Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Everything I learned about (what not to do in) Project Management, I Learned From My Contractor

Well, let me preface all this by saying that my contractor Fernando is the most wonderful person in the world, and we have worked with him for years now and (almost) never regretted it. He's bent over backwards for us when we really needed him, rushing to finish up our bathroom renovations in our old apartment so that when I was coming home from the hospitol with my first child I could have a finished bathroom to use. Then he came back late at night to fix the bathroom floor when I (in my drunken, sleepless new mother state) stepped on the still drying tiles and messed them up.

That said, if he was to be my mentor when I started out as a PM, I probably wouldn't be a PM anymore. Let's start from the beginning...

The Estimate
I called Fernando because I wanted to have him walk around the house with me and show him 4 things I wanted an estimate for. He stopped by and I showed him the 4 things needing work:
- installing a storm door
- fixing a leak & ceiling damage in a side room
- installing a cabinet & counter around a dishwasher (we couldnt afford the cabinets last year, just the dishwasher and wood box around it)
- making holes in the wall in my daughter's rooms and installing wall unit A/C's

He didn't write anything down, but I did (it was the PM in me nudging). I called him up 2 weeks later and he gave me my price. He gave me one number, no ranges, no conditions, no specifics about the deliverables, just the flat price. When I asked about specifics of the 4 deliverables, he broke down the work estimates for me. He didn't specify whether the price covered labor and materials (which burned me in the past because I assumed that the price covered materials and I was wrong). He didn't mention how the cost might change if the wall was harder to bust through then he expected (its a 100+ year old rowhouse, needing repairs), just gave me the flat fee.

I remember from my PMP class that this is one type of contract, which can be very beneficial to the buyer but can be dangerous to the seller.

The Schedule
Ok, so anyone who has a contracter knows that they are completely unreliable and if they show up 2 of the 5 days of the week then we should be grateful. Fernando and his team are the same way at times. So, I've stopped asking how long something will take, because I think it will just get done when it's done and I have no idea when that will be. He does good work, so in the end that's most important to me. Fernando doesn't exactly know about the triple constraint, but as long as he does good work I don't bug him about it (so much).

Change Control

..or lack thereof really. Fernando is so nice, he will let us take advantage of him sometimes. When he's in the house doing work, I'll say "Fernando, can you take a look at ___ or ___ ". And he will, and he'll help us out with other stuff, but what he really should be saying is "I can help with this, but it will have this impact on the schedule of the current work I am doing for you and will affect the cost of the labor by this." Not that I'm complaining really, but I know not to adopt this process when I manage my projects!

Revising Estimates in Project Execution

Last year we needed Fernando to redo all of our electrical wiring because it was more than 50 years old and in dire need of replacement. We got our price quote (7K) and his electrician started his work. This guy was just as unreliable as Fernando, and came maybe 2-3 days a week. When he was there, he worked pretty slow (not that I'm complaining so much, electrical stuff should be done carefully!). The entire work effort took about 5 months, and throughout the project the electrician asked for installments of the 7K because he was running low on supplies. It seemed to me that all of the money was going to supplies, what was going to labor? They never asked me for more than 7K, but it started to seem like they severaly underestimated the work and were totally losing money on the job. Maybe this is why they only came half-time, they were putting their time into more profitable jobs. In hindsight, I kindof wish that Fernando would have come back to me and said its going to take 12K and this will ensure the project will complete more quickly and efficiently, and my employees will get the compensation they deserve. Not that I love throwing money into projects, but that's what home equity loans are for!

Fernando's business is thriving, he does great work and he's always got projects lined up. So, obviously he must be doing something right. We probably shouldn't expect our contracters

to follow PMBok, but maybe some happy place in between might be ok.

Maybe it's just my contractor, who knows!


Elizabeth said...

Hello Dina
I've stumbled across your blog through the LinkedIn PM Bloggers group and I've been having a read through your posts today - I really like it (and the title!).

Look forward to reading more.

Dina Garfinkel said...

Thanks Elizabeth...glad you're enjoying it!