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At the expense of offending Project Managers as well as the Monkey:

A woman was looking at the animals on display in a pet store. A few minutes later, a man walked in and said to the shopkeeper 'I'll take a Construction Monkey, please.’   The shopkeeper nodded and took a monkey out of a cage. He put a collar and leash on the animal and handed it the man, saying, 'That will be $5,000.' The man paid and left with the monkey.  The surprised woman went to the shopkeeper and said, 'That was a very expensive monkey. Most of them are only a few hundred dollars. Why did that one cost so much?’  The shopkeeper answered, 'Ah, that's a Construction Monkey. He can drive trucks, set forms, erect steel & equipment and run pipe, all with no back talk or complaints. He's well worth the money.'  The woman then spotted a monkey in another cage. 'That one's even more expensive! $10,000! What does it do?'  'Oh, that one' replied the shopkeeper, 'that's a ' Superintendent Monkey', he can read drawings, answer RFI's, make as-build's and inspect quality. He is very useful monkey indeed.'  The woman looked around a little longer and found a monkey with a $50,000 price tag. The shocked woman exclaimed, 'This one costs more than all the others put together! What in the world can it do?’  ‘Well,' said the shopkeeper, 'I've never actually seen him do anything except drink beer and put his hands down his pants. But his papers say he's a Project Manager.

Most of us can relate to this perception as it is held sometimes by Estimators, Field Workers, and sometimes by management.  I mean let's look at the facts, the field is out there building the project, the vendors should be shipping the materials, the purchasing department should be doing the ordering, and Estimators have set-up the budget.  What an easy job right?  Let's go grab a beer! 

Not so fast, Project Managers play a key role in getting any project completed properly.  With the exception of NASA, I think it is safe to say that construction provides the most difficult Project Management across all industries.  Project Managers must keep the project moving forward while not only seeing in the future but also predicting the future.

Risk Control
In my experience, Risk Management/Control is one of the key jobs for a Project Manager.  Now I am aware that we can all go into our company's employee handbook and will not find Risk Control as a key job duty for the PM, but boy is it crucial.  As a company, they are putting in place one person to manage the future financial look of the company and if it fails, the company may fail also.  So if a PM is not looking after the risk on the project (what could be coming up around the next corner that could hurt the project), the duties of the PM will be for naught.

Cost Reduction
Since we are managing dollars and hours, it becomes key for the Project Manager to be looking to save money on every task they do.  This becomes a difficult task, because of the money value of time.  It takes a delicate balance to ensure that we are not walking over dollars to save a dime, but in the same token if we save $10 that is a great thing for the project and the company.  In order to reduce costs the Project Manager must always understand the current market price for material items and the time for installation of different scenarios.

Motivator
As subcontractors we have a significant amount of cost in the men and women that work for us.  This labor cost is not only significant, but also posses the greatest area for financial gain and loss.  The Project Manager must be able to motivate that team to build the project in the face of changing obstacles.  On a given project there lots of personalities that will affect production from internal sources (co-workers, management, safety, etc), peer sources (other trades), and from client sources (general contractors, owners, consultants).  Any one of these personalities on a given day can affect the team's performance, which then requires someone to step in and re-engage the team to accomplish great things.   Too often if the Project Manager is not doing this, the project suffers as people fight or address one another in lieu of addressing the project.

Customer Service Representative
One of the most common faces the clients will see is the Project Manager.  Not only are they visible, they deal with difficult issues and decisions.  The way that they handle those issues (change orders, overtime, safety, etc) has a profound impact on the way the customer views the Project Manager.

Inventor
Most of what we build has not been built before.  The challenges we face, while similar, are unique and require unique solutions.  In order to properly solve those problems, it takes out of the box thinking.  Anyone who goes into building a project applying the solutions from past projects without open thought will fail.  Just like the designers who have come up with unique designs to the requirements of the Owner, the builders must always be looking at different techniques to solve installation, schedule, staging, and other problems on the project.

Time Keeper
Let's not forget schedule.  Every contract we get has a dollar value and a time value.  Being able to keep schedule is just as critical to the success of the project as keeping the budget (especially since time is money).  As a subcontractor this task is more difficult as we are not in total control of the schedule or the sequencing.  It takes a bit of diplomacy to ensure the schedule is set-up right and maintained and requires diligence every day to ensure that materials, labor, and other trades are on schedule.  One missed date can have impacts throughout the schedule.

So why does that Project Manager Monkey cost the most in the Pet store?  He keeps the rest of the monkeys moving in the right direction to ensure that the end goal is met.  Even though to the causal observer they are not doing much, walk a mile in the shoes of a good Project Manager and you will see that projects don't just build themselves and it takes the right mix of experience, intelligence, diplomacy, and social skills to make it happen right.

About the Author

Craig Pierce

Craig Pierce has been working in the construction industry for the past 25 years helping subcontractors master their trade. Currently he is President of Atalanta Enterprises which provides consulting services to contractors And software solutions through ConstructionMonkey.com.