Doing due diligence on a dirty job

IF YOU STAY in the project management profession long enough, you're going to be assigned a "dirty" job, even if that job is a cleanroom or ultrapure water system. In my career I've always sought out the difficult jobs from which others shied away, primarily because I have an ego the size of a small planet and I love the feeling of accomplishing what others said was impossible or near-impossible.

IF YOU STAY in the project management profession long enough, you're going to be assigned a "dirty" job, even if that job is a cleanroom or ultrapure water system.

In my career I've always sought out the difficult jobs from which others shied away, primarily because I have an ego the size of a small planet and I love the feeling of accomplishing what others said was impossible or near-impossible.

I've always had the mindset that anybody can project manage jobs that were properly estimated, bid and which have enough material and personnel resources assigned to them. It takes a real project manager to shepherd a job where everything went wrong from Day One and the only reason it wasn't abandoned was because of severe contractual penalties for doing so.

Taking over a " bad" job in midstream definitely has its own special challenges that ordinary jobs don't have, challenges which can be met with the ship righted and saved if you have the backing of your company to do so and if you do a proper due diligence assessment.

If your company isn't willing to give you the authority you need to make decisions without second-guessing your every move plus the authority to spend money when and where you decide, then you probably need to throw the job assignment back to them.

But assuming they are willing to give you the authority you need, let's get to work!

Physically crawl the job with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. Take the set of mark-up plans with you and compare what your predecessor colored in as being done and any field changes made to what you actually see with your own two eyes. If you have a physical disability or orthopedic handicap as I do and can't climb ladders easily or walk on concrete all day long without pain, take a good helper or a mechanic from one of the crews along with you. Have him climb ladders or go up on the roof or do whatever you need done that you can't physically do. Let him be your eyes.


Slackers, no matter how cheap, will not save you labor dollars.


Using your job camera, take photographs of any outright lie you encounter, such as a section of work you discover that was marked up as being done that wasn't. Make notes (but not on the job-record plans!) of any discrepancies found.

If you find any other current or potential problems such as lack of space above the ceilings or room layouts that don't match the plans and aren't covered by existing authorized field modifications, make private notes so that you can discretely try to find out the "real" story of what happened and why.

Back at the job trailer, compare the work marked up as being done with the Schedule of Values and the record of draws done for it. It still amazes me that many architects and engineers routinely, almost blindly, approve requests for draws against contract price without ever field verifying if the work claimed to having been done was actually done. If the amount of work paid for is more than double-digits greater than the work actually completed, then you need to learn to be careful in the future what you ask for because now you've got it.

When you're ambushed, the best defense is a better offense; attack the point of the ambush instead of taking cover. The best method of giving yourself a chance of finishing a job on time and on budget that's over on both when you take it over is to spend money, not conserve it.

Trying to limp the job in with cheaper but less qualified personnel and inadequate tools and material resources will only make a bad job terrible, not better. Try to persuade your company to give you the best mechanics it has, because saving a job means you need maximum productivity from all employees. Slackers, no matter how cheap, will cost you, not save you labor dollars. You need pipe or duct hung or equipment set in order to bill the next increment in the Schedule of Values, not warm bodies for show.

If any value-added savings are to be had by material substitutions or possible design modifications, don't be shy about pursuing them. Don't count on them, however, for additional savings.

After that, well, there is no after that. It's just a matter of riding tight herd on labor hours as much as possible and making sure the work is installed correctly the first time so you won't have to do it twice. Maybe, by force of your leadership as project manager toward the goal of bringing the job in on time and on budget, you'll be able to work some magic.

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].