3 Crucial Lessons About Project Management You’ll Learn Working For A Glass Company
Communication and consequences are key to planning
At the best times, being a project manager in the glass industry is an exciting career with technical challenges. At the worst times, it’s a mess waiting to happen (thanks a lot, 1/8-inch tolerance!). As a 22-year-old kid straight out of the University of Maryland, I got to know both sides well.
My career has evolved since then—I am now vice president, preconstruction & sales At Alliance Exterior Construction, meaning I estimate and manage metal panels, terracotta, and roofing too—but I always felt that the glass industry was a great place to start. It’s just challenging.
You have to plan in the office, you have to plan in the shop, and you have to plan in the field. You can’t ignore details.
Which is why I look back at those memories on the job as some of my favorite in my career. No matter how painful they were in the moment, the lessons I learned about project management were very valuable. And they apply to all trades, not just glass and glazing.
So, here are the three most crucial lessons I learned about project management while working for a glass company: If you can follow these, you are going to set yourself apart from other project managers in the industry.
1. There is a cause and effect to every decision
There’s no forgiveness in glass. There’s a 1/8-inch tolerance or you’re waiting 8-10 weeks to get a new lite. So, you have to think for all the other trades, and remember that when they change, you have to be ready to change too.
I can still hear Bryan Green, vice president of the glass division at Alliance, in my ear.
“There’s a cause and effect to every decision, Matt. That rough opening changed. What else has changed?” he asked.
“Uhhh the glass size?” I said.
“Yes. What else?”
“Um, I’m not sure.”
“Come on. The frame size. You know this.”
“Damn. Ok. You’re right.”
This was a typical exchange for Bryan and me for the first two years of my career. He mentored me through the hardest part of glazing project management: the beginning.
And his favorite catch phrase? You guessed it. “There’s a cause and effect to every decision.”
That catch phrase helped me see the bigger picture as a project manager. Change that panel sight line? Gotta change the glass sight line too. Recess that flashing? Gotta recess the frame too. Field measure? Well, everything changes then.
We could all do better to remember that the average construction project has over 30 subcontractors. And stop worrying so much about us, and start thinking about everyone. Beyond being the professional thing to do, it will help the job run better.
2. Plan 90%, React 10%
The worst project managers:
• React 90 percent
• Plan 10 percent
The best project managers:
• Plan 90 percent
• React 10 percent
Especially in the glass and glazing industry. There is such a small room for error that you really have no choice other than to make bulletproof plans. I remember a lot of times when I would release stock lengths with no plan for which elevation needed to be fabricated first. Then, I’d get down to the shop and everyone would be standing around looking at me waiting for the answer. Which of course led to a mad scramble of phone calls and emails to try to figure it out.
Who knows how much time we lost in the shop on those scramble days. But damn if they weren’t good learning experiences.
Now I know you have to have a plan. All that reacting is not good for morale, schedule, or profits.
So, make sure to get your cut sheets done early, field measure as soon as openings are ready, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders long before you’re on site.
In short, plan 90 percent and react 10 percent. The golden project management ratio.
3. Communication Is The Differentiator.
My mentor John Wheaton, CEO of Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, always says:
“Communication is the differentiator.” And he’s right.
Ninety-nine percent of problems in construction, and really any industry, start from a lack of communication.
When in doubt, overcommunicate. There’s nothing more foolish than “assuming” that your counterpart knows what you need, or what the next step is. It never hurts for everyone to be extremely clear on what needs to happen.
You’d be shocked how many people don’t communicate in construction! Remember the 30-plus subcontractors on every job site? Imagine if 27 of them are bad communicators. From my experiences, I don’t think that’s a ridiculous assumption.
Now, imagine being one of those three subcontractors that does a fantastic job communicating. You’re proactive. You find problems before they delay the job. You send respectful emails. You meet stakeholders in the field six months before you’re starting onsite.
That is a differentiator. A project manager that communicates is supremely valuable. And the glazing industry taught me that value over the last 6-plus years.