My neighbor is a young surgeon who spends a great deal of his time learning the latest and greatest advancements in his specialized field of surgery. He says, “Continual education in my field is a requirement—not an option.” He also says, “Because I work in an ever changing field of surgical advancements, I have to be able to determine if what I’m learning is actually effective.”
If I understand him correctly, he decides if what he learned is something he should implement or not. Is there a process he follows in making such important decisions? Below is a somewhat simplified version of his decision making process in no particular order:
Overall Evaluation Includes:
- Accurate observation
- Identifies relevant information
- Identifies unknowns
- Organizes information
- Identifies outcomes
- Applies knowledge and experience
- Compares results
- Compares different ideas and techniques
“Reason, observation and experience: the holy trinity of science.”
By Robert Green Ingersoll
The ability to reason is a process of thinking about something in a logical way in order to form a conclusion.
In order to reason effectively in our business one must gather and fully understand all relevant information related to a construction project. Generally this amounts to one knowing everything about the original estimate, plans, specifications, contracts and schedules. Having a complete understanding of this information allows managers to think logically and form conclusions prior to starting a project.
Reasoning prior to starting a job helps us get organized, identify unknowns, outcomes and compare different ideas. In other words, reasoning prior to starting a job helps us put a game plan together based on the information reviewed.
After a project starts we begin to see variables surface impacting our original game plan and we make adjustments using reason rather than just reacting or ignoring the variables. How we deal with these variables requires that we ‘reason’ correctly and come to a conclusion on how to overcome the variables.
In other words, if you don’t take the time to fully understand the original estimate, plans, specifications, contract and schedule, you cannot reason effectively. Said differently, if you know the plans, specifications, contract and schedule better than anyone else, you can reason through a problem better than anyone else.
Observation is the careful act of watching and listening while paying close attention to someone or something in order to get information.
The ability to observe carefully and correctly during construction is likely the most important skill a project manager can have. The ability to observe allows us to reason correctly based on what we’re seeing and hearing. A manager having these skills will identify problems in advance of them actually taking place.
Said differently, when a manager is a highly skilled observer he or she will identify problems prior to them occurring to a successful outcome.
Experience is best described as something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through. However, experience alone does not mean a project manager has exceptional reasoning and observation skills. In fact, experience may mean that a project manager approaches each job habitually.
An experienced project manager may be prone to doing the same things over and over again; believing that the things he or she does will result in a successful outcome. We know that every job has its challenges and that believing experience alone is going to solve every project problem isn’t realistic.
If reason, observation, and experience are the holy trinity of science, can we apply these same rules to construction? Yes, these rules of science apply to construction or any other business if we teach them.
Steps to Reasoning Effectively
In order for a project manager to ‘reason’ effectively, he or she at minimum should be tasked with the following:
Gather all relevant information
- Specification review
- Quantity take off by area/zone
- Create man loaded schedule
- Compares original estimate with actual bid/schedule
- Identifies deficiencies/problems/internal and external
- Material substitutions
- Means and methods substitutions
- Specification recommendations
- Scheduling-sequencing recommendations
The ability to reason is a process of thinking about something in a logical way in order to form a conclusion. Once a project manager completes these tasks prior to actually starting construction—the manager should be well prepared and ready to implement an actual construction plan.
As the project starts, the manager will be faced with a variety of unanticipated deviations from the construction plan the manager put together.
Deviations may include:
- Design deviations
- Schedule deviations
- Staffing deviations (internal-external)
- Work sequence deviations
- Phasing deviations
- Manpower deviations
Each deviation may or may not impact the work. For each deviation the project manager must have the reasoning skills to determine if the deviation will have a negative impact. To do so, the manager simply follows the reasoning process noted above:
- Gathers all deviation information
- Evaluates deviation information
- Identifies deviation deficiencies
- Makes a conclusion
- Reasoning is a process of thinking about something in a logical way in order to form a conclusion.
- Observation is the careful act of watching and listening while paying close attention to someone or something in order to get information
- Experience is best described as something personally encountered, undergone, or lived through.
Reasoning, observation and experience is meaningless unless a manager uses it to come to a conclusion or pass judgment. For example, if a manager has years of experience, good observation and reasoning skills, but fails to come to conclusions or fails to pass judgment on the impact of an internal or external deficiency or deviation—all is lost.
Said differently, “reason, observation, and experience must result in a verdict,” for each deficiency or deviation. The verdict (judgment) may be a cost or no cost judgment to your client or simply a decision to make manpower, schedule, sequence or supervision changes.
Passing judgment is simply making a decision and action plan based on reasoning, observation and experience. If a project manager has years of experience, great reasoning and observation skills, but unable to make a decision and action plan to overcome deficiencies or deviations quickly, this is called the “Let it Ride” methodology.
The same is true if a manager commonly makes rash decisions without the use of reason. The ability to reason and make decisions effectively is commonly referred to as critical thinking. Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. The key words being “analysis” and “judgment”.
Most people require training to really excel at critical thinking; however, I do know a select few who come by it naturally. These people can identify a problem, see the outcome before it occurs and explain the problem to others in a non-confrontational way and prepare for it as if it had already happened. These are skills they learned far in advance of becoming a construction manager. In other words, these skills are inherent to who they are.
In quoting Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, authors of Millennial Makeover, they wrote, “One of the most often expressed criticisms of the Millennial Generation is that it seems to have lost all ability to analyze data, examine the logic of a proposition, or read a blog and sort out the good and the bad in the argument. Usually described as ‘critical thinking,’ this type of skill seems to be absent from a generation focused on sharing, communicating and finding group consensus.”
On a related and funny side note, I decided to play a poker tournament a few years ago and unbeknown to me there happened to be a fortune -tellers convention in town. There were several of these strangely dressed people sitting at my table. One by one they went all-in and lost. Leaving only one very serious fortune- teller dressed in black.
As time passed, the fortune-teller and I got in a hand together and I knew that if I raised each time he bet, he would end up going all in at some point. He habitually went all in each time he felt threatened. I checked on the river and of course he went all in and I called knowing he couldn’t beat my hand.
He lost for two reasons. 1. He couldn’t read my mind 2. He couldn’t reason or think critically about the kind of hand he was up against. He just did the same thing over and over again until he got caught.
In construction, the stakes are very high, and are wrought with variables, deviations and deficiencies from start to finish, requiring managers to be highly skilled problem solvers. To be a highly skilled problem solver one must be able to think critically. This is simply having the ability to apply, objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.