A Dirty Job

    A Dirty Job

    By: Jeffrey Miller, PMI Houston Chapter

    Architectural and interior design styles change greatly over time. Often in the operational world, we find ourselves dealing with the sins of those “form over function” designs of the past. While these features provide a unique and often interesting landscape to the office environment, they may cause numerous maintenance and operational problems. They may also turn simple renovations into unexpectedly expensive alterations.

    One such common feature is the abundance of built-in planter boxes popular in the mid- to late-1980s. While there are pros to the planters, there can also be negative issues that go with the cost of interior horticulture. A recent project of mine was not what you might expect. The complaint that came in was “the dirt smells like …. dirt!” And like any good ball of dirt, the complaint rolled down the hill to me.

    Every PM knows that understanding the real issue your client has, increases the likelihood of your ability to offer a successful solution. So, the question I had to answer now was, “why does dirt smell like dirt?” The answer is easier than you think: Geosmin, which is produced by a multitude of naturally occurring bacteria found in all dirt. Bacteria is one of those evil words that everyone hears and instantly gasps, but bacteria is really not that bad at all. The negative effects to humans are minimal in comparison to the large amount of microorganisms that you encounter daily and the positive effects are almost limitless.

    Of course, this new found knowledge of bacteria and the hours of researching dirt did not come with an honorary degree in microbiology, but rather the burden of proof. How do you prove that the naturally occurring bacteria is not harmful? Well, you hire an industrial hygienist to come to take air and soil samples. They then test the soil for commonly found bacteria, fungus, and molds. In our case, we came up with lower than normal concentrations of the microbes (including all the bacteria that produce Geosmin), with everything well below health risk standards.


    With the results all coming back good, I, of course, had a smile of pride when delivering those documents to my client. He then turned to his customers with this scientific backing and received this feedback: “Then how do we stop the dirt from smelling like dirt?” Luckily (before I had to enroll in the biology program at the local university), my sponsor stepped forward with the answer. “Let’s remove all the dirt”, she ordered. I, of course, congratulated her on a wonderful decision. I can handle demolition and construction. A quarter-of-a-million dollars later, we had removed the dirt and built a framework for a platform in the planter boxes. It now resembles a very large stage, from which to sing about their newfound fresh air and freedom from the oppression of dirt.


    Part of being a successful project manager is identifying the root cause of your clients’ issue(s) so you can directly attend to the problem at hand. The more we manage our time researching the true need of the project, the better we can meet their expectations and achieve full success.  As project managers, we often need to be prepared for the unexpected and leave our comfort zone to complete our projects.




    October 2018: Project Management Toastmasters Club - Tips & Discussions

    Project Management Toastmasters Clubs - Tips and Discussions

    Quote: "Those who tell the stories rule the world” – Native American Proverb

    Toastmaster International's "90 Tips From 90 Years"

    32. Be specific. Try to keep your speeches and discussion to the topic on point. Don’t convolute your message with too many stories that stray from the original purpose.

    Create a Culture of Candor

    (Observable Candor may be used to predict high performing teams)

    Best Practices for Meetings

    • Break meetings into smaller groups When five or more people meet, those with confidence and commanding voices will dominate. Smaller groups increase the odds that more voices will be heard.
    • Flatten your hierarchy Encourage the free flow of information at all times, not just in meetings.
    • Designate a “Yoda” Pick an official advocate of candor. A Yoda’s job is to notice and speak up when something is left unsaid, or criticism is unconstructive.


    Best Practices for Individual Feedback

    True collaboration is impossible when people don’t trust one another to speak with candor.  Solving problems requires honest exchanges.

    • Give Clear Permission The person from whom you are soliciting feedback must know for certain that he or she can feel safe being candid with you.
    • Watch for Emotions Really listen to unexpected feedback. This is an opportunity to learn how you look through a different pair of eyes.
    • Be Generous and Strive for Greater “connectedness” Asking for someone’s candid appraisal is flattering. Tell the person providing feedback why you respect his or her opinion and insights.
    • Say “Thank You” Remember to thank the feedback provider. Restate the feedback and promise to take it into consideration.  Follow up later with a description of how you’ve used the feedback constructively.
    • Make Candid Feedback a Habit Requesting candid feedback is a great way to stay in touch. It is a skill that few have the courage to practice but is crucial to master if you hope to benefit from valuable mentors in your life.


    “Creating a Culture of Candor” Excerpted from August 2018 Toastmasters Magazine by Keith Ferrazzi (www.ferrazzigreenlight.com)

    You can learn more about telling your stories at a Project Management Toastmasters Club! 

    Project Management Toastmasters clubs are open to all, but members are predominately professional project managers. Houston Area Project Management Toastmasters Clubs are sponsored by PMI Houston and aligned with the goals of PMI International.   Certified PMPs receive Professional Development Units (PDUs) for participation.