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Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

  • 1.  Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-11-2018 14:47
    I will be starting at the Nevada State Public Works Division next Monday and I thought I'd throw out a line to see if any of y'all would have advice for someone transitioning from working in small private practice to bing a PM for a state agency.  The job description does require a license, but I've told to expect that I will not be drawing in this position.

    I have a pretty wide range of experience starting in small residential through commercial work of all types, with recent forays into government work over the past couple years.  So I'm pretty comfortable with the ebbs and flow of projects, but I've never been client side nor have I worked within the government.

    So any advice would be greatly appreciated, as well as any books worth reading (even though I've never owned my own firm, most of the business books I've read have been of an entrepreneurial bent).

    Thanks in advance!

    Justus Pang AIA
    Las Vegas, NV

  • 2.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-12-2018 18:25
    ​Hi Justus,

    Having gone through a similar transition almost 19 years ago, I am sure I could fill volumes with the many lessons learned in the intervening time.  Working for the owner and the public carries a different set of requirements.

    Firs,t be ever true to your moral compass in any and all actions.  Avoid the appearance of impropriety at all times.  Remember what it was like to think someone had a leg up on you because they treated a potential client with gifts and favors.  It is even worse when you work for the public and appear biased or on the take, even when you are not. Speak your truth, but learn when and how to do so for best effect to avoid becoming a political scapegoat.

    Second, the precepts of Project Management are to actively manage (not administer) the Scope of Work, Schedule and  Budget, not necessarily in that order.  Use your knowledge of the industry to look ahead to issues before they arise, be pre-emptive when your consultants are falling behind schedule or not paying attention to tasks or deliverable requirements. Manage all meetings for effectiveness and creativity, supply an agenda before the meeting takes place with clear goals outlined.  Have  the consultant keep minutes and an action and responsibility follow up plan. These actions help satisfy a Project Manager's primary directive.  But as Architects in this realm, we have another imperative.  When it is lacking or needed, we can provide the inspiration and support to the firms that undertake our work.  We must let them know we wish to push any perceived limitations for a high quality, integrated design and outcome that we will all be proud of.  In the end, it must serve the public well, uplift those that visit, pass by or work there for many years in the future and serve as a community point of pride.

    Third, it is your job to negotiate agreements and fees fairly with members of our industry to obtain the best value for the public entity, while ensuring it does not undermine the ability of the Consulting and Contracting firms to perform and to meet or exceed your design goals. You are in the unique position to represent an entity that will own the building for 50 years or more.  Life cycle costing, energy modeling and analysis, first cost vs. maintenance costs, etc. all become valid and useful tools to create a meaningful and maintainable architectural product. Pay the appropriate consultants to provide these tools and use them to lead the industry to new methods, better outcomes and to demonstrate their applicability for other projects in your state.  Use industry or state guidelines to provide a reference point for your own level of confidence. You also have the unique understanding of what it takes to do a  job well. employ your own in-house specialists in Public Works and other agencies to obtain their expertise to obtain the best solutions and build consensus.

    Fourth, lead the way with sustainability and BIM integration in your projects for improved change order control, drawing coordination and to assist your stakeholders to understand what you are creating for them so they can buy in early and/or object to those solutions that will not work. Model good behavior towards the environment. It belongs to your state, treat it as a valuable commodity for all.

    Finally, be patient, caring and listen. Weigh the options and if given the authority, be decisive when needed. Obtain approvals from stakeholders in writing at each step but recognize they may not have the last word and changes in scope may happen.  Especially be patient and seek out like minded people in Purchasing and other agencies to help you expedite your work where possible.  Working in a bureaucracy can make you mad if you let it. above all approach your work with joy, knowing everyday a new challenge will emerge and your days will be filled with creative, decision making, unexpected challenges and some let-downs.  Relax, take a breath, be constant and enjoy, it is the start of a great new adventure.  There is so much more waiting for you to learn and I am sure I have forgotten other important aspects too!

    PS you won't be drafting but you may likely find yourself in the role of the design reviewer, collaborator and sometimes teacher at critiques and design discussions that will have a huge impact on the final outcome. Enjoy your new role and good luck!

    Jeff Thompson AIA
    Assistant Director
    Broward County Construction Management Division
    Fort Lauderdale FL

  • 3.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-13-2018 17:59
    Jeff offers excellent advice.

    A couple more:

    1.  You now lead the project teams- it's a great opportunity to seek cooperation, look for the best solutions, create winners on all sides. Win-win-win solutions are more than a slogan.

    2. Always keep your "private practice" hat on- you've worked the other side. Manage your project team in the same way that you wished that your past clients would have managed you.

    3.  Your role now will be to use all of your architectural background and experience on behalf of your organization and users.  You are a proponent, advisor, interpreter between your users and the designers and contractors.

    4.  You've seen the word "honest" in the responses. This will be the hardest transition to make even if you were a perfectly honest person in private practice. 

    You are now a steward of public/taxpayer resources.  All those lunches and dinners that architects, contractors, materials suppliers, etc. used to buy, all that golf that you used to do with clients, etc. ends now. Get used to saying no, since even an appearance of conflict of interest or favoritism can cost you your job. Ethics now has to be ingrained in everything you touch and do.

    Pay a lot of attention to honesty and fairness to a fault.  You now work in a fish bowl every day.  Every phone call, every piece of correspondence, everything that you say, every document you create is available to the public for a public information request. Heed the headline test: what would it look like if what you just did or say was in tomorrow's newspaper headline? It could be.  And, it doesn't get any more comfortable after being there for 30 years myself.

    Glad to have another architect move the dark side. 

  • 4.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-12-2018 18:27
    Hi Justus,

    congratulations and good luck in your new position as PM.
    Advice? Once told to me when I first started in Public Works: "work hard, keep your nose clean and don't screw up!" I will also add keep a sense of humor! I did and lasted 35 years in government work.

    Carmelo Sabatella
    South Pasadena CA

  • 5.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-13-2018 19:46
    It is good to see my friend Carmelo responding.  Thanks Carmelo.

    I had a simple formula to help the people who worked for me stay within ethical boundaries.  If you are making a decision or taking an action, ask yourself a simple question.  How will I feel about seeing this on the TV evening news or the front page of the paper?  If you have no problem with that, go ahead.  If you do have a problem with being in the news, you should rethink the whole thing.  A corollary of that is - don't embarrass the agency.

    There are hundreds of lessons you will learn while on this job.  We could tell you about them here, but you wouldn't believe us if we did.  Accept that and learn from them.

    You will need to be as impartial as a judge.  You will also be asked to abandon that impartiality in favor of your employer and consultants with longstanding relationships.  You will find yourself in the position of defending your consultants and contractors to your bosses.  It will be at that point where you will have the responsibility to speak truth to power.  That's not just an expression.  It will happen.  By treating the consultants and contractors fairly, you will find it easier to hold them responsible for their shortfalls.

    By establishing policies early on you will find that both sides will appreciate and respect your boundaries.  The best compliment I ever received was when one of my former bosses told the auditor that he didn't need to worry about our team.  "He spends our money like it is his own."

    I asked consultants and contractors to evaluate change orders by asking, if I had to pay for this with my money, would this CO still be OK?

    The most important thing you can do is to hire people to work for you who are smarter than you.  As one of my subordinate told me one time (yes, he was smarter and more experienced than me), your job is to make your boss look good.  If that means staying under budget, limiting change orders, or keeping projects on schedule, then that is what you do.

    In addition, everything Jeff and Carmelo told you are also important to know.

    Formerly City of Dallas
    Formerly University of Arkansas
    Formerly Bass Pro Shops
    Fayetteville, AR

  • 6.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-14-2018 11:52
    Jeff summed it up nicely - follow those principles and you'll be a success!

    Edmond Gauvreau, FAIA
    Washington, DC

  • 7.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-13-2018 17:36
    Great advice from Jeff Thompson!

    What I have found, (I worked for higher education and now for a municipality) is that keeping the lines of communication between the client and design and construction teams clear is really important.  As the PM, you need to be the central source of information and direction to your DB team(s).  Make sure you get the right people and project champions engaged, because they will be the ones who can help negotiate issues with end-users/administration when they arise (and they will).

    Politics can also get in the way of an effective delivery, so try to get as much nailed down in pre-design as possible, utilizing a robust Owners Project Requirements process/documentation as well as good programming processes.  I firmly believe in the Partnering process, as well:  get all your team players together in one room to discuss expectations, communications, rock-in-the-road, etc.

    The more investment you can get in the early stages, the fewer problems you will have during construction, and the happier everyone will be!

    Carol Warkoczewski, MSOLE, AIA
    Senior Architect
    City of San Antonio -TCI-Vertical
    San Antonio TX

  • 8.  RE: Any advice for a someone entering a Public Works as a PM?

    Posted 07-15-2018 21:09
    Thank y'all for the excellent and thoughtful advice.  I've printed them out and thrown it in a tickler file to re-read in a few months.

    I expect to be start drinking from a firehose starting tomorrow, cheers!

    Justus Pang AIA
    Nevada State Public Works Division
    Las Vegas NV