The Paradox of Managing Large Jobs

Every electrical contractor dreams about “The Big Job.” The prestige and notoriety that come with it can springboard a company into growth, or at least provide a nice chunk of change in one fell swoop; or not. These jobs can also bring disastrous effects, worst of which is bankruptcy. The explosive nature of large jobs is what makes them difficult to manage. The amount of information and degrees of freedom to manage is exponential compared to a “normal” job. It becomes virtually impossible to fly by the seat-of-the-pants because the job cannot be managed with the traditional project management approaches. It requires using a data-driven approach to manage lead and lag indicators, and a company-wide team effort to support the job. No one project manager can do it alone, lest they become victim of the Killer Job that eats away all of the company’s profits for an entire year. Many project managers have tried, and somewhere mid-stream in the project, we have received a call/cry for help, to implement the principles and practices that are listed in this article.
Even though a large job is nothing but a lot of small ones, over half of the electrical contractors in the United States and Canada are smaller than $5 million in annual revenue – and 82% are smaller than $10 million. So running any job larger than $10 million is analogous to running a full-blown company,
which requires comparable skill and know how as managing a company.
Issues such as management of:
  1. Resources
  2. Schedules
  3. Purchases
  4. Billing and cash flow
  5. Productivity
  6. Subcontractors
  7. General contractors
  8. Turnover
  9. Personnel issues
  10. Cost
  11. Lack of visibility at the task level
  12. Coordination with other trades
  13. Material price escalations
  14. Jobsite logistics, including tool and material movement become uncanny and require a different level of feedback, response, and agility in the day to day events. The tools required for management and mitigation of the technical, business, and integration risks have to be in place, trusted, and used for navigation throughout the project.
Plans for organizational structure, 
reporting structure, information flow, and other elements which are the heartbeat of companies comparable to this size of job must be made. However, the tendency is to just treat the job as “a job” and forget its magnitude, which can lead to major problems and financial loss. This article will introduce the tools required to manage the risks and potential pitfalls in focusing on one indicator only.

We have implemented Agile Construction® 
on a couple handfuls of projects between $25 million and $650 million over the past decade, from sports arenas to high-tech production facilities, and from convention centers to datacenters (see Table 1). None of them were easy to manage. Managing any project requires risk management. But on large projects, there is typically more risk present, particularly integration risk. Below is a codification of types of risk to consider in managing the project.
1. TECHNICAL RISKS – which are the electrically-driven risks such as:
a. Code
b. Inspection
c. Design, including architectural, structural, and MEP systems
d. Installation requirements
e. Durability testing and