The Accidental PM

CONGRATULATIONS, newest member of the project manager profession! You never thought you would actually become a project manager for your company, did you? Then again, you never thought your company would do whatever it did to create a situation that caught it flat-footed. The reality is that youve accidentally become a project manager. To keep your job youre going to have to do not just the best you

CONGRATULATIONS, newest member of the project manager profession! You never thought you would actually become a project manager for your company, did you?

Then again, you never thought your company would do whatever it did to create a situation that caught it flat-footed. The reality is that you’ve accidentally become a project manager. To keep your job you’re going to have to do not just the best you can, but also a more than adequate job for the company.

If you follow these seven basic principles of accidental project management, they should help out a lot. They are:

First, don’t panic! As dumb as your bosses in upper management seemingly act at times, they’re really pretty smart or they wouldn’t have their jobs. They’ve determined that you have the basic skills, temperament, focus and personality to do your new job as PM, or they wouldn’t have “promoted” you. Even if your self-confidence is a little shaky right now, just chill, just relax, you’ll be fine. After all, the bosses believe you can do it.

Second, don’t be afraid to ask for general advice from anyone within the company about how to do this or that aspect of your new job. Ignorance of how to do something only becomes flat-out stupidity when it winds up costing the company money.

Ask for advice freely from all, including the field guys you’re now in charge of. Your field guys have worked under many different stripes of project managers in the past. They can offer you many solid bits of advice on what does and doesn’t need to be done to help ensure a given job’s profitability. Listen to them!

And when it comes to understanding the arcane details of schedules, AIA billings, payroll, change orders and other job paperwork details, management will appreciate your honesty in asking for help rather than risk royally screwing up and costing them money.

Third, spend the time necessary to read and review all documents and all job files related to the jobs you’re now in charge of. If this means staying up until 2 a.m. for several nights reading job paperwork until your eyes are bloodshot, so be it! If your head isn’t totally inside your jobs, you can’t effectively do your job.

Fourth, go out in the field and inspect every single foot of every single job you’ve been assigned to, paying attention to all work done by all trades, not just the parts your company is doing. If something doesn’t look right, ask someone in your company for a second opinion. Don’t bring anything questionable up to other contractors until you or someone in your company figures out what’s what. Get a camera and take lots of photos.

Fifth, personally inspect and inventory every single piece of assigned equipment, every job tool, every piece of duct, every length of pipe, every fitting, any and everything that’s been purchased for your jobs or assigned to them. Don’t take anyone’s or anything’s word, not even from existing lists or your tool guy. Don’t believe it’s actually there until you see it, feel it and record it yourself. If something is supposed to be on a job and it isn’t, immediately let your boss know about it.

Sixth, during the first 30 days you’ll probably have a “honeymoon period” when you can ask for and probably receive, within reason, whatever you think the jobs need, such as some new power tools, a couple extra mechanics, an extra job storage trailer or some extra overtime, so don’t be shy about asking for what you think you really need to accomplish your mission of job profitability. After 30 days, expect the job cost screws to be clamped back down, so take advantage of the honeymoon’s loose-checkbook period while you can.

And seventh, you need to dress the part. Project managers don’t look like field help. If you’ve been promoted from another position within the office, what you’ve been wearing to the office usually should be fine. If you’ve come from the field, you will need to quickly buy some golf or polo-type shirts, some khaki and other casually dressy pants (assuming you’re a guy, of course) and a couple pair of decent-looking but not necessarily expensive dress shoes (moccasin-type boating shoes also being derigueur for project managers).

If you shop smart, $200 to $300 should set you up with a workable initial PM wardrobe. You will need to look like you belong with the architects, engineers, other trades’ project managers and the others with whom you’ll be spending a lot of time from now on.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/851-9550 or via e-mail at [email protected].