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How to Tame Dragons: Triple Constraints and Competition

How to Tame Dragons: Triple Constraints and Competition

The various needs of a project can compete with each other in construction. Schedule, budget, and quality are constantly in tension. The old adage is: if you’re going to have a quality project, it’ll take time. If you want to go fast and still have quality, it’ll take money. The tug and pull, give and take of these three constraints are in competition with each other. Wrestling with them is not only a full-time job, but also it is the entire job of project / construction management. In fact, if you do not wrestle with them, then your project can take a life of its own and seem more like a fire-breathing dragon ready to eat more than just your lunch.

But one does not have to retain a certification in every trade these days to oversee the disparate and various needs of a successful project. There are ways to tame that dragon. But if you’re not careful, these needs multiply and turn into issues, then problems, then nightmares. So how can you turn competing with these three constraints into competing for the success of the project, from being a fearsome dragon to a docile, house-trained pet?

1. Be transparent at the beginning.

2. Stay ahead of the game.

3. Periodically review the three.

4. Staff for success.

5. Get creative in achieving them.

6. Let the non-essentials fall aside.

The only way to keep the triple constraints from competing with each other (and thus competing against you) is to control them at every phase with a careful and exacting demand. The 6 tips below tell you just how to do that. If you follow these well, then your triple constraints will not only be tamed, but will testify of your process very well to anyone involved.

Not to mention the fact that you must be actually skilled in project and construction management—these are prerequisites—add to the baseline essentials these 6 competencies to be able to slay the dragon and win the day for milady.

1. Be transparent at the beginning.

Projects go sideways. You know it. Your team knows it. The customer might not realize it. But it is incumbent on you, as the project manager or team leader, to instill this right from the start.

In the popular movie Batman Begins, Henri Ducard (the secret villain of the movie to be revealed later in the final act), begins to drub poor Bruce Wayne (the eventual Batman) after he has climbed a mountain just to reach Ducard. While kicking Wayne while he’s down, Ducard announces what every project manager knows about a project:

“Death does not wait for you to be ready! Death is not considerate, or fair! And make no mistake: here, you face Death.”

Now replace the word “project” for the word “death” in Ducard’s tirade:

“Project does not wait for you to be ready! Project is not considerate, or fair! And make no mistake: here, you face Project.”

While more than just a tad melodramatic, the idea rings true: a project is something substantial, wild, unpredictable, and to be contended with immediately or it contends with you. The outside world does not wait for your readiness: permitting and inspections run at their own schedule of a city hall, and don’t try fighting them either; contractors you work with have their own issues and overactive egos to manage; the business down the street paying even a little bit more for their work is threatening the stability of your project because there is such a small pool of qualified workers these days; those drawings and plans are well done but often do not know about the hidden surprises and landmines of a project that cannot be foreseen; the customer is demanding everything with very little room for grace or change.

With the daunting challenge ahead of you duly established, here you face Project. And it is here that you must be transparent with everyone involved: this is going to suck. Prepare for battle.

Setting expectations, especially in your customer, is essential. This is not to expect failure, but to prepare for a fight, and to make it one you can win.

2. Stay ahead of the game.

Almost going without saying, if you do not stay ahead of the game by advance planning, careful oversight, and strict controls in place, your project will grow from a challenge to an issue to a roaring, fire-breathing problem. It cannot be understated how important preconstruction is in getting the project right. Did you budget enough for site work? Did you get subcontractors to sign on? Are your contracts in place? Do you have the right people on your team? In preconstruction projects are lost and won before you ever start. That is why it is so essential to stay ahead by careful planning and constant review, the next point.

3. Periodically review the three.

How is it that one knows if you are winning or not? A scoreboard. The scoreboard is a third party, independent, and objective measure of your success. But how can you know the score unless you make a scoreboard? That is what periodic review of the process is: how are we doing on budget? Is the schedule slipping? Has quality been up to snuff? With measured and consistent checkpoints, both your staff and your subcontractors will know that you prioritize the right things, that you are keeping score, that they had better do things rightly. If these three are in tension, then we had better manage that tension well.

4. Staff for success.

The number one problem recently (because of many and varied factors) is to have the right people on the job. Get the “who” of your team right and everything goes right. Yet in this COVID19, recessionary, civic-unrest environment, it is difficult to get people to go to work and much less to be happily working there. But instead of complaining about it, perhaps we ought to learn from it:

A. Are you finding the right, committed people? Turn them loose and they’ll do it all for you, and well.

B. Are your people paid rightly?

C. Do you have a safe work environment for your employees?

D. Have you paid attention to your team and making sure they are right? If you do that, they’ll take care of you.

Taming a dragon is never done alone. It takes ancillary support of your team to make your project a success. Let us get the team right.

5. Get creative in achieving them.

There is no end to the ways that things can go wrong, and that fire-breathing dragon (of a project gone awry) can rear its ugly head. Thankfully, there are multiple solutions to most problems if you just think creatively. That is why getting the staff right, from the tip above, is so critical. Your team should be encouraged to think creatively. Apple itself, the largest company in the world, made this its mantra to “think different”. Look how that worked out for them.

OK so your subcontractor did not report for duty, do you have others in your bull pen? Could you self-perform it? Perhaps you can buy the materials and rent the equipment for a less-expensive project and merely find the right laborers? Can you add in this missing scope to the work of one of your well-behaving subs? Take issues and problems as challenges to be conquered, not roadblocks to delay your project. Help your team to see that “challenge” is all we know around here, not problems. Think in terms like that to instill an infinite optimism and “can do” attitude. It is amazing to see what intelligent, skilled people come up with in terms of solutions when given the chance and the leeway to do it.

6. Let the non-essentials fall aside.

Ask yourself, “Should we really be doing this?” That is to say, do not ask yourself this for something that you are contractually bound to do, but consider the items under your control: what are you doing that is simply non-essential? The more you can boil down your team and efforts to the essentials the better. When you have pared back the process and project to the most important parts, then you will be seeing clearly at what can be neglected and what has to be done.

Taming dragons is not easy, but it is worthwhile if you are ever going to get a project from paper design to reality. The six steps above are essential to doing just that. By following these guidelines, the project can move smoothly as possible, not get stuck in a rut, and become the tame, house-broken animal it was always intended to be.

Here at Constructable: We have a constant focus on the triple constraints; we work every day to tame the various dragons that threaten a successful project. It is our job, nay calling, to deliver a quality, on schedule, and on budget project to you. With the fervor of a medieval knight errant we vanquish what stands in the way of your ideas becoming a reality.

Start the conversation with us HERE.

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