Friday, November 14, 2014

A Training Exercise

Yesterday was my normal day to post, but I was extremely busy, both at work and at home after work, and, well, I didn't get it done. So sue me.

What was tying me up, you ask? At work I have been intensely conducting a training operation this week, one that involved me almost full time. It's the third (and maybe last) in a series of picking apart projects that went bad in some way. The examples came from my days as contracts city engineer for the City of Centerton, Arkansas. I pull out the aspect of the project that was bad, give it to those in the company who have registered as wanting to participate, and work with them over the week to solve the problem.

Last Friday I sent out the e-mail to the company, saying that this week we would hold that exercise to begin on Monday, and anyone who wanted to participate would have to register with me. Slowly people started to. By Monday noon, the time I picked to start it, I had 12 participants. This grew to 18 by the next day, then shrank back to 15 as workload got the best of three. And actually, two others didn't have a lot of participation.

At noon Monday everyone received an e-mail from me with a packet of information. Construction of the project was complete and it was about to go to the City Council for final plat approval. But it had been passed along by the Planning Commission two weeks before with contingencies, and one of those contingencies still hadn't been met. The City hadn't received copies of the tests of the newly constructed asphalt pavement. No tests in hand, and no statement from the "project manager" that the pavement met minimum standards, no approval by the City Council.

The next e-mail they received was from the construction contractor, passing along the asphalt tests, with no explanation or apology for their lateness. The participants had to take those asphalt tests and figure out if the asphalt was good or bad. Included in their original materials was a copy of the asphalt paving specification, which included the minimum standards for construction. The tests showed that it didn't meet the minimum standards. Nine out of nine tests failed; three of those were close to the standard, while six were way below standard.

At this point the participants have to pass these along to the "city engineer." But before they could, they received an e-mail from their client, the "developer," who is unhappy about the late tests and tells the participant that the project better pass at the City Council meeting on Friday or he'd hold them responsible for any losses he incurred. So with failing asphalt pavement on one side, and an angry and impatient client on the other, the participant has to decide what to do.

I had a little fun with this, as you can tell by the names I chose for the parts I played.
  • Riley Straight, City Engineer, All American City
  • Klaus E. "Bubba" Nuff, owner of Klaus E. Nuff Construction, NLC
  • Will E. Nilley, an engineering troubleshooter hired by Nuff to "help" in the situation
  • Jack Slacker, owner of Slacker Development, the developer
And then the e-mails started flying. Nilley was brought in on the project, and fired off letters and e-mails to convince the participants that the pavement was actually good, we just have to do some more tests and throw out the originals, and let's use this non-destructive testing method. Sure, it's not normally used for acceptance but it will work good in this situation. Nilley buries bad news in his letters and e-mails, and the participants had to read very closely to realize it.

I copied the manager of our design center with the e-mails, at his request, and he said he had over 140 e-mails about this. I didn't copy him on the first 20 or so, and I'm sure I missed a few along the way. I haven't counted mine yet, but I'd say it must have been close to 200 e-mails, taking up four identities and corresponding with 15 participants. Thursday morning I put together a PowerPoint presentation, highlighting some of the best and worst e-mails from participants, aggregating five batches of pavement tests into a series of growing spreadsheets, and coming up with solutions. By the time we got to the noon hour class on Thursday I was exhausted.

The class went well. Two participants had their department schedule a conflict and weren't there. But others came who weren't participants to hear the discussion. As the class went on I was rockin' and rollin', as the saying goes. I explained exactly what went wrong with the pavement (they had all figured out the manner in which it had failed), and showed how the only solution was to tear it out and do it over. I helped them to see how they could best serve their client and the citizens of All American City by directing Nuff Construction to tear out the pavement. And I showed them (I hope they got it) how they could make themselves a hero to their client in doing so. At the end of the hour class, I invited the V.P. who attended to say a few things, and he did, echoing our mantra of client service, and how what I was telling them was correct. At least, I think that's what he said. I'm not sure I followed all that closely, as tired as I was.

Then, at home, there was supper to eat and daughters and grandchildren to have a rambling phone call with an stock market business to conduct. Suddenly it was 11:00 p.m., and, well, I didn't get this written and posted. But here it is now. That was my day and week.

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