Playing Nice in Sandbox, by David Peterson

February 20th, 2014 by Scott Leave a reply »
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Playing Nice in the Sandbox – everyone has a wonderful project experience

As a Project Manager for an Owner, is it our role to play nice in the sandbox or be the playground bully? Being an effective Project Manager for an Owner means different things to different people.  A project will typically be completed according the schedule and budget established between the General Contractor and the Owner unless changes to the scope are agreed to by all parties. But sometimes the leftover taste in the mouth about how successful the project went, can be directly attributed to the personality of the Project Manager.

Many times the Project Manager can adopt the “playground bully” role, and are known to take sides with the Owner over the rest of the project team. Whether the issues that arise are schedule, cost, construction issue, or completion date related, everyone tends to leave the project feeling as though the project was a struggle to some extent.  This playground bully attitude can create defensiveness in the project team and ultimately tends to create an “us vs. them” project atmosphere – where no one really wins – especially the Project.

On the other hand, some Project Managers take on the “playing nice in the sandbox” attitude. This doesn’t just mean letting the Owner or the General Contractor have their way, because this alone can lead to a dysfunctional project team dynamic.  An exceptionally professional Project Manager has the ability to openly (and calmly) discuss all project issues as thoroughly as possible, with the entire team, while simultaneously gathering information to provide to all parties in order to help reach a resolution.  This resolution may not be agreeable to all parties all the time, some may favor the Owner and some may favor the Construction team, but the resolution is one both sides have the opportunity to evaluate thoroughly from each other’s perspective.

Project goals and ground rules need to be established early! An experienced Project Manager knows it is not only how project issues are addressed but also how the “playground rules” were established early on so everyone knows the critical, non-negotiable ins and outs of the project (budgets, schedules, project requirements, etc.).  These must be communicated to ALL parties (Owner, Architect/Design Team, Construction Team, consultants, etc).  Like any project, a good foundation is key to a solid building.  Another critical piece of information to create before the project is underway is a responsibility matrix outlining who is responsible for each detailed aspect of the project in order to make it successful.  Everyone then knows their responsibility to the team.


Everyone on the Team signed the last beam to be placed at Wyoming Medical Center

The Project Manager is responsible for enforcing these agreed upon rules, roles and responsibilities. The critical part of this process is how this is accomplished. The Project Manager must always conduct themselves with integrity and without prejudice, never making assumptions (good or bad). It’s about having the poise and the moral courage to “do what is right” – for either side. If it’s right, then neither side can argue.

Taking your kids to the park was always more enjoyable when they played nicely in the sandbox.  Completing a project, large or small, is never a “walk in the park” but it can be an enjoyable experience if managed with the proper attitude from day one.

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The last beam placed in Casper, Wyoming for the Wyoming Medical Center


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