Hard Knocks

I answered a call from the office this morning in the cold, damp crawlspace that I’ve spent most of this week in.  My colleague asked how it was going- I replied, “if you had told me how much stuff I would screw up on this job before I started, I wouldn’t have believed you.”  I realized over lunch- I must be attending the school of hard knocks.

If it looks like a maze...

When you are 6’1″ tall and working long days installing ductwork in a 4′ tall, 4,000 s.f. crawlspace, knocking your head into a floor joist every once in a while is to be expected.  Along the way, this project also managed to knock out my design skills, planning ability, and a good portion of my self-esteem.

My position is as a project manager, responsible for everything that it takes to make a job happen (including making a profit!).  In this case (and with a lot of help!), I met the client, wrote the proposal, designed the system, ordered the material, scheduled the job, and installed the system (with the install team).  The process is far more integrated than most other firms, but we believe that leads to higher quality, better performance, and greater profit.  I’m new to the job, and new to contracting, and none of the above really has all that much to do with my past experience, which involved managing very different types of engineering projects.

22" diameter ductwork is all custom. Don't forget anything, because it's 55 miles back to Missoula.

We aren’t quite done yet, but we are almost all the way there.  Fair being fair, I made no truly major, work stopping mistakes, but every day there have been significant errors that have come to light- some piece of gear I didn’t order, some task I didn’t follow through on. When you are actually trying to build a functional system, every error is glaring.  Day 1, we ran into all sorts of issues- shipping delays, forgotten plans, miscommunicated orders.  On my first day of my first big job, I figured I could shrug it off and keep going.  Day 2, missing fittings and layout changes, ok nothing fatal, but that’s low style Skander…  Day 3, order of operation, co-ordination failure, error tracking nightmares.  The mistakes kept coming, almost to the point of humor and pretty much my worst nightmare from a project management standpoint.  Suffice to say, it has been a valuable education in hard knocks.

For everything though that went wrong, none of it seemed to impact the amount of satisfaction I got out of getting to install something that I designed.  It reminds me of one of my favorite NY Times pieces.  I have an incredibly forgiving and good natured boss working with me (but letting me take responsibility for the mistakes) and helping look in the mirror at my work.  We joked about the fact that I have a degree in science from an expensive private university, and yet the real bread and butter of business and design still involves getting down in an unfinished crawlspace and knocking your head around.  It’s been a hard week so far, but also supremely satisfying.  I’m taking tomorrow off, but back again on Friday to wrap things up, stay tuned.

Humbled, with checklist in hand.

“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love), pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” (Wendell Berry)

Do the humble work.

2 thoughts on “Hard Knocks

  1. abigailhazlett

    Keep going, my friend. You are fortunate to work for a company that is supporting your professional development and to have an attitude that facilitates learning from your own mistakes. Being humbled every now and then allows us to experience the full joy of success.


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