A couple of years ago I read a letter to the editor in Engineering News-Record (ENR) written by the lead structural designer at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. SOM was the structural engineer of what is currently the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai.
In an earlier ENR article about the project, the author described the project as being “uneventful” because of the amazing simplicity of the structural design and the fact that there were no major construction problems encountered to date. The structural engineer’s letter to the editor was clarifying to readers that while he agreed the construction was “uneventful”, he wanted to make sure it wasn’t being interpreted as “easy.”
He acknowledged all of the challenges associated with taking on this engineering feat: the skills required of the project team to manage the day-to-day operations on over 100 different floors; managing & using construction technologies that are beyond state-of-the-art; pumping concrete to unprecedented heights in the desert heat; and having to utilize alternative surveying methods beyond the traditional optical methods because of the distortion caused by distance, heat, and dust. I’m sure the list goes on and on.
The structural engineer also wrote that “behind all of this work is the goal of the contractor: to make the construction uneventful. It is not easy to make things go uneventfully. It means the contractor has done the very hard work it takes to plan and execute the project. One of the highest compliments given to a contractor is that the project was uneventful.” He also wrote that he felt that it was his job to help make the contractor’s job as uneventful as possible. What a great concept!
You might ask what this has to do with your projects. Most of us are not building mega-skyscrapers in the desert. The point is that I think it is a worthy goal- whether you are building a shopping center, a school, or a major renovation- to make your project appear to be uneventful. Not in terms of the final result, but the process itself. Notice that I use the term “appears to be uneventful.” You might be effectively managing countless challenges and solving complex problems on the inside, but to the Client things appear seamless. I have learned in my career that, especially from the Owner’s perspective, an uneventful project is a highly successful one.
I love the concept of trying to make a project as uneventful as possible. When you understand the effort and execution that it takes to make something appear uneventful, you truly appreciate uneventfulness, instead of taking it for granted. This article reinforces the fact that it takes a tremendous effort by all of the stakeholders in a project to prepare, plan, schedule, and execute a complicated construction project and make it appear uneventful. On the contrary, if you want a simple construction project packed full of drama, surprises, near-misses, and accidents, then take simplicity for granted, plan poorly or not at all, and take a reactive project management approach.
Highly successful construction teams truly understand that the uneventful nature and perceived simplicity of any project develops from a rigorous process of disciplined management, careful and thorough planning, and determined execution. This concept applies to schools, shopping centers, and warehouses just as much as it does mega-skyscrapers.
Remember, there are no short cuts to success. Uneventful does not mean easy. Rather, it is quite the contrary.