DEFENESTRATION, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as "an act of throwing someone or something out of a window." Project management by defenestration isn't quite as simple as throwing the general contractor who has been making your life a living hell out the window. It's not tossing the boss' lazy nephew off the fifth floor without the benefit of the lift. If it were only that easy.
Project management by defenestration provides the basis for a project management style and mindset. While you don't want to manage every project every day this way, you need to have it in your toolbox and be proficient at using it when absolutely needed.
When I take over a typical problem job as a hired-gun project fixer-upper, the first thing I try to do is sneak onto the jobsite as an ordinary worker. I try to make myself as invisible and unnoticed as possible to the crews that I have been hired to whip into shape. I just watch from a distance and observe what's going on for a while. Usually within an hour or two — seldom longer than half a day — I will have an accurate assessment of who is a good worker and who is not, who is a thief of time or materials and who is not, and who is a chaos-creator and who is not.
I never take on one of these lemons unless I have full authority over all field personnel, including hiring and firing. The first person I get rid of is the obvious thief whom I watch in the act.
It seems like there is at least one on every large job. If it's petty theft, then they're just fired. These are guys who steal the odd fitting or consumables.
But sometimes I see guys who appear to be semi-professional thieves stealing big stuff such as tools and equipment and they're so cool about it that it looks like it's regularly and often. Before I make my presence known to the crews, I call the police and let the police search the thief and his vehicle and press charges against him.
A thief destroys field crew job morale and productivity worse than any other type of employee.
A thief destroys field crew job morale and productivity worse than any other type of employee, let alone the bottom-line impact of the dollar value of materials stolen from the company.
For my next step, I tread carefully and usually think about this for a couple days before I do anything. I have to decide what to do about the chaos-creator, a slacker who talks much more than he works. He goes from employee to employee all day long, talking to them and killing the crew's productivity. Not to mention, he's been getting paid for screwing around and pestering other employees who actually want to work and do a good job.
These guys are next to get the ax. I try to be careful to make sure to treat them according to "The Golden Rule" as I would wish to be treated if our situations were reversed. I have been fired a few times myself, so I'm very sensitive about this. Chaos-creators are, nevertheless, just another type of thief, although they're not stuffing things in their pockets, and they need to be off the job.
Then we get to the general contractor who is a true SOB. I try to fire him, or at least his project manager. The problem is that many GCs consider a subcontractor complaining about how tough one of their project managers is to be a compliment. I don't start making noise about this until I have established my authority and my street creds for that particular job.
If a GC's PM is truly an SOB, who is petty and punitive beyond the boundaries of normal professional project management, and I can show that he is costing me and my company money, and if his boss won't get him off my job, I then document every malfeasant action. I'll present that evidence of wrongdoing to the architect or even to the client, if need be, and I'll demand that he be removed from the job. Sometimes this works, not usually, but sometimes I've gotten PMs removed.
If a piece of equipment is truly a safety hazard or is so worn out to be useless to my crews, then it simply isn't used. I'll turn an unsafe or broken piece of equipment back into the shop. I'm not going to risk raising the company's workers' comp and health insurance because of the potential for an accident that might seriously injure one of my guys.
Embracing the concept of project managing a job by defenestration isn't about being an ax-man, a shin-kicker or an SOB yourself. Often you have to be all three to pull a problem job out of the fire. It's about knowing your profession as a project manager and doing the best you can to make lemonade out of the lemon-job you've been given.
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 via e-mail at hkcraig@ yahoo. com or by calling 919/851-9550.