distribute.
- A uniform language that is understood by all members of the business, minimizing discrepancies in data throughout the company. This allows any member to work on the same project and collect, interpret, process, and report data in a format understood by all of the members.
- A pocket sized, laminated code list allows members, field crews in particular, to carry it on them at all times for reference. A properly sized code list should also find room inside the cases protecting survey equipment i.e. total stations, levels, GNSS units.
- Allows new employees to adjust much more rapidly and commit fewer mistakes.
- Less company time and money spent training and communicating with employees.
Note that even a “code-less” code, or one without structure, will always need to be addressed and conveyed, especially to less experienced surveyors who may not know basic construction terminology to identify what they’re looking at. A code list will help to clarify this, avoiding descriptions that may be called into question in the future. However, some codes are mandatory, such as those used for gas line as-builts which require attribute data to be entered and stored. In this case, the coding must be very specific and properly documented, all of which can be addressed and described in the code list pamphlet.
Storm as-builts are another example where attribute data needs to be entered. Since not all codes on a collector prompt the user for attributes, the surveyor can reference the code list to see what attributes are needed.
Simply allowing all the field surveyors to write their own code will yield as many different codes as there are surveyors, not including the differences found across time from the same surveyor.
Single Point of Contact
Consideration: establish a field coordinating position
A field coordinator is the face of the field members within the company’s walls, and is the voice of the company to the field members and client.
It is in the company’s best interest to have a positive interaction with its clients and field members outside its walls. To do so, it must be able to understand the needs of the client and field members, and clearly communicate these needs to the appropriate person, and ensure the field members and client can perform their job properly. This line of communication requires certain responsibilities. Assuming there is one point of contact for all field members, one field coordinator in other words, he would:
- Address issues and concerns among the field members, including their equipment, transportation, organization, and overall well-being and relay that to the appropriate person.
- Address issues and concerns of the client and relay that to the appropriate person.
- Coordinate, schedule, and assign field members to the client’s tasks/project.
- Organize each day’s export files to be up-to-date for import the following day. Project data should be up-to-date to ensure all crews have access to all available data for a project. Up-to-date job files allow interchangeability of the crews for different jobs, such as filling in for an absent crew member. It also prevents future redundancy and confusion of stored point numbers and descriptions.
- Create field packages. Field packages include the up-to-date files ready for import/upload, description of the daily tasks, a control sheet and other print-outs that shows only that which is necessary for accomplishing the daily task. If a proper folder is kept for a project, it can be handed to any crew, showing every task that has been done on that project.
- When not in communication with the field crews or client, the field coordinator processes field data, assists in bidding of future projects, and assists in cut-sheets, deliverables, and any other task available.
- Make sure field supplies such as nails, flagging, and stakes are readily available for the field crews.
- If a field member should have direct contact with the client, then it is the field coordinator who gives the field member that responsibility.
Billing for Time
Consideration: clarify the use of drive-time and equipment care
The question of whether or not field surveyors should bill for drive-time and equipment care still persists throughout parts of the private industry.
It should be in the company’s best interest that drive-time and equipment are billed. The reason is that responsibility of the survey equipment and vehicle is still fully burdened during transport, until the time the equipment is properly stored.
Land surveying equipment is the center of business for modern land surveying. To accomplish a job successfully, the equipment must be handled in a manner that ensures it arrives and functions properly. This is why its treatment, maintenance, mode of transport, and manner of storage is of utmost importance. All of these are each field member’s responsibility only because it is a necessity for the job to be performed, both under the ethical duty of a professional and legally under contract. If this is true, then drive-time and equipment care cannot be considered separate from the “work,” for they are all one in the same. That is, the job does not end once the survey task itself is complete. It can only end for the day when the equipment is transported and stored properly. Again, if this is to be true, then it should be accounted for in bids and billed to the client, otherwise it is an exchange where the surveying party does not fully accept this responsibility and offers the service short of its best potential and accepts the increased liability.