“Oh snap! What are we going to do now?” You just don’t make it very far in this business without thinking this. In the moment it can seem like the proverbial end of the world. The project is at risk, your job may be at risk, you find yourself thinking how did I screw up this badly and what happens next? Years later it’s simply a great story over a beer.
After nearly 25 years in the business I have uncovered a trend that was disturbing at first. Now it’s comforting. Every project has its “oh shit” issue. Some projects have more than one (ouch). Instead of seeing this as a continued failure some would say use each one as a learning experience. I support that notion entirely so I’m going to assume if you’re enlightened enough to be reading blog posts about our industry that you’re already attuned to the idea of learning from your mistakes and instead focus on something else. Inevitability.
Construction is a messy business. Sure we like to think we do it pretty well most days and I have to say I’ve seen advances in technology and college instruction create efficiencies over the years that are simply amazing. The precision with which we plan and track our projects now is truly impressive. What we can’t change is that the vast majority of what we do is still hand-built, custom work. The pieces and parts may have become more standardized or controllable with advances in machining and the like but we still trust Joe the Plumber (couldn’t resist) and all his counterparts to put it all together by hand at some point in the process. This means shit happens sometimes; it is inevitable.
Take heart though for there’s something else. Just as mistakes, big ones, are inevitable so is progress. The project will get done. This is not to say it won’t hurt or it won’t cost money you weren’t planning, but it will get done. Except in the rare cases, at least here in the US, where a project is simply abandoned, somehow or another the work needs to get completed and everyone involved knows it and is ultimately motivated to that end. What I’ve found is that this fact many times creates unlikely partners and even creates greater results through necessity and innovation. We all have the war stories to prove this is true but we may not always see the results for what they are.
The successful navigation of these moments requires leadership for sure. While completion is inevitable, getting there relatively unscathed is not. I have discovered over time that the key to providing this leadership is the calm approach that only comes from the acceptance that the shitstorm you’re standing in was always inevitable.