Thirty years in the game at 50

I sit here at the computer writing this column on the 50th anniversary of my birth, which, coincidentally, is approximately the 30th anniversary of my career in project management and estimating. After 30 years in this job, I still don't know all the answers. In fact, that's one reason, among others, that I stay in this sometimes truly insane world of ours. For the past 30 years I have learned something

I sit here at the computer writing this column on the 50th anniversary of my birth, which, coincidentally, is approximately the 30th anniversary of my career in project management and estimating.

After 30 years in this job, I still don't know all the answers. In fact, that's one reason, among others, that I stay in this sometimes truly insane world of ours. For the past 30 years I have learned something new each and every day, and I'm starting to get a handle on what are the correct questions to ask.

After 30 years, I have achieved spectacular levels of success and achievement,balanced by spectacular levels of failure and disappointment, as well.

I'm proud of the fact that I have the reputation and habit of taking over "garbage jobs" that others have mismanaged so they were over budget and behind schedule. I have brought every one of them in on time and have never lost money on a single job. I am irritated with myself that I haven't been more demanding of employers over the years regarding better compensation, so I have little financial success or security to show for all my time in the salt mines.

But, then again, money has never been the prime motivating factor for any career or other decision that I've ever made, nor will it be in the future.

Like most of us, I stay in this business because I truly enjoy the daily challenges we all face and ultimately conquer. I feed my ego and part of my sense of self-worth by knowing how truly world-class I am at what I do. I enjoy the rough-and-tumble of actually managing the job and my own precision at generating perfect estimates. I've always made enough to live on and a little more, made enough to live large, if not unusually well, and have always, well, most days have always looked forward to what that new day might bring.

Always admit your faults and mistakes.

I've been blessed to have had many great teachers and mentors both in this business and in other aspects of life or I wouldn't be the project manager or person that I am. I take great pleasure in using the vehicle of this column to pass on what little bits of humble wisdom and sometimes useful knowledge to those who are coming up the path of their careers and lives behind me.

My own senseis ("sensei" meaning literally "one who has walked the path before") showed me how to find my own path, which became mine and mine alone. I walked the path before me as though it were brand new, although it was as old as the art of construction itself. Now it is my turn to pass on the knowledge that the path before you is also yours and yours alone. I can offer you some resources to make your journey easier, but only you can choose to accept your chosen path or not.

Thirty dirty years in trenches have given me some insights but they're nothing more than common sense and ordinary observations that we all have but are generally too busy to think about. Things like:

  1. Don't panic no matter how bad things get, since panic brings certain failure; a cool head usually manages to save itself.
  2. There's no one right or wrong way to do estimates, as long as the results are consistently profitable jobs.
  3. Treat your field guys, heck, treat everyone around you with "Golden Rule" respect and you'll be respected in turn. You'll also achieve maximum productivity from your crews as well.
  4. All jobs are local and your job can never be outsourced because of that, so don't sweat it.
  5. Any certifications, licenses, etc., that you qualify for and can obtain relatively easily, then by all means, do so. They' l l become much harder to qualify for in the future and, even if they don't do you any immediate good, they'll pay off eventually.
  6. Always admit your faults and mistakes. Always be honest even when it's not in your immediate self-interest, since doing so creates a space of trust about your personal integrity between yourself and your bosses and colleagues.

I've learned in 30 years of playing the game that it doesn't mean you're a less knowledgeable player than I am if you have less experience than I do. All it means is that I've seen a few more hands and have survived a few more sticky situations than you have.

I have learned that to be a master of something is to be a perpetually humble student of the game and its players and that you can only ultimately become a master of yourself, not of the game and of no one else.

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 919/291-0878, or via email at [email protected]. His Website is www.hkentcraig.com.