The job description of what makes a “project manager” has gradually changed over time. The paper-pushing duties of a working foreman or superintendent used to be lumped into their respective job descriptions as long as they were on straight salary. With skilled field help becoming harder and harder to find, foremen and superintendents have had their paperwork duties reduced and their field labor duties piled up even higher. Combine that with a somewhat elitist attitude that anyone who does field work can't be smart enough to do project management duties, toss in a healthy dose of project paradigm shifting and restructuring, add a pinch of technology, and all of a sudden you've got a whole new set of rules and definitions of what makes up the job description of a project manager and what terms a project manager has to be familiar with. Let us examine some definitions of some of these new and redefined lexicals.
Project manager — definition No. 1: Someone trained to juggle a bowling ball, a butcher knife, a golf ball, a lit plumber's torch, etc. (you get the picture) while on stage in front of an audience while someone occasionally hits his big toe with a hammer.
Project manager — definition No. 2: The victim of a secret CIA mind-control experiment that was designed to see if they could make someone believe there was actually some glory and faux status in being a project manager.
Assistant project manager — definition No. 1: The project manager's gofer who gets all the blame if the project or even one aspect of it goes wrong.
Assistant project manager — definition No. 2: Someone who washed out from the secret mind-control program because they could never be made to believe it.
Executive project manager: The project manager's boss who hogs all the credit for himself if the project goes smoothly.
Stakeholder: A job principal who guards his 10 square yards of contract turf.
Estimate — definition No. 1: A “WAG” (wildly assumed to be a somewhat accurate guess) of the total purchase and sale price of a given job, based on the assumptions that the building will actually be built to within +/- ¼-in. of plan tolerances; all the plan sheets were thoroughly proofread and corrected for obvious mistakes; the weather will cooperate; the prime general contractor will assign an experienced and knowledgeable project manager of their own to coordinate the show; and all subcontractors on the job will endeavor to cooperate with each other for the best interest of the owner.
Estimate — definition No. 2: The hole card down in the pre-bid ante where anything other than having “the joker” loses.
Estimator — definition No. 1: A trained cost-seer who can estimate the probable outcome of a bid, based on looking into a crystal ball or doing a tarot card reading.
Estimator — definition No. 2: He who gets fired when the project manager royally screws up on a job he estimated.
Schedule of values: A series of lies where the biggest lie about project manpower and materials is scheduled first to finance the job, proceeding in sequence to the smallest lie otherwise known as the date of substantial completion.
Project milestone: A common misspelling of “project MILLstone.”
CPM chart: A project schedule calculated by a math major, who has never been on a jobsite in his life, who is hired by the owner or general contractor to minimize their risk and maximize the subcontractor's.
Gantt chart: A project schedule flowchart presentation originally named for the first utterance ever muttered by some nameless poor old mechanical contractor, back in the late 1800s, who took one look at the very first Gantt chart designed by Arthur D. Little & Associates for a job, and exclaimed, “nope, Gantt' do all that, not within that short a' time!”
Float time: The extra five minutes of unallocated job time between substantial completion and liquidated damages that you hadn't planned on.
Critical chain: The thin chain that lifts the flapper up inside the toilet tank, so the one working commode on the jobsite can flush.
Earned value management: A scheduling and job planning concept that has at its core the premise that every single action, resource and personnel allocation on a given job has a theoretical equal impact on the overall quality and timely completion of the job.
Microsoft project: A shrink-wrap software program from Microsoft Corp. with over 3,415 known bugs, problems and wiggy fault-intolerant stack calls designed as a blame-horse, so project managers can truthfully state: “I can't help it if the job schedule didn't work out correctly, it must be the fault of the software it was created on!”
Primavera: The world's most popular construction job scheduling, job cost and job tracking program, which costs about $4,000 and is primarily designed to sit on a shelf in your boss' credenza to impress visitors while he later tells you to do the schedule of values for the job, using graph paper and a 10 cent plastic grade school ruler.
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 email at email@example.com.