Meet or Email

I have noticed over time, that the number of people who phone me on my office line during the working day is decreasing, whilst email has become almost unmanageable. Note I don’t use the phone at work for chit-chat only business. This suits my misanthropic view on life but does not pander to my narcissistic traits.

I was discussing this with one of our up and coming future project managers the other day and broached the subject of “business life before email and mobile phones” Of course to a twenty-three year old it must seem like the dark ages. But there was a world in construction management where we built things without spreadsheets, pdfs, ipads etc.

The conversation went back further to the time before telephones. No I am not that old but it brought to mind one of my favorite authors, who credited himself with being the author of a book in which the telephone was first used extensively between the characters. The author being Evelyn Waugh 1903 to 1966, famous for Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, Handful of Dust and Scoop.

Vile Bodies was published in 1930 and is Evelyn Waugh’s second book and. Similarly to his first novel Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies is set in 1920’s high society London. It is about the “me generation” who are rich and privileged. They go to all night parties and love being in the papers. They were part of the cult of celebrity. Nowadays it seems the dream for the great unwashed as they wander around the supermarket checking their smartphones for some oh so important message, tweet or update, is to be famous. They attach self-worth to having a mobile phone as if it sets them up as being important. When in fact Waugh’s book title describes them perfectly.

We take the telephone for granted but email is easier yet more pervasive for some people, although my preference is a bit old-fashioned – it is called face to face. This is something I constantly bang on about to young PMs especially in solving issues with subcontractors. A face to face meeting works so much better than a curt email.

Which brings me to this great short article from Keir Thomas-Bryant of Sage

Five crucial advantages of face-to-face client meetings

Zero Overheads

v-30-PreviewSimple premise – reduce overheads, become more competitive, then win more work. So what overheads does a construction company essentially need. Perhaps if the projects were set up with the right resources we would not be as reliant upon a head office. The project becomes, in effect a stand alone business and if it needs anything from head office it has to pay for it. Simple. But in reality , if the project runs this way it will incur costs never envisaged in the cost plan and instead of wearing head office overheads, it just bleeds dollars and drags the business down anyway. It is all down to how the budget is managed, reported and controlled.

So we need to be competitive in the tender process, run the project pretty lean and not rely on additional resources from head office. The answer is smart people, good communication and the best IT we can buy.

Let’s start with IT. We  love to blame it, cannot function without it, do not embrace it and do not use it to its full potential. The IT department is an overhead that needs to charge the project for providing services and hardware.  First thing we can do is to stop buying hardware. Bring your own phone, ipad, tablet, monitor and simply connect to the company’s access points. Companies don’t provide cars any more so why provide computer hardware. All IT provide is the core software and managing internal communication. Everyone has a mobile phone so why is it most staff have two, one for work and one for personal.

Site office space is always a problem as we never seem to have enough. We need to understand space should be determined by function not status. Give everyone access to an open plan area and meeting rooms for meetings, not for egos. Site offices are expensive. We do not need a dedicated office for a project director who visits once a month, whilst others are working on top of each other.

But this is just simple good housekeeping. We need to look at all the functions that the project could manage themselves and ensure those they cannot are paid for. We all think very seriously before calling in external legal advise, yet pick up the phone at the drop of a hat if we have in-house counsel. Internal lawyers (if the company has them) are our best friends and having access to them is a true luxury. But we need to be aware not only do they have a cost, the resource is limited and whilst we are tying them up they are not available to our colleagues on other projects.

It is interesting to consider say fifty years ago we employed all the major trades for us to construct buildings and did not have internal support such as legal, marketing, green advisers, real estate novelists etc. Now we have various none core support divisions and we subcontract the construction.

Of course our support teams are vital and we need to make full use of their expertise, we simply need to remember we have to pay for them.

picture courtesy of

Stone Wallers

Well it had to happen, the first blog from my iPad, an early Christmas present from my beloved. But down to business:

I believe in passion, I have written about it, brought it to the forefront of people’s minds and always tried to ‘maintain the rage’. But how do you keep the passion when you hit a stone wall, have cold water thrown over ideas, have your passion misinterpreted as a threat to the status quo.

What you do is simple. The stone wall may seem immovable and intransigent but really it is just a temporary block which can be surmountable. The stone wallers are predictable and stand out in organizations. Ultimately they get left behind an they are further away from the business as Narnia.

So maintain the passion and when you want to quite – don’t. Ramp up your efforts and stay until you have laid the stone waller to waste.

My father’smotto was simple “per ardua ad astram” it worked seventy years ago and it is apposite right now.