Tuesday, April 15, 2014

managing in tears

This is the story of my introduction to project management...

I'd just been made project manager (PM) for a site that I was the field manager for. I'd been keeping a bunch of balls in the air, and apparently I was a little too good at that particular skill, because I was asked to take it over entirely. I'm not a believer in doing the fieldwork for projects I manage (that's a topic for another post), but we were short-staffed and so I went.

While that particular phase of fieldwork was happening, we were also deep in the weeds with another phase of the project that was totally outside my field of expertise. The previous PM had a couple of different proposals for how the work should be done, but things on the ground had changed significantly.

As the field manager, I had enough on my hands already. We had a regular field crew plus multiple contractors, plus tricky site access I was trying to work around, plus an inflexible schedule. And things weren't going all that well. The stress had built up with one of my coworkers (Bob) throughout the week. Then, Bob discovered that he'd made a vast and long-term sample label mistake (this is why we need consistent nomenclature!) that was partially because of my unclear directions (I was distracted!), and he totally blew up. Had an epic meltdown, complete with yelling, swearing, and drop-kicking of hard hat a fair distance. Then the phone rang.

I saw it was the client calling, so I hustled over to my truck, which was parked, like, 15 feet from the action. I hopped in, and he said, "I'm going to need you to change your proposal to do this radically different thing that you have zero knowledge of. Also, because of this logistical issue that's been a problem for the whole project, I'm going to need a revised budget estimate by, oh, close of business today."... and I burst into tears.

Not knowing what else to do, I hung up on him.

Then I cried for a while because the project was going all wrong and Bob had just yelled at me and I had no clue what I was doing and I had just hung up on the client. I pulled it together and called him back ("sorry, bad cell phone reception!") and wrangled an extension without getting hysterical again, rubbed my eyes, and stepped out from my truck (still parked 15 feet from the subcontractors) and carried on with the fieldwork.

The subs were very quiet for the rest of the day.

Anywhoo, everything worked out ok in the end. The budget wasn't irreparably busted, nobody got hurt, and I learned that the world wouldn't end if I said "no" to clients occasionally. But "trial by fire" is not a management training experience I'd recommend.

No comments: