Jobsite chaos: understanding its causes

In project management in particular, I like to say there are similarly two kinds of people: those who seek control by stopping chaos and those who seek control by creating it. Neither behavior is better or worse than the other since they are both equal and opposite sides of the coin of chaos, viz. motivation and control.

It's very cliché to try to classify certain people or certain behaviors into stereotypes such as "there are two kinds of people in this world: those who are spenders and those who are savers" or "there are two kinds of golfers in this world: those who lie about their scores from time to time and … well, make that one kind of golfer in this world." Clichés usually become clichés for a reason, because there is an underlying truth that supports them.

In project management in particular, I like to say there are similarly two kinds of people: those who seek control by stopping chaos and those who seek control by creating it. Neither behavior is better or worse than the other since they are both equal and opposite sides of the coin of chaos, viz. motivation and control. Though most, but not all, people/project managers would prefer to seek control using the veneer of respectability and civility by stopping chaos instead of creating it.

Stop for a moment and think about all the project managers who have sat across from you at job meeting tables. Think about their respective behaviors and how they sought to influence not just you but everyone at the meetings. If you examine their individual stratagems of seeking control over the other subcontractors on the job, if you pick apart their words, body language and legal maneuverings, you'll see how the vast majority if not virtually every action taken during a job meeting has to do with trying to gain control by either creating or stopping chaos.

But don't let actions or words that displease you automatically cause a negative genuflection. If another subcontractor comes to a meeting with a handful of subpoenas because he's suing the general contractor for breach of contract and making you and other colleagues witnesses in the civil trial to come, is that an action of creating chaos or ceasing it? If the general contractor has been openly flouting contract language in order to get back at the subcontractor, then suing could be a way of actually stopping chaos now and in the future. If a legal "super threat" makes a rogue general contractor behave according to the contract and contract documents are not just for him, but for all others on the job, then the level of both present and future chaos is definitely reduced, not increased.

Increasing the level of tension, attention, fear, dread, anticipation, hope, etc. on the job does not necessarily increase the level of chaos since bringing those emotions and reactions to the forefront can be a way of increasing focus towards the ultimate end of job completion and end-client satisfaction. In this type of situation, focus is an enemy of chaos.

Strange as at my seem, decreasing the levels of fear, dread, tension, etc. can increase chaos, especially when used by someone who thinks they're street smarter than everyone else and unleashes their planned storm of chaos upon the job, when everyone least expects it, to gain a financial advantage.

It's far better for others to think you're a somewhat of a hard-nosed person because when threatened you don't mind creating a little chaos in order to protect your own than continually trying to play "Mr. Nice Guy." Why should you work hard to be liked all the time by all on the job when your job first as project manager is to protect the fiduciary interests of your bosses by insuring moral and legal contract compliance?

Still, it is usually easier to walk through quiet valleys rather than scramble over hardscrabble mountains, and it does make for a more pleasant and more profitable job for everyone when the job’s project managers are all professional in thought, word and deed. What chaos comes is usually from the owner and not the job teams and there is a true atmosphere of cooperation and not confrontation through the life of the job.

Don't be afraid to recognize that every action is motivation for a desire to control outside forces and influences. There's nothing wrong with that as long as there is emotional as well as intellectual honesty about it. And there is nothing wrong with creating a little chaos once in a while if necessary, as long as it's done from moral and ethical high ground.

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: hkcraig@gmail.com.