The biggest project management nightmare

April 3, 2012
Hello, it's me - your trusty project management columnist Kent H. Craig. But for this column I become Gordon Ramsay, world-famous chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur and raconteur, and write about project management through his eyes.

Hello, it’s me — your trusty project management columnist Kent H. Craig. But for this column I become Gordon Ramsay, world-famous chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur and raconteur, and write about project management through his eyes. He’s facing the most difficult challenge of his professional career, dealing with a recalcitrant and just plain pigheaded mechanical contractor hired to work on a new restaurant, let’s call it Buffalo Chips, in Bumgas, Okla. Continue reading this fictitious tale, to see how I imagine Gordon Ramsay’s perspective to be on project management in the mechanical contracting industry. Bon Appétit!

I knew things were going to go downhill fast after the pipe and duct company that I hired — specifically because they had experience in HVAC and plumbing systems for livestock slaughterhouses and higher-end restaurants — fired their entire project management staff because they had underbid the $10 million dollar mechanical contract part of my new grand food palace by $5 million American dollars. The contractor replaced their whole cadre of 30-plus year front and back veterans with a single employee just graduated from architectural design school, Little Stevie Clueless, who is someone’s grand-aunt’s grand-nephew twice removed from an unfortunate union between their Scottish grandfather.  

But since I had them with a fully-backed hard cash bond it made little difference to me since if they didn’t fulfill all contract terms I could happily bankrupt them and their children for several lifetimes, then hire someone who could actually project manage the job to completion. But the devil blessed them, even when it was obvious they had screwed me over, they refused to throw in the towel and then I made the mistake of all mistakes, I took pity on them.

Being God’s gift to anything I touch, I jumped in and began to ride shotgun with Clueless Jr. just to make sure things totally didn’t tank.

First thing was the job schedule and schedule of values, which had been submitted by scribbling wish-list dates and fantasy milestone dollar markers with a Sharpie on an Office Depot desktop blotter calendar. No-N0-No! I had to explain to Clueless Jr. that’s what Microsoft Project was for, to at least try to baffle some random typing mistakes in timeline form to the A&E firm I never wanted to hire, but was required to by Oklahoma state law and to the owner (myself since I was the one signing the checks).

Once I had him so totally confused he signed off on a milestone progression chart and schedule of values that meant if I stayed reasonably clever at the end of the job that the mechanical contractor would end up owing me money!

Next thing I did was have Clueless Jr. come by the job trailer, so I could teach him a few things about how to most effectively write and execute purchase orders and then time deliveries of materials and equipment to the job. Yes, it may be standard practice to order, bill and then store major equipment for the job on the job in an insured and bonded condition, but in an area like where the restaurant is where you have hordes of Canadians flooding the countryside to escape their winters to play golf in tornado conditions, well, you just can’t trust anyone who thinks back bacon is a real meat and Molson is a real beer, so it’s better to either pay extra for more secured bonded storage or wait until later in the job to do just-in-time deliveries for high capital items.

And, being fresh out of architectural college it never occurred to Clueless Jr. that for small items that will be used on a daily basis, ordinary pipe and fittings, solder and welding rods, hangers and threaded rod, consumable supplies, shovels and ladders and other such stuff halts production of entire crews for half a day or more if they’re not available. It’s better to stuff a couple of job trailers full of them and within reason not worry about the odd item walking off the job. Any thief caught should be slow-roasted over a medium-high open pit fire as a lesson to all. I’ve seen too many $100 to $200 dollar an hour aggregate cost crews stopped dead in their tracks over a lack of a single bottle of welding gas. Shame, shame shame!

Speaking of jobsite theft, the best solution for that is to ugly up every hand-held power tool by painting them ugly pink or blaze orange or a nice lovely lavender color. Ugly it up to keep it on the job! The biggest secret about the restaurant business being that the number one problem is not a lack of customers or cooking lousy food, but employee theft walking big double-digits of overhead out the back door at night which is why some years back I instituted a company-wide policy of a complete strip and body cavity search of each employee every night before leaving company premises, which includes office as well as kitchen staff, but unfortunately when building a new restaurant jobsite union rules in most locales won’t let you do that.

And lastly perhaps the most important thing I’ve been trying to teach Clueless Jr. is that it’s OK and necessary to always be yourself, be confident in your actions and words. Make your decisions be your decisions made with respect, honor and honesty. I may be known by inference and reputation as one of the biggest, most foul-mouthed and sometimes downright childhood-tantrum throwing individuals ever to walk on the planet, at least that’s what comes across on TV. But the two things no one can ever say about me is that I’m not as honest with everyone as I can possibly be and that I do go off the handle sometimes and present an exhibition of passionate fire. This is because I am so passionate about what I do. I care so much about treating my customers as I would wish to be treated and stay focused on the ultimate prize, which is in the end my word.  The results are a product as close to perfection as a human being can make, whether it be risotto or a mechanical system for my newest place done right the first time.

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: [email protected].

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