What It Takes to Be a Project Manager

Project-Manager-Pics.gifSay your boss, the owner, or CEO of the electrical firm you work for came to you with some exciting news. He offers you a 500,000 hour job to manage. Of course your boss was excited. The job he just handed over to you will bring in approximately $65 million over the next 4 years. You on the other hand, although excited, are shaking in your boots just thinking about it. In the past twenty or so years of working for this firm or the three firms before it, the largest job you ever managed was 200,000 hours, and you almost lost your shirt on that project. That job was well on its way to becoming one of those “killer jobs;” the kind that everyone in the industry talks about for years. Now you’re about to look down the throat of a beast that can either make you or sink the company you work so hard for, and take everyone down with it.

A million things rush through your head all at once just from the thought of facing such an animal. You don’t want to let your boss down or the hundreds of contractors that will be under your wing, all of whom have been desperate for work to come their way this past year. You put on your happy face, thank your boss for the opportunity and assure him that you “got this.”

As you walk back to your office, you start to reflect on what contributed to saving that “killer job” you once had. You think back to all the project management classes, the prefab classes, and the Agile Construction® classes that you took that year. You pull a book from your bookshelf called “Agile Construction® for the Electrical Contractor” and blow the dust off. It worked back then, you think to yourself, and it will work now, too. Without hesitation, you get right to work on a job of a lifetime.

Fig-1_project-manager.gifEven though a large job is nothing but a lot of small ones, managing it requires comparable skill and know-how to managing a very large company. Issues – such as management of resources, in this case an unknown labor force; schedules; purchases; billing and cash flow; productivity; subcontractors; general contractors; turnover; substance abuse; cost; lack of visibility at the task level; coordination with other trades; material price escalations; or job-site logistics, including tool and material movement – can become uncanny and require a different level of feedback, response, and agility to the day to day events. The required tools for management and mitigation of the technical, business, and integration risks have to be in place, trusted, and used if you want to safely navigate the difficulties of such work. In addition, plans for organizational structure, reporting structure, information flow, and other elements must be made. Although the tendency of many contractors is to treat this type of project as “a typical job,” this mindset can lead to major problems and financial loss.

A $65 million electrical project stretched over four years is about a $16.25 million project per year. The difference on this size of a project is that the supporting infrastructure has to be shared with all other projects running simultaneously in the contractor’s operation during those four years.

To set up this size job for daily, weekly, monthly, and annual management in addition to the traditional project and cost tracking tools, you have to set out to add quality and integration tools to assure continuous monitoring and correction during the job progress. Mitigation of the risks has to be clearly divided between:

  1. Technical risks: These are electrically-driven risks, such as code; inspection; design, including architectural, structural, and MEP system