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Construction Cowboys: “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”

They love action, they are Do-ers, they get stuff done. They are real-life action heroes of concrete and steel: the Construction Cowboys (or girls)!

Like the Lone Ranger, but with a clipboard instead of a gun, and a helmet instead of a hat (they get to keep the boots, though).

We construction people all have a little bit of construction cowboy in us. It’s that restlessness you get when stuff isn’t getting done, those cold sweats when it has been too long since your last concrete pour, the little feeling of pride as you did your hard hat to get out and build a monument to humanity’s greatness.

It’s fun being a construction cowboy or cowgirl, which is why acting like one is so common. But it is also dangerous.

All Guns Blazing

Charging in and firing from the hip costs lives and money. Fortunately in the UK, lives are not at risk as before. The cowboys have been reined in here, but we still see them at work in other countries. They still appear in those mind-blowing “construction disaster” clips, filmed with a shaky mobile, and sent virally to your LinkedIn feed.

But construction cowboys are still messing up our projects in other ways. It costs money, creates confusion and wastes our time in long meetings trying to fix the messes that they make.

Cowboys’ favourite things include:

  1. Not working to or contributing to the plan: “I’ll just do what feels right on the day”. This only works in the movies.
  2. Creating turf wars: Prioritises their areas at the cost of the overall project.
  3. Skipping quality checks: “I’ll just sign off all the papers at the end and backdate them”. Leaving what can often be many years of remediation works at the end of the project.

Cowboys tend to show great progress at the start. After that, they begin to stack up risks in the delivery and the realisation only comes by the end of the project. By then, the Cowboys have ridden off into the sunset for pastures new.

Let’s be Commandos Instead

If we must adopt a persona of bravado and get stuff done, why not look to the commando? A commando knows that going in all guns blazing is a great way to be killed. Instead, they work in teams to plan and execute with clinical precision in highly dynamic and variable environments. The commando is a professional.

It’s more of a mindset than a list of rules:

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