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Lessons from the CM Trenches

Once upon a time, there was a construction manager with lots of book knowledge and precious little practical experience. (Spoiler alert—it’s me.) Things didn’t always go as I’d planned. But as they say, live and learn. That’s just what I did. Decades later, I stand—er, blog—before you a true seasoned professional.

 Through all the Rolaids and ribbon cuttings, I’ve learned quite a bit from my successes and failures. I thought I’d share some of my favorite lessons in hopes that you’ll find them useful in your CM ventures.

  • Bridges are for building, not burning.

The Golden Rule is important for its own sake, but I didn’t realize how crucial it was to CM life until I participated in RFQs involving joint ventures. As I tried desperately to keep up with which corporate entity had gobbled up the other, it dawned on me that I’d be in deep trouble if I would’ve burned bridges earlier in my career. Fierce competitors today can easily become joint venture pals tomorrow.

  • Memorize the contract, regardless of language.

I always remind my CMs to read and learn their contracts backwards and forwards. Nothing is more humiliating then having a GC start reciting contract verse that your CM forgot.

When I worked in Saudi Arabia, we had a contract that was in English and Arabic, with the Arabic version governing in any dispute. Not knowing Arabic, I counted on the translated text as the basis of my work. Unfortunately, some details were not fully translated, and I had to scramble at the end to provide all the contract deliverables. May this pain lead to your gain.

  • Learn from your past.  

You didn’t implement recommendations from your last project on this one? A future accident or malfunction claim “discovery process” might nail you if it was flagged earlier. So before diving into a project, take a deep breath and see where previous “teachable moments” can prevent headaches.

  • Remember the owner’s operations and maintenance staff.

There are many reasons to include end users in the process as we go from programming to design to construction to commissioning. A huge one is promoting engagement over discouragement. Make sure these critical personnel know you’re listening.  

  • Embrace the BIM buzz. 

Most people, clients included, visualize in 2-D. They can only confirm their complete understanding when they actually see, touch and feel what’s described on paper. BIM is a CM miracle—visually expressing our ideas and concepts to clients in a tangible form.

But the value of BIM is actually nothing new. When I worked for Walt Disney Imagineering in the late 80s, we would fabricate highly detailed scale models. Once the client signed off, they were sliced, diced and scanned to produce computer templates, which became the basis of the final design, production and shop drawings. Models first, drawings last.

  • Keep paper trails. 

Our legal counsel bangs the drum for CMs to document and keep records of everything. It’s smart practice. I recently was involved in litigation and came prepared with volumes of supporting documentation. The claimant came with two sheets of paper. Before we even started with the hearing, the judge gave away the outcome with his smirk.

  • Reward your safety stars.

Heap praise upon those who go above and beyond to maintain a safe workplace. My safety consultant would award $25 Starbucks cards to CMs, PIs and supers who kept the safest sites. On a project in England, we gave bottles of champagne to the safest contractor of the month (with the understanding they would be enjoyed after hours!)

We all have stories to tell, experiences to share and advice to give. What about you? Let us know some of your favorite hard-won life lessons.

Author

Daniel Sicile-Kira, CCM, ASID, LEED Green Associate, CM-BIM

Students and teachers in Southern California today benefit from the world of experience Daniel brings to every project—literally. His 35-year career in program, project and construction management has included ventures across the globe—from hospitals in the Middle East to theme parks in Europe. Today, he focuses primarily on improving educational environments. He has led numerous new and modernization construction projects for the San Diego Unified School District, the San Diego Community College District and the Santa Monica - Malibu Unified School District.

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