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Full Contact Project Management

No one would argue that good project managers and construction companies value leadership. Likewise, in the business world, government and elsewhere, the value of good leadership is constantly praised. Well, if that's the case, why does just about everyone do such a lousy job at leading? Let me tell you what's bugging the "coach" today, and how you can prosper from realizing it also.

I was in a well-known home improvement store ordering materials for a remodeling project. Two clerks at the counter where I was standing were talking, and the conversation went something like this: "Those guys need some help over in plumbing. The one guy is new and the other doesn't know anything."

Here's my point: mixed messages are counterproductive. Let's look a bit deeper at this example and see how it relates to your project.

I'll bet you that the parent corporation of that home improvement store spends millions of dollars each year on training their people to portray a professional image to every potential customer entering the store. Agree? And yet, here were two clerks bad-mouthing two other employees — right in front of me — just as I am about to rely upon their expertise to place a special order for me. Heck of a mixed message: "You can trust me, but everyone else here doesn't know what they're doing!" Am I right?

So, if you had not heard the first two clerks trash the other two, would your opinion of the company be better or worse? And, does division in one area help or hurt the bigger picture?

Let's apply this to our construction projects. How often have you heard something like this said, on your own projects, and in earshot of the owner, the owner's rep or the inspector, by someone working on the job:

  • "It's good enough. What do you expect? He's just an apprentice."

  • "After the sun gets on it for a few months, you'll hardly notice it."

  • "Geez, Charlie, who taught you to lay out a line like that?"

  • "Yeah, Fred isn't much of a foreman."

  • "Man, that's a raggedy-looking piece of equipment."

Better yet, insert the comments that you have heard on your own jobs! Get the bigger picture?

While we shake our heads in disbelief about the way big companies operate, we sometimes forget about issues in our own company. We also send mixed messages when we assure our customers on Monday that we are the best contractor around to handle their project, and on Tuesday we give them serious reason to doubt our credibility, not by something that a competitor has said, but by what we — someone in our own company — said.

All right, team. Remember this the next time you get put into the game: it's the little things that often matter most. Winning is about executing well. Most of your players know how, technically, to do their jobs. (If they don't, then you have bigger problems than what this column can help!)

But assuming that your people are good, that's probably only 25% of what you need, because all of your competitors also have good people. For you to set yourself above the competition, you have to teach your people about acting professionally and doing the little things.

As a Full Contact PM, it's up to you to teach this to your foremen and superintendents. This is a top-down thing, and it goes like this: Our company is a top-notch outfit. We know what we're doing, and we're good at it. We've been doing this kind of work forever. Our people are experienced and are the best in the industry. We'll work hard for you, and we've got your back.

Put yourself into the shoes of your client. Would you rather hear positive comments like these or listen to the lame remarks on the job site about incompetent workers, equipment and training?

And if we can get this right in our little contracting companies, maybe the big companies can follow our examples. It's much better than us following their's!

Smarter Dispute Resolution

Just because your building is set in stone doesn't mean your conflict resolution system should be as well. Most construction contracts and subcontracts contain some mechanism for claims or dispute resolution. Of course, these provisions are written by attorneys, so the conflict resolution system typically involves using attorneys — theirs and yours — pitted against each other. Guess who wins? The attorneys.

The way I see it, construction people tend to disagree more frequently than most. That is because there is so much risk — known and unknown — in every construction project. Our contracts and subcontracts are instruments for assigning risk between the parties. The risks become a "hot potato" that no one wants, so we keep tossing it to someone else.

When we disagree about who owns the risk, we invoke the contract's conflict resolution system, which usually means that, even if mediation is one of the steps, the end of the road is a lawsuit decided by a judge, jury or arbitrator who knows little about construction. By the time you reach this point, you have also accumulated attorneys' fees, lost downtime that you could have put toward a more productive project, and delayed payment — making losers of both sides.

Don't be bound by these "set-in-stone" systems. If possible, keep your disagreements in the change order section of the contract. The change order spec is usually very robust, allowing for both direct and indirect costs to be included. Use it.

In construction, when two parties disagree about additional costs or delays, it is usually because we don't trust the other guy's interpretations of the events or contract, or we don't trust the other guy's data of facts, numbers and calculations.

The solution? Pay for what you need. When negotiation fails, before you both hire attorneys, suggest that both sides work together to find out the truth by hiring one independent attorney and/or forensic consultant to review the facts, contract and circumstances and to make an independent, non-binding recommendation on entitlement (the "what") and quantum ("how much"). Give them only a few weeks to do their analysis. Split the cost. Once both sides see the unbiased facts of the dispute, you have an unbiased, unemotional basis for reaching an informed decision — all within the change order system!

It's a little like going to marriage counseling instead of divorce court. And it works.


Coach Gary's Playbook:

How much do you know about the business side of project management? Do you recognize changes to your scope of work and get paid for them? Do you really know how to write an RFI where your company wins? Go to www.fullcontactPM.com and look for the link to these and other free resources.







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