[Editor’s Note: Today’s article is written by Chris Cook PMP. If you like his article, please visit his website The ENTREPMEUR]
Imagine yourself sitting in a room full of your peers. Some people you work with daily and others you have never met before. You are all there to be a part of a leadership conference hosted by your employer. Your selection was determined by your place in the company. To your organization, you are in a position to lead. The conference is a three-day event packed full of speakers and activities geared towards making you a better leader. During the breaks, you hear rumblings of people wondering why they are there and why the event even takes place. Overall, people are frustrated by the event and would rather be working.
On day two, there is a Q&A with the company’s masters of construction. They are a group of four senior managers who have a combined 100+ years’ experience in the industry. One of the board members is orating the ceremony. One of the emphases is change orders. The company is performing work without getting paid because the work is outside the scope of the original contract. Even with leading questions towards obvious answers, the masters continued to respond, “$50,000 on a $30 million project isn’t that much.” After a few follow up questions and receiving the same answers, the orator finally let the audience know that $50,000 is $50,000 and should not be overlooked. The dismissive answers of the masters mirrored the dismissive attitudes of the audience. No one was paying attention. The people at my table were on their cell phones. During the break, I was asking individuals if they noticed the lack of follow through on the questions and no one noticed. The active listener rate must have been me and me alone.
For the next day and a half, I was trying to take away as much information as possible. There were speakers from all backgrounds delivering techniques on team work and leadership. No matter what presenter was on stage, I continued to think back to the masters.
I struggled with the idea that a point of emphasis was being glossed over not only by the presenters, but also the entire audience. An issue of documentation and an hour’s work was not worth $50,000.
Key takeaways from the presentation:
- Pay attention. We have all been in meetings we did not want to be in or thought we should not be in, but there are still ideas to take away from them. This enormous oversight was swept under the rug because no one was paying attention or wanted to be there. Imagine being in a 4-hour meeting and at the end, the owner tries to slip in a work package outside the scope. If you are bored or on your cell phone, you may not notice the change and have to live with the consequences.
- Know your message. Stay on the script when presenting an idea or topic. The message to a large group should be clear. In this case, the orator had one message to convey while the presenters had quite another.
- Stay humble even when you’re experienced. The presenters had a combined 100+ years in the industry. While they have forgotten more than I have learned, they have not remained a student. They have become content. Their ways have worked so they will continue on their path. No matter how long you have done something, there is always room for improvement. Why were these managers letting $50,000 change orders slip through the cracks? Because their mindset stays the same. The money is a speed bump (not a roadblock) in their world so keep driving over it.
What Can We Do to Better Track Construction Projects?
How can we, as project managers, meld old with new? Why not have the best of both worlds? Teaching is the best way. Have the older managers teach the younger managers their ways, and vice versa. Put an emphasis on learning. Far too often, there is an attitude of “That’s the way he does it so let him do it his way.” Or “That’s how it’s always done.” Why continue traditions with evident flaws? I understand change is difficult. Losing money unnecessarily is even more difficult.
The experienced managers should give the younger managers a checklist for mental audits. The checklist should include:
- Look for ways to save. Often times, the emphasis is on making money. Ways to save money include recycle material for road base aggregate, cut and fill to limit trucking off site, and salvage materials to reduce the expense of buying new.
The younger managers need to drive technology. Whenever they find the opportunity, go for it. Show managers how useful the technology can be. Instead of driving 2 hours to check out a job site, Google Maps has street level views that can bring you there without leaving the office. Use formulas within the program to calculate how much stone you will need for backfilling the excavations instead of a scale and calculator. Not only is it quicker, but also more accurate. You cannot go from 0 to 100 on day one. Ease them into the capabilities. Open the dialogue for change.
Further Reading On Construction Projects
Construction projects tend to be in public view so we can learn from them. Explore the following resources to learn more about recent mega-construction projects.
The World’s 25 Most Impressive Megaprojects (Popular Mechanics) If you’re looking for inspiration on what can be accomplished with projects, look no further.
Megaprojects: The good, the bad, and the better (McKinsey) Imagine working on this project: “Dubai’s international airport is the world’s busiest, accounting for 21 percent of Dubai’s employment and 27 percent of its GDP.”
The Trouble with Megaprojects (The New Yorker). An interesting data point to consider is the rise of China: “China is most responsible for this explosion—according to the scientist Vaclav Smil, the country used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the United States did during the entire twentieth century”