The Project Lucky Dip.
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The Project Lucky Dip
Involvement in any major international project, with other professionals and specialist contractors, drawn from several nationalities, many of whom you may not be familiar with, can initially at least be a little daunting.
Different approaches, styles and procedural methodologies tend make it somewhat like the proverbial lucky dip into the chocolate box to decide what you get and who you have to coordinate and work closely with.
In retrospect, it is now apparent to me that all of the most successful and enjoyable projects I have ever been involved in, all had a high proportion of characters who bypass the vagaries of new work relationships and ignited a positive spirit of teamwork and cement camaraderie.
The iconic seven stars Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai, in which I had a start to finish involvement, certainly had a plethora of characters, many of whom had I had never met previously but contributed to make even some of the toughest days interesting and even enjoyable.
The project’s client’s rep, Mr. Paul, an imposing Zimbabwean expat who stood near two metres tall, was charged by the highest level of government, with driving the project forward to an exacting schedule, He was onsite at 5pm every morning to walk through the project an hour before anyone else arrived and absorb the real-time status.
He was an intimidating force to some, especially those that were not putting a serious effort to mitigate shortfalls or not meeting the professional standards the job demanded He made it very clear that a “Three strikes and you are out” policy was applied and regardless of standing and status in the scheme of things, he would separate the chaff from the wheat.
In the closing months of the project, Mr. Paul instigated a pattern of daily onsite meetings to which all senior project and contractor managers as well as specialist suppliers were “invited” This took the form of a 6am meeting to coordinate expectations and a 6pm follow-up meeting to review actions and progress. Those who consistently underperformed or were foolish enough to try to pull the wool over his eyes were likely to be introduced to Mr. Paul’s, by then infamous catchphrase, “You are toast, goodbye.”
He was however more than generous to those he knew to be fully committed and honestly applying themselves and he gained great respect with his openness and the knowledge that his word was his bond, in dealing with both commercial and technical matters. He is undoubtedly, high on the list of individuals I would relish working with again.
Professionally, the project was without equal in attracting the best talent, but as it progressed it also seemed like a focal point for some unlikely and entertaining international characters. This was epitomised none more so than by a young South African welder who later became world renowned as a leading Elvis Presley tribute singer.
His talent emerged at a team bonding session after a heavy day onsite and he was persuaded to take up the microphone and oblige with a rendition of Blue Suede Shoes. Although attired in his welder’s uniform and heavy site boots, he garnered the attention of everyone in the place as soon as he started his interpretation, in the style of Elvis. He was so realistic in his Elvis persona that he was immediately bombarded with requests from all and sundry.
When word got around of his talent, he was booked to perform at weekends at venues all over the Emirates and later moved onto the international club circuit, culminating in him eventually going to Las Vegas to perform and pick-up the prestigious Elvis Impersonation Award.
Within my own team, my Senior Project Manager, Mr. B had somewhat of a history of professional entertaining and used his inherent Merseyside wit to keep us chuckling, especially when the pressure of work was weighing heavily. His tales and gags inevitably started with the insistence that it was a true story, regardless of how outrageous it was and although I had worked with him for several years and heard many of the tales before, I never ceased to laugh because the delivery was so good.
Professional ability was a known requisite for everyone who identified with the project, but the importance of having a good healthy spirit was also recognised by the Client’s Team. This extended to an request that Mr. B started the 6am daily meeting with one of his implausible stories to lighten the mood for the 25 or so managers who had dragged themselves there early in the morning, knowing they had a 112- or 14-hourday of pressure ahead of them.
A typically “true story” would be something like;-
“I’m lucky to be here this morning. I couldn’t find a taxi after having few beers with my pals last night and I had to walk all the way home. I was stopped by the local police who wanted to know what I was doing, wandering about in the early hours of the morning- I politely told them that I was going to attend a lecture on the dangers of drinking, smoking and spending time with loose women.- I’m not sure that they believed me, because they insisted on knowing who was going to give a lecture at 4 o’clock in the morning, so I had to come clean and admit it was my wife.”
Such characters abound, including a stringy, droopy mustache Texan, employed by the main contractor as a progress chaser. He had a fitness regime that entailed a daily run up the full 56 levels of the structure and walking down while inspecting progress at each level.
Naturally as he expressed himself as the stereotype Texan, he came in for some lighthearted banter. This was accelerated when fine finishing was in progress and site helmets were not a mandatory requirement and he chose to walk about in a Stetson and cowboy boots.
On a social occasion, when Texas Ted (as Mr. B referred to him) resplendent in his full Saturday night dress, including high heal boots and oversized silver belt buckle, was waxing lyrical about Texas and how big everything was there. He said his house was huge and it took up to 15 minutes to get from his front door to his gate. – Mr. B responded by saying he also once had a rubbish car that caused him a similar problem.
Humour was supplemented further by some of the nicknames bandied about and were accepted as a sort of rite of passage and raise a smile or two even now. We had a contractor’s manager addressed as Budgie- because he “flapped” in a panic, a supervisor, called The Balloon because he always told his crew that “Whatever happens, don’t let me down.” A particular HVAC engineer earned the title of The Lawyer, as he often directed his men while “sitting on a case”
The good humour was widespread and added to the good vibes generated by pride in workmanship and the camaraderie positive characters brought to the table. Personal and business relationships were forged and maintained for many years after the project was handed over.
Mr. B went on to be the Best Man at my wedding and we now have a 25-year friendship and professional relationship and he still provides me with his “true stories.”
The importance of good humour is never recognised formally or incorporated in any contract documents, but it does undoubtedly enhance the workplace and long may it do so.
COLIN ANTHONY ADDLEY MCIOB, MAIB, MSAIB
Colin is a highly experienced Professional Quantity Surveyor and Project Manager with over three decades in the International construction and Marine Industry.
He is a specialist in the fit out sector having executed many prestigious, Luxury high quality and Technically Complex Projects.
He is also a creative writer having penned many industry related articles.