Do you know what it takes to be successful?
Even when you feel so overwhelmed and maybe a little bit fearful that you bit off more than you can chew?
Let me offer you some insights from what I learned working for almost 3 years on a big job.
My name is Tim.
Well, it’s actually Chuck, but I always tell guys on my crew that my name to them is TIM; Tools, Information, and Material.
I am TIM to them because if I don’t give them TIM, they can’t do their jobs.
That immediately puts them at ease and starts the process of building trust, I’m telling them upfront that I know that they can’t do their job unless I first do my job; which is to set them up for success.
It’s part of a discussion that I have with all new members of the team that works with me over the past dozen-twenty years.
And it was especially important on one of the last big projects I did before retiring, the Los Angeles International Airport Midfield Satellite Concourse or LAX MSC.
If the MSC was built vertically, it would be in the top 30 of the tallest buildings in the world.
Over a quarter-mile long, with its own auxiliary aircraft control tower, 2 underground tunnels connecting it to the existing Tom Bradley International Terminal, and an additional satellite holding facility for luggage and storage.
With a job that big and complex, it’s easy to die a death of a thousand cuts if you don’t set your team up for success.
To be successful, you need to have a team and the resources to support that team.
I don’t care who you are, if you are going to do anything meaningful, it requires a team.
I’ve had people ask me, “what about the artist or inventor who works alone in their garage for years to create masterpieces?”
I would venture that their team consisted of those people who came before that inspired the artist or inventor.
Tools are anything that is a force multiplier for you to scale your efforts. It could be as simple as a hammer to drive in a nail or an app that saves you the time and effort of remembering the National Electrical Code or the network-note-taking app Obisidian which touts itself as “your second brain.”
There is also the progression of the tools at your disposal, depending on your skill level.
For example, as an electrician, if I need to get my control wires to a piece of equipment 50 meters away from the building, it is generally easiest if I dig a trench before the concrete has been poured.
Giving the task to a member of my crew, I could have him do it with a claw hammer, very stupid and ineffective, I know, but I have seen supervisors treat their men in this way.
Or I could give him an assortment of shovels, better than a hammer but still. Or I could call a rental company and rent a ditch witch, I know my guys would really appreciate it but the bean counters in the office might give me flak for the added costs.
Or I could use outside-the-box thinking and offer a case of beer to the backhoe operator on the job. He could dig that 50M trench in about 30 minutes and would appreciate a case of his favorite beer. (But these kinds of deals never happens, wink wink.)
On the most basic level for construction, information is our blueprints. It is the submitted representation of what the owners and the contractors agreed to.
In the job-bidding process, sub-contractors submitted their estimates based on the parameters required for the job. The blueprints are that proposal, we will provide this work for this amount of money. When the blueprints are accepted, there is a contractual obligation to provide what is on those blueprints.
That is our Point B, actually more like Point ZZ, from the Point A of starting with an empty lot.
I give all of my crew a copy of the blueprints, telling them this is what we are working to accomplish, everything that supports us to get here is on the plate.
Then there’s the additional information and details of all of the equipment we’re installing. The information of coordinating the work with and around the other sub-contractors on the job. Often to be experienced as yelling matches either in the offices or on the job followed by beers and making up, lol.
Putting all of this information together is often overwhelming but thank God we now have software and tools that help coordinate it all. Supervisors regularly carry laptops and tablets everywhere they go to view blueprints and 3D-renderings of the job.
We even have lockable gang boxes with big-screen monitors, printing stations, wi-fi, and computer systems all built-in. Much easier rolling that around a huge building than walking back and forth to the trailers where the offices are located.
If you’ve read the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho) by the samurai, Miyamoto Musashi, you will recall that in his Earth Book, he speaks about the different materials you have to build the home.
He talks about the varying levels of quality that you have in terms of tools, raw materials like wood, and the quality of the men working for you. These are all raw materials that you need to hone to use properly.
For example, we installed literally over 100,000′ of conduit, which was then filled with over a million feet of control wires, and supported and protected by various systems. All dependent on the best use of the materials for the situation and its long-term integrity and utilization.
Underground pipe buried under dirt and concrete was plastic PVC, very inexpensive and easy to install.
Throughout the corridors, terminals, and offices, we used the usual EMT, galvanized-steel thin-wall pipe.
In the mechanical rooms and industrial areas where there is high traffic of equipment and vehicles, we used rigid-threaded pipe which is more resistant to damage.
The same detail for quality was applied with the crew, as control electricians as compared to the usual power and lighting electricians, I had learned that some aspects of control work were harder for some of my guys to grasp.
So I created and communicated a simple system for them to work their way up the quality of work scale. There were 4 tiers of skill that were required for the completion of our work.
- Conduit installation — this was no different from our normal work as an electrician, installing the conduit properly and abiding by the code.
- Pulling wire — this was the first detour from being a power electrician to controls, the wiring cables we used consisted of different # of conductors, shielded and unshielded, plenum-rated and not, etc. The crew member had to learn and remember what wires to pull to the various equipment we controlled
- Terminating devices — after a crew member was able to learn about all of the wirings to all of the various devices and pull the right wires, he was then entrusted to properly make up the devices, important because wiring it incorrectly could damage the equipment.
- Terminating panels — the last skill for crew members was to correctly identify sometimes hundreds of cables coming into the control panel and correctly labeling and landing the cable to its termination point. Here was the potential for the biggest and costliest mistakes.
- When a crew member could successfully move up these levels of trust, quality, and reliability, I knew I had an individual who I could then refine for leadership and management to replace me. I could then share with him or her the skills of layout, job projections, material ordering, and the skills needed to be a trusted leader.
Raw materials, whether they are people or materials, can be best utilized taking into account their strengths and weaknesses, focusing on the former thereby minimizing the latter.
I had some guys who could only rise to tier 1, and as long as I kept them to installing conduit, he and I were both happy. On the other hand, I had an apprentice who I was able to take to tier 4 and beyond, I suspect he will have a very successful career after I am long gone.
As I have since moved on from construction, I find that TIM still works for me as I learn new skills and build a new chapter for my life. It is still my toolbox that I go to when I come across new challenges. If I find myself becoming overwhelmed, I ask myself what TIM do I need to make this happen?
What TIM do you need to become more successful?