Essentialism: How Essentialism Helps Construction Managers Streamline Project Planning

April 1, 2020 | Joe Earhart

Owners face a myriad of complex challenges when rolling-out and implementing a construction project. Tackling complex projects starts with prioritization and focus on the best ‘bang for your buck’ tasks that you can accomplish. Construction management professions all have the same 24 hours in the day to solve the client’s problems and executing on the top priority is critical to delivering projects successfully.

The idea of mastering the few and not dabbling in the many is a key focus of Greg McKeown’s book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”. These concepts can be applied to all aspects of running a project, including running objective-based status meetings and developing project management plans. These 7 key takeaways from the book can help construction managers cut through the noise and keep their projects focused, on-time, on-track, and on-budget:

  1. Priority is a singular word, intended to identify the ONE thing that focus should be on in the present moment. Review your top tasks that need to be completed, select one priority to focus on at that time and own that task. Focus on the hardest task first, because usually the most difficult task requires the most effort but will also knock down the most dominos and positively affect the project.

  2. Clarify the project’s purpose succinctly. Grandiose tasks with long mission statements that aren’t action oriented and measurable are less inspiring. The goal is to establish a project mission that answers the question “how will we know when we have succeeded” and a statement that guides the decisions of the team in their day-to-day on what value to prioritize.

  3. Multitasking is inefficient. When multitasking, focus jumps back and forth between the tasks at hand which results in the brain taking more time to perform both tasks.

  4. Everything in life is a tradeoff, focusing on one thing is a tradeoff for focusing on another thing. Analyze the tradeoffs and acknowledge that an imbalance will need to be created. Balance is not the right mentality, imbalances are. Imbalance something that is the priority for a time until that item is either complete or in a good place, and then imbalance to another task/goal.

  5. Get to know Pareto’s Principle which states that 20% of the effort produces 80% of the result, another reason why it is so important to identify the primary project task for the moment.

  6. Don’t be afraid to help the Owner or Client move on from a task. Keeping a task that isn’t aligning with the project’s mission going because the Owner has already sunk so much time or money into it, is continuing to waste effort, time and money.

  7. Challenge the status quo because what is being doing may not be optimal. However, when that is done, bring alternative ideas to the table.

Adopting a culture of essentialism allows for exponential progress that benefits all parties, allowing the CM to become a trusted solution provider and to deliver a successful project for the Owner. This focused, purposeful and measurable approach can be used to assist the Owner from their strategic planning phase through project implementation meeting each of the Owners objectives along the way giving them the ‘best bang for their buck’. 

About the Authors

Joe Earhart, CMIT, CQM,

is currently serving as a Project Manager on AFG's Quality Assurance Program at NIH, working directly with the client to ensure that their complex construction program is running smoothly. Joe has a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, with minors in Biomedical Engineering and Integrated Design. Joe is a graduate of the 2020 Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) DC/Northern Virginia/Mid-Maryland Leadership & Mentoring Program, a prestigious program for emerging leaders.

About AFG Group, Inc.

AFG Group, Inc. is a woman-­owned firm focused on multi-­disciplined program, construction, and relocation management, with a national portfolio of work in healthcare, laboratories, courthouses, educational facilities, and government buildings. With 30 years of business acumen, AFG has earned a reputation for providing strong expertise, responsiveness, and project execution that helps owners navigate through complex design, procurement, construction, and activation processes.