Every spring I have the privilege of hosting a group of project managers from various companies throughout the United States and Canada at Violand’s Restoration Project Management program in Canton, Ohio. During the week, attendees work diligently through the principles of project management and many other fundamental disciplines of the trade. One of my favorite exercises involves the attendees sharing stories about projects that had less-than-desirable results and relating them to topics learned during the program that could have improved the outcomes.
As you can imagine, this exercise can be quite humorous. We’ve heard just about everything from the installation of incorrect materials to the distractions associated with rendering services in properties with illegitimate business operations and everything in between. Aside from the candor associated with losing a homeowner’s cat, attempting to clean alabaster statues in an ultrasonic tank, or gutting an entire floor in the WRONG building of a new assisted living center, there are many valuable lessons to be learned from these stories. Most of the lessons can be traced back to root causes having many things in common. These fundamental failures resonate with even the best project managers at some point in their careers, including yours truly.
According to the sixth edition of the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK guide, 54% of project management activities occur in the Initiation and Planning phases of a project. My observation is that most restoration project managers spend far less time than this in favor of putting out fires in the Execution and Control phase. This inappropriate allocation of time and effort results in poorly defined deliverables and service specifications with the client, a lack of resources, and haphazard scheduling.
Aside from the simple notion that more time spent on planning would result in better project outcomes, I believe that most restorers would benefit from planning at the operational process level. While each restoration project is unique, there are enough similarities that the standardization of project management activities should yield sufficient procedural gains to warrant the efforts. Furthermore, in today’s economic climate where labor and material resources are in short supply, additional planning time would enable operators and project managers to establish a priority of projects which would benefit all parties.
For more information on project planning, see Start Your Projects the Right Way (May 2014).
With few exceptions, communication can be identified as the root cause of most project failures. While the most common reasons would be lack of communication and unidentified stakeholders, the observation of project managers’ behaviors indicates that the communication that does exist is simply not effective.
At its core, effective communication is the transfer of information from one party to another. To accomplish this not only does the information need to be accurate but it needs to be timely and delivered through the appropriate channels. The mistakes we see project managers routinely make are waiting too long to have critical conversations, hoping the issues go away or resolve themselves, and then trying to have those conversations via email or text messages. While there are certainly right and wrong times to have these types of discussions, problems do NOT resolve themselves and waiting only makes them worse. On top of that, critical conversations involve hearing the tone of voice and observing body language, as these represent 93% of the message—neither of which can be gained from an email or text, regardless of how many emojis are used!
For more information on project communication, see How to Increase Restoration Project Management Communication (November 2021).
Restoration is a “Yes, sir/ma’am” business, and project managers are problem solvers who chronically overcommit. In attempts to please all parties, they routinely make promises they can’t keep. Whether it pertains to price, a deadline, the quality of materials, or technical performance, overcommitting is a recipe for disaster when it comes to customer satisfaction. It’s also detrimental to personal performance.
Because project managers are the gatekeepers of productivity in a company, they feel it necessary to say yes to every new assignment, task, and activity their owners and managers give them while turning a blind eye to their own personal capacity. Crossing this threshold, even with the best of intentions, is a fundamental failure to an exponential degree. It leads to lackluster performance and mediocrity rather than the discipline and attention to detail necessary to manage a project successfully. It can also lead to burnout, resulting in project managers who are actively disengaged. This then has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the project team and soon everyone is emulating the poor behaviors and setting the stage for a downward spiral which can quickly get out of control.
If you have ever wondered why there is so much documentation necessary to properly manage a restoration project, you can blame it on one four letter word—RISK. It’s everywhere. Forget the dynamics of the transaction and claim settlement process. Just look at the circumstances of being thrust into the lives of consumers who didn’t plan to have a major disruption to their property and their schedule. This coupled with their unfamiliarity with the process in general sets the stage for a plethora of risk on multiple levels.
Restoration is a high risk, high reward (profit) business and many of the generally accepted procedures and associated documentation address the obvious, such as insurance coverage, payments, health and safety, etc. Where we see project managers get stung with remarkable consistency is with the risks they turn a blind eye to, such as permitting, inspections, material selections, and subcontractor availability, not to mention all the red flags waved by customers that are routinely ignored. These items jeopardize the project schedule, budget, and quality.
All of this accentuates the reason why ignorance is never an excuse. Known risks should be identified, analyzed, and mitigated early in every project. Pretending they don’t exist is just bad project management.
The recognition of fundamental failures is the first and hardest step in performance improvement. If there is a comforting element to all of this, it is that correction is relatively easy. It doesn’t require advanced degrees, certifications, or much in the way of training. These are not systemic or procedural changes. They are behavioral and completely in the project manager’s control. They are conscious choices that are made every day. All you need to do is ask yourself what kind of project manager you want to be.