A 30-second lesson on project management

My wife and I were lounging about on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just being more or less quiet and happy and talking gently about the things the day and the rest of the week would bring. Have you finished the column you needed to write? she asked. No, sweetest, I haven't, I replied. Well, you need to. You are the world's worst procrastinator but you've never missed a deadline yet, she said.

My wife and I were lounging about on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday just being more or less quiet and happy and talking gently about the things the day and the rest of the week would bring.

“Have you finished the column you needed to write?” she asked.

“No, sweetest, I haven't,” I replied.

“Well, you need to. You are the world's worst procrastinator but you've never missed a deadline yet,” she said.

“You know I won't, but nothing came to me this weekend, nothing struck me, and I just can't think of a topic to write about,” I said.

“Well, you need to think of something and quick,” she said.

“Seriously, honey, for the first time in years nothing's in my head right now. I don't have a topic to write about,” I responded.

“I know nothing's in your head most of the time, dear, but that's beside the point. … Why don't you just wing it and do what you normally do and write your usual 800 words of nonsense?” she joked.

Well, she was correct. For all my occasional skill at putting facts and opinions on paper in sometimes entertaining and hopefully thoughtful ways, what I write is, for the most part, a re-telling of the same old dozen or so basic storylines told in slightly different ways.

Likewise, we more or less approach each day and each job in a handful of similar ways. After all, there's simply no point in reinventing the wheel. Our mentors taught us that one or two templates are adequate to create accountability and transparency for each job. We simply go about our daily business more or less mind-numb a lot of the time and this is okay!

While each job presents its own unique set of challenges, problems and opportunities, seldom do they present a unique set of paradigms. Be it gravity or forced fluid piping, human environmental or ultra-pure duct or dumb or smart accessories, competent tradespeople need to complete the installation.

There really is no magic formula to mechanical contracting project management and there is no way to significantly alter the process to gain an edge over your competition. Your company must have the adequate capital and credit to purchase system equipment and materials. It must carry a payroll of overheads like you and me and field guys until draws can be made. The firm also must buy or rent larger pieces of equipment and tools for the field guys to complete the installation.

Then, you must supervise to make sure everything complies with the plans and specs so draws can continue to be made. Eventually, all the retainage must be properly paid to the company.

That's it. That's the down-and-dirty 30-second lesson of mechanical contracting project management, guys, nothing more and nothing less.

We can split hairs over how many general contractors can dance on each point of an owner's pitchfork. We can swap lies about how this method or that way of job cost accounting is superior to the other. We can build bridges of trust with our fellow professional project managers and estimating colleagues and improve ourselves by reading books on project management or columns like this. But in the end what matters is the fact that we re-earn the right to go back to our job the next day by doing what we do today with professionalism and care.

If my humble columns over the years have given you a fragment of knowledge here or a word of encouragement there that helped you in your job, then that pleases me. That's what I'm here for, to help you, the reader, and for no other reason. Next month I'll be back to my old self, so be on the lookout for a column about the application of heuristic algorithms in labor unit analysis.

“Finished yet, dear?” my wife later asked.

“Almost, but I need to go back and edit some,” I responded.

“Aw, don't worry about it, this is one of our very few handful of real days off, so get off that laptop, sweetest husband, so we can go run errands and catch the sales,” she said.

“Yeah, you're right,” I said, my hands quickly flashing out these final words as Enya played softly in the background of our living room, my wife understanding that sometimes professionalism means putting work before family in order to provide for the family.

“Now, sweetest wife, where did I put those blasted car keys?”

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating, and plumbing. You may contact him by telephone at 919/291-0878 or via email at [email protected].