It has been a quick 37-year career at Chastain, now that I have the vantage point of “getting there” and being able to look back. There are many fond memories of Christmas parties with staff, luncheons with clients. Good times at client events in downtown Chicago... Navy Pier, the Hancock building, Michael Jordon’s restaurant, and a Friday evening cruise on Lake Michigan at the retirement party for a Navy Admiral with Buck Chastain, just to name a few. There have also been a large number of good memories of working closely with clients and staff, helping our clients in solving their issues, along with the rewards and awards that followed.
And yes, there were those days that…let’s just say that didn’t go as well as others! Those bumps in the road to retirement. Those shortcomings that you did not want to deal with, but needed to in order to get the results originally intended. And on the positive side, there were good “lessons learned” coming out of those situations that became appreciated and helped to avoid or at least reduce the bumps in the road ahead.
Once upon a time (in 1982), I had asked Ken to remove the right-of-way on a drawing so we could move and redesign an entrance on the Clinton bypass. Drawings were done in ink at this time, nothing was electronic. Ken understood me to say remove all the right of way on the project. So instead of 200’ being erased, it became 3 miles! Long story short…and the lesson I learned was “It doesn’t always matter what is said, but what is understood “. This miscue led to a better relationship between the two of us, after a bit of stress of course. But we communicated and understood each other much more effectively in the future. Communication will always rank at the top of the list for project as well as client shortcomings.
It takes good decision making to keep a company and a project moving on a straight course. But sometimes, making a decision can be difficult. I may not always be sure what the correct decision is, or fear it may cause rework or injure a client relationship. A good lesson learned is to understand that delaying or refusing to make a decision, can hold up a project or a client relationship to a critical step in the process. Not good! It is best to be known as a decision maker, and understand an incorrect decision can be remedied. It can be much more difficult to remove the label of not being decisive.
I have always been a deadline-driven individual. Yes, blame my parents please…but it has helped me immensely in balancing company and projects matters with family life and other outside activities. One thing I have seen over the years, and much too often for me, is a project missing a deadline without giving notice to the client. Shame on me if that happens! What does a client think when we miss a deadline, especially if it continues for a period of time without notification? Well, probably nothing positive for the relationship. Yes, missing a deadline happens on occasion, and every client will understand. But a good lesson learned, and please do this always, is to call the client in advance to let them know you are going to miss that deadline. Really? This is merely turning a negative into a positive. Hopefully, this is only an interim step in the process of the project and I can make it up and still meet the project final completion date. Taking ownership, shows maturity, it is holding myself accountable and shows a good understanding of the process. A client will appreciate this much more than having to wonder what is going on and maybe having to make me aware a deadline has been missed.
I once had to apologize to a very good client of ours, for performing some work incorrectly. Luckily, this was identified in a formal client review process, and there was ample time for us to revise our design. But it provided me with an excellent lesson learned. We had designed the drainage culverts for the project, but had not checked them prior to submitting for a review. It occurred to me, “Why wouldn’t we check the initial culvert designed and finding our shortcoming, and revised it prior to designing the other 30 culverts?” My vision is so much better looking back, then forward, but this has always been a good lesson learned that I have tried to pass along to other project managers over the years. It obviously applies to so many design aspects, I hope we always use this thought down the road to avoid creating bumps in the road. Eliminating re-work is a great way to help maintain project budgets!
I was a Resident Engineer on two large construction projects for a good client of ours in Peoria. These were large projects along with the quick time frame associated with construction. Early on in the project, it became obvious critical layout work was not getting checked properly. I called a meeting of our staff and announced to everyone that it is OK to make mistakes within the office. But nothing would leave the office unless it was checked and found to be correct. This applied to all work, especially construction layout as it can be very costly to correct. All of us on the project learned a good lesson. And I slept much better at nights the next four years.
I have always enjoyed working with a team of professionals developing a quality set of construction documents for our clients. Clients appreciate the efforts we make, especially when the Contractors bid ends up being the final cost, or with few change orders during construction. But that does not always happen, and more often than not, it involves an inaccurate quantity on the plans. Accurate quantities are so important, and can often change during the design process when changes in the project are made to keep the project within the client’s budget. A good lesson learned over the years, is to make sure all quantities are calculated by one person on the team, and then they are checked by a different person. Finally, a QC/QA process should always be performed for the documents, to insure the quantity forms show a “prepared by” and “checked by” signoff. This is critical for both the client and the firm in keeping costs to a minimum as well as giving the client one more good reason to use our services again!
I received a call in 1998 that our local ISPE Chapter was considering closure and would have to join the Champaign Chapter. I had not joined ISPE at this time, although asked to do so several times. Not only was I feeling guilty, but I didn’t want to drive to Champaign some day for meetings. So, I attended a special meeting regarding possible chapter closure…and volunteered to be its President if we could have some time to get us back on track. Ask and you shall receive! The next two years were very memorable for me and I enjoyed meeting a lot of new engineering friends and business contacts. I have also been involved in ACEC-IL, the Engineer in the Classroom project and the Salvation Army here in Decatur. Engineering and our community have been very good to me, and I enjoy giving back to them both. And as we know, the best lesson (learned) in your career and also in life is it always better to give than receive.