Some project managers reading this blog are engaged in developing software, hardware and systems applications for corporate or other uses by stakeholders who bank on their technical expertise to provide solutions for cost, scope, quality, and schedule issues.
Other project managers are engaged in designing and building “brick and mortar” facilities.
Still others create value for organizations by providing project deliverables that satisfy requirements for new transactional systems applications that enable the business processes of organizations to realize their full effectiveness.
In general, the project business requirements for the project managers cited above dictate an in depth understanding of stakeholder behavior under the most rational of conditions and those stakeholders usually recognize the importance of a collaborative effort with the project manager in defining project business requirements.
However, there is another set of projects for which the requirements space is not so rational, the stakeholders are often distraught and emotional and the path forward to a completed project deliverable can seem far away. In time of a fire, flood, emergency or disaster, the person who suffers the loss of property and close personal assets can often be devastated and not think in a rational manner. Who do I turn to? How do I recover? What is my best alternative? These questions are foremost in the minds of the people immediately affected by a disaster loss.
And the project managers who renew assets devastated by fire, water, tornado or other disasters often deal more with the human, emotional and relatioonal elements in their roles as project managers than they do in the normal transactional elements of projects.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with John Esposito and his team at ESPO Fire and Water in Tulsa, Oklahoma. ESPO Fire and Water is engaged in restoring and renovating properties damaged by fire, water and other secondaryh entities such as mold. John’s team is often first on the scene of a disaster because they are often referred by others who have experienced the same calamitous conditions.
I especially wanted to study their project management process because of its unique requirements to deal firsthand with the relationship aspects of customer service in the most demanding of conditions. This is a view most of the project community does not normally see in their everyday project environment.
Kevin Hefley and Ann Parker are ESPO project managers with over 20 years experience each in fire and water damage assessment and clean up work. They are extremely well versed in the jargon of scheduling, estimating, planning, budgeting and quality which the project management discipline brings to a business like ESPO. But they keenly understand that the relationship aspect of customer interaction is far more important in their business context than the transactional aspects.
Kevin Hefley told me, “Often the first person on site in a disaster, fire or flood situation spends most of his time with the distraught victims who are trying to grapple with the situation. We know that other ESPO responders must play more than one role in these cases so we can quickly calm the victims and assist in their thought processes.” You certainly don’t find this type of project management training in the PMBOK or other traditional project training.
“And often it is a case,” he went on to say “of making the customer aware of standards that must be met in the remediation. There are ANSI Standards (American National Standards Institute) like mold standards.”
Kevin said “Every morning before I begin work, I refer to a Chinese proverb on my computer which says ‘Before you ask yourself if you are doing things right, first ask yourself if you are doing the right things.’ It has become a philosophy with me because we are often acting so fast in dealing with multiple projects.”
As I talked with Ann and Kevin, I realized that the process they were following was extremely mature, the result of more than 20 years of understanding what works and doesn’t work in disaster situations. Of more than 20 years of learning from others in the organization and those people in turn learning from them.
Ann commented on the importance of the customer at every step. “There was one job where the customer wanted to know exactly what we planned to accomplish each day on the job and, since that customer was on my way to work, I stopped by each morning to make sure the customer knew exactly what would happen that day.”
Kevin and Ann rely heavily on vendors to supply basic work like electrical and plumbing. Management of these vendors is facilitated by the fact that most of the vendors have worked with them for a number of years so they understand the quality work being done.
The technical director of ESPO Fire and Water is actually a member of the ANSI standards board so he has a very interactive role to play in both setting new standards and interpreting existing standards.
In Michael Hammer’s classic book Beyond Reengineering, he discusses the fact that the natural consequence of an organization focusing on well defined processes and becoming process-centered is “professionalizing” the work. In this context, Michael Hammer says: “Three words characterize the worldview of a professional: customer, result and process. The professional sees himself or herselp as responsible to the customer; the mission is to solve a problem for the customer, to create the value that the customer requires. If that value is not created, if that problem is not solved, the professional has not done his or her job. It is only by producing the result that the customer requires, by performing the entire process that yields that result, that the professional discharges his or her responsibility.”
Other scholars have added to this definition by insisting that the “professional” is one who is continuously learning on the job and “reflects” on his experiences while sharing lessons learned with others in his practice.
Based on my expeerience working with a number of project management groups in large and small organizations, I would have to say that there is a high degree of “professionalism” displayed by the project teams at ESPO Fire and Water. I would say that any other such organization wishing to evaluate their own internal processes could use ESPO as a benchmark in that respect.
As Ann Parker says “The greatest satisfaction I get from my project work is when a customer calls me six months after a completed job and says literally ‘thanks for giving me my life back.'”
I had to share this with the project community because it proclaims an element of caring in project management that we often do not see in our daily project work.
Thanks for your attention.
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