Making Buildings Work Better

Crazy Quilt Project Management

crazy quilt pic

By: Ray Dodd, PE, CxA, LEED AP

In my 30+ year career as a mechanical engineer working with large commercial buildings, the one innovation that gives me chills is the “fast track” project delivery system.

Sure I get it – once the digging starts, money is flowing out but no money is flowing in. There is a rush to get the money moving in a positive direction. Old practices that delay the schedule needed to go and have been replaced by “fresh new ideas. Some are smart too – like starting the foundation work and structure while the rest of the design is being finished.

However, as the construction market has recovered the “fast track” project delivery system has evolved far beyond its original form. More and more we are experiencing normal conventions and smart construction sequencing thrown out in favor of going faster. Going faster often means things will occur out of order throwing a formally orderly process into chaos.

I remember years ago rural Montana had no speed limit. Out in those vast expanses of land you could drive as fast as your car would go. You got from one place to the next faster, sure, but the crashes were SPECTACULAR!

In a fast track world in order to shorten the project schedule we are often being asked to take our process and execute it piecemeal and out of order. This is what I like to call: Crazy Quilt Project Management.

We commission buildings – verifying the systems perform as designed. Commissioning is a process: “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” The key phrase in that definition is: in order. Making sure things work right requires that things happen sequentially. Our tests are written in a sequential manner, and you can only test something to make sure it works after all the elements of designing it and constructing it are complete.

But now when project nears substantial completion (when it is scheduled to be done) and the project isn’t going to be on time, many of those carefully thought-out processes have to go.

We are asked repeatedly – “Can’t you start testing the systems even though the contractors aren’t done?”

In my 30 years of experience I have witnessed time and time again that you can’t rush high quality craftsmanship. For example: Skilled pipe fitters will take within 10% the estimated number of hours to fabricate a big commercial or industrial fluid delivery system, no matter what. More construction workers on the job often doesn’t solve the problem. Despite what the scheduling computer model says, it always takes one woman 9 months to make a baby. You can’t get 9 women to make a baby in one month.

Our work – testing systems to verify function is a project management process reliant on dependencies.  A dependency is a relationship in which a task or milestone relies on other tasks to be performed (completely or partially) before it can be performed.

Crazy Quilt Project Management is simply this: Taking a carefully designed process with dependencies and bending reality so that those dependencies appear to have little or no importance.

I’m guessing that no matter what industry you are involved in you’ve experienced Crazy Quilt Project Management. In the short term it makes the people on the top of the pile look good. We finish on time, revenue is flowing and management is happy. However from the long view it looks much more like delusion. Behind the façade of “we’re finished”, the folks who become owners of the project/product experience layers of dysfunction upon layers of dysfunction and scramble to fix it.

Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I think Crazy Quilt Project Management is just what it implies. If you want something to work right, slow down, and do it right. Why? Because it’s always the smart thing to do.

About TBC

As a leader in the building commissioning industry, Total Building Commissioning (TBC) is a facility consulting firm that specializes in the commissioning of mechanical, electrical, controls and all other major building systems as well as LEED™ certification consulting.

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Phone: 801-401-8401
Toll Free: 877-822-9462

324 South State Street, Suite 400
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84111