The superintendent is the person who will make or break the success of a project. 

The project manager or resident engineer can equally make or break “success.”   

And, the success of these projects will make or break a company or enterprise.   

Where do we get these leaders?   

Not from a carpenter’s assistant, who never lifts an eye from the tasks to be done immediately. Not from the computer screen jockey who never leaves the field office to walk the jobsite. And not from the new foreperson or site engineer who tries to micro-manage everything. The art of delegation is much more than “a person can only be in one place at any time.” 

By definition, these leaders are going to accrue some years of age while gathering years of experience. Our project leader will not be “a recent grad with thirty years experience” and may not be fully conversant with the latest tools. But you may be surprised!  Squeezing in some time for reading trade journals (such as ENR), writing correspondence, taking on-line and strategically timed face-to-face courses and undergoing some training may remake this person  “a recent grad” for an advanced degree or equivalent every few years.   

The ubiquity with which CPM software has been embraced by project managers has also planted the seed for its demise as a useful tool for the leaders of the project team. Recording approximate actual finish dates and remaining durations of work-in-progress is sufficient for the CPM algorithm to do its thing and help project management better manage their project. Yet with only “a little more effort” (by this same project leader who is already working an 18-hour day) to  provide exact dates and man-hours expended for each activity, this tool for the project team may also provide valuable information for upper management and various home office support groups. Who is supporting who?   

Marketers of software also like this approach.  It is far easier and more lucrative to sell one vice president of operations 100 copies of software to be forced upon project managers than to make 100 separate sales to individual project leaders. Marketing then drives software design to meet the wants of  these important decision makers and not of mere project leaders. All of this has been exacerbated by improvements in the internet and world-wide connectivity. My boss can now count the keystrokes per minute that I am typing, and in a real-time manner know when I stop to take a sip of coffee. Perhaps the CEO of an international construction company will soon be able (and demand) to be informed as a carpenter puts down her hammer for a moment to wipe her brow.  Somehow, I do not think this is really going to improve productivity. 

And what of the superintendent or project manager or resident engineer?  Are these “leaders” to be reduced to be the mere eyes and ears and hands and mouth of the CEO?  Did it really need two separate phone calls from the White House to authorize shooting the pirates holding a ship captain hostage? If so, where will the leaders of tomorrow come from? Despite all the technology of project management software and world-wide connectivity, the CEO cannot micromanage everything and should not try to circumvent every possible error by a leader-in-training. And leaders need tools that are designed to help them lead and not to burden them with more reporting to upper management.   

At least this is one opinion.