Learn to anticipate what can't be anticipated

I'VE ALWAYS SAID the main difference between the true professionals in any endeavor and the amateurs is that the pros pay close attention to every little detail. Amateurs typically don't risk much of anything except a little ego and occasionally a little skin. Professionals, by the very definition of the word, not only risk pride and flesh but their livelihoods. It's easy to play when you don't care

I'VE ALWAYS SAID the main difference between the true professionals in any endeavor and the amateurs is that the pros pay close attention to every little detail. Amateurs typically don't risk much of anything except a little ego and occasionally a little skin. Professionals, by the very definition of the word, not only risk pride and flesh but their livelihoods.

It's easy to play when you don't care if you win or lose and play just because you enjoy the game. When you're playing golf, tennis, football, contracting, etc., because it's your living, you can't afford the luxury of lack of focus or lack of positive results.

As project managers, we all too often become focused just on our job at hand and stop paying attention to what else is going on around us on a typical project. You can do the best job you know how to do, which nine times of 10 is more than good enough, and then still get blindsided by unforeseen forces on that one job. That's the kind of big hit that not only sinks your particular job but also could put your company teeter-tottering dangerously close to bankruptcy before all is said and done.

As a project manager, believe it or not, it is your job to try to anticipate the unanticipatable. You have to know not only what your own guys are doing on the job but as much as is practical about what all other contractors on the job are doing. You've got to be able to peer "over the horizon" at least part of the time and know what's going to happen on your job before others do.

This is called being "globally aware." You're not aware of what's going on just in your own little project management fiefdom, but you are cognizant of all the minutiae of influences that are going on in the macro-world of the job.

It just blows me away when I meet a so-called PM who brags to my face that he could not care less about what other contractors on the job are doing because he has lawyers who can sue should the job tank. I have news for you morons who think this way. If the job goes to hell in the proverbial hand basket enough to go into liquidated damages or to get the lawyers involved, your anticipated profits are gone and your job will lose money, no matter how much fancy lawyering gets done.

Being globally aware is not the same as being a gossip hound, far from it. It does, however, require that you keep your eyes, ears and nose open and look for any changes in patterns of appearance, conduct, solidity, force and so on.

Just as a red sky in the morning gives sailors warning, when the electrician, brick mason, framing crew or the glazier is unexpectedly absent during a critical phase of the job, you need to start trying to find out why. You need to figure out ASAP how that's going to affect your crews and your job schedule because of the interdependencies of critical chain/critical path scheduling.

When the GC has to step in and start co-signing checks so a fellow sub can purchase materials, you need to sit down and play out all the best-and worst-case scenarios in your head. What happens if the sub defaults and then a new sub about whom you know nothing comes on the job? How could that affect your own crews' performance and, therefore, your bottom line?

No, you can't control the actions of others. You can only control your own actions and, to a lesser extent, the actions of your crews. It's your job, however, to mitigate the negative impact caused by the faults of others and to ride the wave whenever possible when everything is going right with a job. The main thing is to become aware of all the plots and subplots that are going on around you.

Becoming globally aware is something that can be taught, but it can't be taught in an 800-word column. Becoming globally aware is something you as a project manager need to become. If you're not of this mindset already, you'll get bitten hard if you don't pay attention to the sound of the footsteps of the bear coming at you from out of the woods.

Not becoming globally aware is not an option in this ultra-competitive environment in which we all work and live. Learning how to recognize patterns in your work environment and faults in others will translate into you becoming globally aware in every single moment of your life. That will then lead to a healthier, safer, happier life and might actually put an extra buck or two in your pocket as well.

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 919/367-7488, or via e-mail at [email protected]