When I first met Mike he was a senior project manager at an oil & gas company that builds facilities and pipelines all over North America.
Mike was an Excel pro. He planned & tracked the construction of the facilities with pretty decent precision considering the size of the projects – and especially considering he did it using a collection spreadsheets with multiple tabs, references, complex formulas and macros. Unfortunately for Mike however, he had no idea that he was spending about 30 extra hours every week just on spreadsheet management. In addition to the extra time, it also wasn’t clear to him that there was very little ROI on that effort since the solution that he’d built was achieving only minimal results. The challenge for Mike – and many others like him – was that he had invested so much time and personal emotional equity in the creation and management of his spreadsheet solution, that the idea of abandoning his dear spreadsheets for a better, more efficient construction management software solution was like asking him to drown babies.
In our first meeting, he presented his solution to a boardroom full of his colleagues as well as a couple of us 4castplus guys. His presentation took just under an hour, and during that time, there were surprisingly few questions asked. It became clear why by the end: everyone in the room had a jaw-dropping stunned look on their face at the sheer complexity and enormity of his solution. He, on the other hand, was excited and quite proud of his major accomplishment and appeared to be expecting a round of applause. It was practically impossible to truly understand his whole process. There were so many parts to it; and so much movement of data, and copying from one place to another - it was bewildering trying to follow along. I felt bad for Mike, because he’s a super-smart guy that has all the right intentions and all the makings for a very skilled construction project manager. But both he and his superiors had fallen into a few very common traps:
- First, they fell into the trap of maintaining the status quo. Their business had been growing in size and complexity and they’d outgrown their ability to manage projects efficiently with their current processes. The status quo, as it turns out, was costing them in both money and time (as well as in reputation), but they didn’t act on it.
- Second, they chose to build their own solution instead of buying one from the experts. They’re not a software company. They’re not project management experts. And they’re not even financial experts. They build oil & gas infrastructure and they do it very well. Why on earth were they rolling their own construction management, estimating and construction cost tracking solution for their projects?
- Third, they didn’t manage Mike. There was insufficient oversight on his time to ensure that, as a valued and talented employee, he was directed appropriately. He was left alone to invent his own solution and no-one was there to provide the guidance he needed.
After we gave them a demo and had some conversations with some of the more senior people in his organization, it became quite clear to them that they needed to implement a proper and robust construction project management solution. They recognized the need to streamline their projects, get their costs under control, and make better use of smart guy like Mike as a project manager rather than as an Excel administrator.
However, Mike didn’t see it the same way. His initial reaction to a change like that was to become, what he now refers to as, “Territorial and unnecessarily defensive” about our software “moving-in” to replace his spreadsheets. We obviously meant no harm to Mike and, similar to his boss, we saw this as a positive move for Mike’s job and career. There were certainly a few awkward moments in our initial relations with Mike and his team, but it didn’t take too long for all of them to see the ultimate benefit of adopting a solution that meets the growing needs of their business. Our relationship with Mike is now very positive, and he’s a great champion of ours. Amongst other things, he’s learning new construction project management skills around estimating, earned value management, project forecasting, procurement management, and a number of other valuable techniques. Mostly however, I think he’s happier now because he loves to play golf. And for the first time in a couple of years, he now has the time to get out for at least a few rounds a week.