It was 6 pm on a Saturday evening when I crossed the finish line for the Ironman, a race that took me exactly nine hours and 20 minutes to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles through the rolling hills of Clermont, Fla. Having lost nine pounds, even after consuming more than 3,000 calories during the race, I knew the importance of monitoring my body to ensure I had enough energy to finish. Had I not had a system to manage my body, I would never have crossed the finish line. I can’t help being struck by the parallels between managing one’s body and managing a project.
Having grown up in my family’s construction business, I knew early on that I enjoyed the profession of design and construction. After graduating with architecture and construction management degrees, I was fortunate to enter the market at a time when the World Wide Web was just taking off. Within three months of graduation, I developed e-Builder.net, a Web-based system that helps project teams communicate more effectively so they can build faster with fewer mistakes. Between 1994 and 1999, I traveled close to 250 days a year. It was on my 28th birthday that I decided to slow down and incorporate a healthier lifestyle, using the Ironman as an excuse to get in shape.
240 DAYS AND COUNTING
To prepare for my race, I built a strategy that I thought would ensure my success. Having never participated in an Ironman, I had decided early on that my goal was to just finish by maintaining a steady pace throughout the event. While I knew that most participants in my age group completed the race in seven hours, I knew I would overheat and/or run out of fuel if I attempted to keep up with the veteran racers.
Similar to following a racing strategy, when I worked on the Tampa Airport Addition Project, the team aimed to find the fastest, most cost-effective approach to producing a high-quality building. The team had the experience and confidence to design and construct the building within the budget and schedule allotted. However, because the project sat on a sensitive piece of land, community protests might erupt and threaten the viability of the entire project. We decided that the best strategic approach was to involve the community every step of the way to eliminate potential delays from community protests and ensure the project moved ahead. A public website that communicated the planning, design, and construction activity served this purpose well. An example public site developed for Tampa Airport can be seen here.
200 DAYS AND COUNTING
Prior to the Ironman, I was participating in much shorter races lasting about one hour. Each time I crossed the finish line, I could never explain why my official time would fluctuate. All I had were the splits, the duration of each segment (swim, bike, run) in the race. To plan for future races I started to note the temperature on race day, the wind speed, and the humidity. I also collected the race results from the last five years, focusing on my age category to come up with an average finish time for the 31–34 age group. Using this information, I was able to draw conclusions that helped me plan for future races so I would be more competitive.
During the planning phase of the project I was involved in, historical data for past projects (similar to my race statistics) was nowhere to be found. Instead, the project relied on an experienced project manager who held much of the data in his head. He had the experience to estimate the cost and schedule of the job within a reasonable tolerance. He also knew what kind of resources the job would need and was aware of the irregular weather patterns that would invariably cause rain delays.
A centralized system that captured key performance indicators would have been of great value in predicting certain outcomes that could have cost the project time and money.
150 DAYS AND COUNTING
The last six months were spent intensely training to acclimate my body to the stress it would endure in the race. I had a routine of alternating my biking and running days, saving the swim for the weekends. It was normal to bike 150 miles a week, run about 20 miles a week, and swim about two miles on the weekend. Everything seemed to be in check, but after several months of training, I was not improving fast enough. I decided that I needed a tool that would help me improve my performance by measuring my heart rate. Wearing a wireless device around my chest that transmitted information to a watch on my wrist, I was able to gauge my body’s performance in real time. It is what I learned from the heart rate monitor that would forever change the way I think about Web-based program management systems for the design and construction industry. I started with the basics, determining my maximum heart rate by subtracting my age (31) from 220. My maximum was 189 beats per minute, and through regular training, I learned I could actually sustain 195 beats per minute (BPM) for at least 30 percent of a race and average 160 BPM for the rest. Using the automatic alarms built into the watch, I was able to make sure I never exceeded my limits. Back on my project example, we had a handful of systems available to us to effectively manage the project. Unfortunately, it seemed there was never enough time or money to train the project team. Filtered reports were hard to create, alarms when limits were exceeded could not be set, and getting the team to enter their information on a regular basis seemed futile. We stuck to the basics, and it only helped us respond reactively to issues that arose rather than address issues proactively.
ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, GO!
MANAGING ISSUES PROACTIVELY
Through the use of a system (in this example, my heart rate monitor), I could make informed decisions that helped me finish the race. The Ironman race taught me valuable lessons that directly apply to my design and construction experiences, as follows:
Without a system to monitor your project, you might as well be driving your car without a dashboard. No one would drive across the country in their car without fuel, temperature, and oil pressure gauges and expect to make it without delays or major problems. Imagine getting in your car and driving without a dashboard. How would you know how fast you were going, or what your current revolutions per minute were? What if your engine was overheating? Without a gauge, you would not know until smoke was coming from under the hood. During my race, I could not afford the risk of overheating. Using my heart monitor, I virtually eliminated the risk of overheating while simultaneously ensuring I always had enough fuel to finish. During my nine hour and 20 minute race, I had a lot of time to think about the effectiveness of my systems. There is no question that on my future projects, a Web-based management system will be used so that I can use all my resources as efficiently as possible, and ensure that I don’t have unexpected interruptions in the form of errors and omissions. Using Web-based technologies is simply the best way to manage projects to ensure your firm remains competitive in today’s marketplace.
See you at the races!
—By Jonathan Antevy, CEO and co-founder of e-Builder Inc., a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based technology firm specializing Web-based program management systems for the construction industry y. A McGraw-Hill Top 25 Newsmaker in 1995, Antevy was named one of the century ’s top 125 innovators. He holds a bachelor’s degree in design and a master's degree in construction management.