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Bad Projects? No, Only Bad Leadership

Bad Projects? No, Only Bad Leadership

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 105) – All IMHO:

There are no bad projects, just bad leaders.

When you see a project that is late, has defects or large cost overruns it is not a “bad project”, it is a poor outcome. It is the culmination of bad decisions, probably incompetence and certainly poor leadership. 

I am 37 years into my working life (yes, I am old) and I am frustrated that property design and delivery does not seem to improve. Yes we have digital tools and CAD and now BIM, but I say SO WHAT! The outcomes are not improving, the same defects and issues I saw in the early 1980’s are on every project today. 

Taking the macro view, I think poor project outcomes are due to;

  1. Adversarial, minimum compliance contracts;
  2. Lack of personal ownership;
  3. Poor management and leadership.

Adversarial, Minimum Compliance Contracts
The best case scenario outcome from a construction contract is minimum compliance i.e. built as designed with no defects. I have never seen a developer issue a construction contract that defines an acceptable number of defects / snags. However, in 37 years I have never seen a zero defects, fully compliant construction project. 

Construction contracting is really an adversarial, game of thrones, big firms bully smaller firms, contractors (some of them) try to get away with short cuts. It is a zero sum game. What can change to improve matters? IMHO;

  1. Extreme pre-qualifion of contractors.
  2. Developers issue and enforce zero defect design appointments and construction contracts with incentives and disincentives to gamify performance.
  3. How about the radical option of developers and their project managers just not accepting buildings that have defects, poorly operating systems or large snag lists i.e. enforce consequences for poor outcomes. 

Personal Ownership
One of the more important management books in recent years, IMHO, is “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willing and Leif Babin. It advocates an individual taking 100% ownership for what they do, how people perceive them and the outcomes they produce at an individual and team level. 

The next project you work on, ask yourself, are the project team owning their work, decisions and outcomes or are they lone wolves just trying to survive, blame others and move to the next project? When has a project manager or developer ever taken responsibility for bad decisions and poor leadership by taking ownership and resigning? 

What can we do as individuals? I suggest reading “Extreme Ownership” and putting it into practice plus trying to get hired by the best of the best. I believe we either rise or fall to the level of the group we associate with. Better to always work with people better than yourself if possible. 

Management & Leadership
Property development projects are a microcosm of the economy, a million, million cumulative decisions, interactions and actions leading to a specified outcome. 

Owners, property developers, senior main contractors, senior design teams and their project managers all play a part. It is frequently their poor decisions and choices that lead to poor project outcomes. At this level poor decisions derive from:

  • Hubris
  • Management by edict by players who do not hear the word no very often
  • Lack of subject matter competence 
  • Belief that risk has been “passed down” the contractural chain with no outcome ownership. 

My personal way of dealing with this is to “embrace the suck” and try and add as much value as possible. Another way is to avoid clients and their project managers who exhibit the four traits noted above. I have mixed feelings on this. 

There are some things in life that cannot be fake. In MMA, the fight is either won or lost, in comedy people either laugh or they do not, in property development the project is delivered on time, on budget to specification with very little or no defects or it is not. Too often, it is not.

I know of a huge international airport project that is 3 years late and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. It has all of the above going on, who takes responsibility? Who falls on their sword? IMHO it should be people at the development management level. 

Leadership, competence and management matter. There are no bad projects, just bad leaders and managers, you know who you are…….

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related posts & links:

#99 – E&O’s, CO’s & Shame! ( )

#61 – Too Big to Succeed? ( )

#87 – You Cannot Manage What You Do Not Measure ( )

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