Lessons Learned #4: Don’t Let Intimidation Keep You from Documeting an Issue

Many years ago I was managing an industrial project in the state of New York.  The project was difficult enough to build within the time allowed by the contract schedule without any additional interference.  Our site was tightly constrained and all of the exterior work had to be completed before the onset of winter.

My company’s work depended on coordinated crane access by the prime contractor.  Despite all of the promises of cooperation, the access being provided was far less than adequate.  It seemed to me that the prime contractor had another agenda.  Each time we did not get the crane as promised, my work crews were idled at great cost, and the progress of my company’s work continued to be delayed.  In fact, critical delays were developing due to this crane issue.  I had been writing periodic letters requesting the required crane support and also documenting the contractor’s lack of cooperation.

One day, I chose to hand-deliver my latest letter to the new project manager for the prime contractor (their 3rd site representative).  After reading my letter, the project manager laughed at me as he pinned up my latest letter on the wall next to the others I had sent concerning this issue.  Then, in a mocking tone he looked at me in the eyes and said “this is what we do with your letters”.

It took everything I had to hold back my frustration and anger, but I managed to force a smile and told him politely “that’s okay, you are the 3rd project manager I have dealt with on this job and I expect to be dealing with the 4th one before the job is over.

He was replaced a short time later.  It appears that the problem with crane access was but one of many problems this prime contractor had on the project.  There was a consistent track record of mismanagement despite the revolving door of new faces that were sent to “manage” the project.  What was incredible to me was that senior management was not able to identify and correct these mistakes earlier in the process.

I presented a large claim to the prime contractor at the conclusion of our work.  The claim was settled successfully in large part due to the strength of the documentation that I had prepared concerning the crane access issue.

I should note that the majority of the correspondence that I wrote on that project went without response.

When I look back at the events that took place on this project I recognize the valuable lesson that I learned – don’t let intimidation keep you from documenting an issue.

Oh, and by the way, whenever your correspondence goes unanswered on a project that is usually a good indication that you’ve got the facts right.

“The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong.” – Georges Bidault

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