The Joy of Not Traveling

I spent a large part of my working life as a road warrior, attending to business all over the world.  I can relate to virtually every situation in the movie “Up in the Air”.  I made the decision a few years ago to stop.  While I would not trade the experience that I had and the opportunities that it provided me for anything, I don’t miss it.  There are perks that keep on giving, like permanent gold status on a few airlines and a few unused accumulated points that have not been used up for hotels, flights and cars.  I am also able to immediately fall asleep on an airplane, often before it leaves the ground.  I am a proficient user of Skype and WeChat.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with another ex-road warrior.  We shared stories of waking up at odd hours in hotel rooms wondering what city you where in; of planes missed or nearly missed; of hard to get used to foreign customs; and having to explain to folks that it is less exotic than it sounds when your trip consists of airport to taxi to hotel to meeting back to taxi to airport and then out – it doesn’t really matter what city or country that you are in.  My personal favorite observation is the number and variety of complicated alarm clocks in hotel rooms and their ability to be off by 12 hours or some other random number of minutes, even though there was no apparent way to re-set them – thank goodness for smart phones in recent years.

There is a lot to be said for coming home to the same place every night, being able to plan on attending a local event, and being available for family when needed.  I no longer must fly out on a holiday to attend a meeting in a country that does not recognize that holiday or try and create a special occasion while the family is living in a hotel room.  I no longer wake up or get sleepy at random times while consistently in the same time zone.

I occasionally speak to groups about working globally and often get the chance to mentor others about overseas or heavy travel opportunities.  The ability to live in other cultures is the best way to see the world and to become a part of the global community.  Working remotely greatly increases your chances for greater responsibility and to hone your skills.  However, it is far more stressful on both you and your family than you might imagine.  I almost always say – take the chance but know the risks.

Better RFPs, Better Proposals

Owners often misunderstand how much effort goes into preparing a focused and informative proposal and, regrettably, professional service providers often don’t bother to go to the effort to prepare one because it is not always apparent that it makes a difference in the selection.  It is certainly no fun to slog your way through voluminous boilerplate that begins to look the same between each proposal.  It is also no fun to spend the time and incur the expense of preparing a comprehensive and detailed proposal if it seems that it will not be read.  

As the number of project opportunities starts to pick up with the renewed emphasis on rebuilding and expanding our infrastructure, proposers can become selective on what they seriously pursue, and owners will want to do everything possible to get the best teams working on their projects.

So, what can an owner do to improve this process? 

1) Decide what is important and tell the proposers what you want to know

This means spending the time to honestly evaluate how you will make your decision and to clearly describe the keys to making that decision.  Is it valuable to have each proposer discuss in depth their approach to every aspect of the project delivery process?  Do you value innovation?  How do you value company experience versus individual staff experience?  If what is important to you can be addressed in 20 pages instead of 120 pages, why not encourage brevity?

If an owner takes the time to explain what they want, it is incumbent upon proposers to respond accordingly. 

2) Provide all available information

Proposers spend a lot of time trying to locate and obtain all available information related to a project.  While it may be impressive that a company has the resources to dig up difficult to locate background information, it does not mean that they are the best team to do the work.

Providing all available studies and plans and conducting a thorough and informational pre-bid meeting shows that you as a client are serious and helps all proposers work from an even playing field. 

3) Shortlisting

The shortlisting process allows an owner the opportunity to tell individual proposers that they have a limited chance of being selected due to not addressing what is important, a lack of experience, or a lack of capability. 

While shortlisting might increase the amount of time and effort needed to make a selection, it will certainly increase the number of highly qualified bidders who might pursue your project and it allows you to focus on more detailed discussions ensuring better alignment between you and the successful proposer.

4) Pricing

Providing a price for professional services at proposal submission, at interview time, or in advance of a discussion of the exact scope and expectations is rarely a valuable exercise for either owner or proposer and detracts from the time that can be spent preparing a responsive proposal.  Also, for most public works projects, using price as a part of the selection for professional services is inconsistent with regulations.

While an owner may want to have some idea of the cost of what they are buying, depending on the assumptions made by each proposer, the pricing might vary significantly for what is seemingly the same work.  Wait until there is alignment on the scope of work before asking for pricing.

The Future of Construction

I take my role as a grandpa seriously and spend time visiting my granddaughter (and daughter and son-in-law).  I have been able to combine my hobby of tinkering with my visits by making improvements and building a fancy fort and swing set in their recently purchased home.  I am pleased that my two-year-old granddaughter takes her role as tinkerers assistant very seriously and shadows me as I work on various tasks around the house.  Not only does she love to play with the tools but she will watch closely what her parents or I am doing and can be seen copying the efforts with spare tools in her fort.  She has no lack of electronic toys and limited access to television, but she has a real interest in putting things together with spare materials or with Legos.  As we bemoan the lack of skilled craftspeople in the construction industry it is heartening to see that building can compete with all the other distractions that children currently have.  I look forward to bringing my granddaughter the miniature workbench that my father built for me and that my daughter played with through her childhood.  I don’t know what direction my granddaughter’s development will take but I know that she will continue to have a knowledge of the role of craftsmanship in the world that we live in and how it has a direct impact on how we live.

We need to focus on how to interest not just Millennials, but Gen Z and Gen Alpha children in the construction and engineering industry.  These are the future engineers and managers that will continue to bring 21st century tools and ideas to our industry and that will provide the ingenuity to take our infrastructure to unimagined levels of dependability and ease of use.  Equally important, we need to recognize the need to train and mentor in both directions, so that new members of the industry get the benefit of the experience of seasoned professionals and to help seasoned professionals close the technology gap that is evident in our industry.