Interview with Travis Chess - Construction PM

November 17, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Interview with Travis Chess - Construction PM
Show Notes Transcript

In This Episode:

 In this episode, I interviewed Travis Chess, a construction project manager from Florida that works in the commercial construction sector.

 Favorite Tool(s):

  • Rico Theta 360 Camera
  • Bluebeam
  • BOX

 Did You know?

  • Alaska is the largest state in size by landmass, but they have one of the lowest populations in the entire US, which comes in at about 735,000 people. They are actually number four.



project, dpr, sync, company, alaska, tampa, industry, project manager, document, photo, computer, little bit, training, work, construction, meetings, pm, florida, challenge, larger


Walt Sparling, Travis Chess

 Intro  00:12

Welcome to the pm-mastery podcast. This podcast is all about helping you master your project management skills by sharing tips, tricks, tools and training to get you to the next level while sharing the stories of other project managers on their journey in project management. And now here's your host Walt Sparling. 

 Walt Sparling  00:35

Welcome to episode number four. Today we're interviewing Travis chess, a construction project manager based out of Florida. So Travis, welcome. 

 Travis Chess  00:48

Thanks, Walt. Thanks for having me on.


Walt Sparling  00:50

Oh, glad to have you on looking forward to hearing a little bit about you. So tell us a little bit about who you are.

Travis Chess  00:58

Oh, I'm just an average Joe, project manager. You know, born and raised in Florida. In here. My entire life I met met a young lady about 14 years ago. And she now my wife met her in construction. Coincidentally, and I've got got three beautiful girls, ages five, nine and 15. So we live a pretty simple life here in Tampa, in the Tampa area. My wife, and I've been here since 2006. And been in the construction industry for 20 plus years, depending on how far back you want to go. If you count summer jobs, or you want to count an actual career, but been in the business quite a while and enjoyed every minute of it. I like building things. So.

 Walt Sparling  01:41

So you mentioned that you meant you met your wife in construction. How did that come about?

 Travis Chess  01:46

Yeah, I was actually working. I was at a project at macdill Air Force Base. And she had just recently gotten hired. She works for geotech here in Tampa. And she came over from Puerto Rico been here a couple months. And I don't know, I just she was an engineer field engineer at the time and just started, you know, chatting whether on site one day and just kind of kicked it off and decided I'd take her on a date. So here we are 14 years later. And what's funny is, I don't think we've worked on a job since together so

 Walt Sparling  02:21

and she still does the same kind of work

 Travis Chess  02:23

yet. Yes, still in a business still doing the same thing, same company. So she's actually wanting to make the leap over to the the construction side of things, you know, she's tired of playing in the dirt that she says so,

 Walt Sparling  02:36

yeah, I actually met my wife I was in at the time I was doing working for an engineering firm as a cat manager, and IT manager. And she came on there as an engineer, and, you know, just got to know each other. And then years later, we met and boom, we're married. So we've been married eight

 Travis Chess  02:53

years now. It's a it goes quick.

 Walt Sparling  02:57

So tell me a little bit about your position. You mentioned, you're a project manager, tell me a little bit about your duties, and who you work for big companies, small company, etc.

 Travis Chess  03:08

Yeah, I work for a national company, DPR construction, fairly new to the company, then here about almost a year and a half. And, you know, coming over here it was a little bit of a change of pace was used to be in on much larger projects. Now, it's kind of a mix of smaller projects, as DPR calls it, SSG, where is a lot of it, it's kind of what they classify as their smaller projects, they do have some larger projects just don't have too many in the Tampa area. But we've actually helping them pre con right now on an up and coming project, that's going to be in the 35 to $40 million range. So that'll get me back into my comfort zone where I'm used to managing one project more than several smaller projects, there's kind of a change of pace coming over having to juggle multiple jobs all at once. So it's a little bit different of a challenge, but I like it nonetheless. But I would like to get back on on one job, just I don't know, there's something about, you know, starting on a job that's large. You get involved in it early on, you know, everything from, you know, its inception to the final closeout of the project, when an owner comes up to you or anybody for that matter. And they have a question on something. I like to have an answer no matter what it is. And I just I don't know, it's so good sense of personal satisfaction when you you deliver a project, especially a large one, and you know, every single thing about it and just kind of take that with you.

 Walt Sparling  04:43

Yeah, I definitely agree the larger projects I prefer as well because you, you can really sink your teeth into it. You can really get detailed into it when you're bouncing around between a bunch of other projects. Well, did I do? Did I do that on that? Oh, I don't remember if I did that. Got it. Check the calendar, go check my list See, have I done all the right things? And then you've got to do your project status updates for every single one of them and chase around multiple contractors. And yeah, it's

 Travis Chess  05:10

it's a little bit different of a ballgame coming over, I was thinking I was going to be a little bit easier, in a sense to me anyways, I think it's almost a little more difficult. You just there's a lot, a lot more smaller moving pieces, and you don't have all that you don't have enough time to dig into the weeds necessarily on everything like you. You can on a larger project.

 Walt Sparling  05:32

Yeah. And full disclaimer, actually, you and I met on a project where you took over a project from another pm. I don't remember how long you had been with the company, but three weeks. Okay. Wow, no wonder no, that turned out real good. And now I'm actually working with you on another project, not directly but through through another pm. All right. So we know what you did. You've been doing it for a while. So why do you do it. And I say that

Travis Chess  06:03

it's my passion. I mean, that just plain and simple. I like to build things, I like to figure out how to make things work. There's nothing really simple about construction, you got to have a well laid plan. And you know, you just got to you got to put a lot of time and effort into figuring it out. And that's what I enjoy. It gives me a lot of self satisfaction. And it's just, it's fun to me. I've always since even since I was a kid, I'd like to tear things apart, figure out how they work, how to make them better. It's just it's what I do.

 Walt Sparling  06:37

So now you've been in the industry a long time. And you're obviously learning things, you're probably getting exposed to at least a few new things here and there on some of these projects. But as far as keeping up with industry knowledge, because one thing about construction is there's change, there's new technologies, there's new methods of doing things. How do you keep up? How do you self educate? Or? Or does your company support you? How does that go?

 Travis Chess  07:04

Oh, that's one thing in DPR, there's no shortage of training opportunities, it's sometimes it's a little overwhelming, but there's they're constantly, you know, setting up trainings on just about any and everything related to the industry. Some of it's not even related to the industry, it's just on, you know, self improvement, how to be a better manager. And it's, it's really, it's up to you, you know, what, what you want to what you want to what courses you want to take, you know how deep you want to go into some of these trainings, but it's, it's, it's probably one of the better perks of the company, there's just an abundance of opportunity to, to improve your yourself and your skills, your own.

 Walt Sparling  07:48

That's good. So with that, you may not have to do a lot of outside, like, in or,

 Travis Chess  07:55

yeah, I really, I really don't in my last employer, I would study up I read articles, I would watch YouTube videos, you know, any anything I could get my hands on, really, it was, you know, that was one one method of improving my skills. But now I it's solely just, you know, taking the courses that are offered to me DPR. And if by chance, there's something that's, you know, not available, then they'll they'll, you know, they'll make sure I get the training I need, whether it's something they offer or something they need to pay for outside of the company.

 Walt Sparling  08:30

That's cool. So the larger companies definitely have a little bit of advantage there, as they have a lot more experience. And they have the funding where they can put together a program, and they can really focus that program to how they want the employees to learn and grow.

 Travis Chess  08:44

Yeah, they're constantly changing their programs up, they'll they'll roll something out. And it at the end of all the trainings, you know, they'll they'll do a plus delta, they want to know what worked, what didn't work, what what changes they can make to improve, prove it for the next group of audience, you know,

 Walt Sparling  09:00

all right. So the other thing that we typically ask is about challenges. So in your job, do you have any specific challenges that you deal with or maybe a current challenge,

 Travis Chess  09:12

say my single biggest challenge is time management, that kind of goes hand in hand with running all the little small projects that I mentioned. Right now I've got my hands on several. And I'm also helping out with the pre construction on the up and coming a larger project. So there's a lot of meetings at this point, mixed in with all the training sessions that I'm trying to rush through, you know, performance evaluations nowadays because of COVID. You got all these zoom meetings, and it almost seems like the frequency of the meetings has increased, just because they are a little bit easier to to, to organize, you know, and then mix all that in with, you know, family and parenting challenges, just life in general. So it's it's a little bit of a struggle, but it's, you know, it's worth it. And I actually got got two challenges. And the second one is, you know, I've been when I was with my last employer for over 15 years, and they had a very set way of doing business and, you know, just being with them for so long. It's their, their, their ways of doing things is basically ingrained in my DNA. So I'm trying to try and adjust it the DPR way of doing things and not entirely different, but there is quite a few differences and a year and a half. And I'm so it's so a little bit of a challenge for me, but I'm working through it.

 Walt Sparling  10:36

Yeah, that's definitely something that I think a lot of people challenge are challenged with when they change jobs, is, even in project management. There are standards out there on how things are done. But when you get out into the world, they're not so standardized. Each company has their own methodologies and their own forums and software that they prefer to use. And even though it's still about managing your time and your schedule, it's different in each in each place that you go.

 Travis Chess  11:04

Absolutely. And there's one thing that always annoys me, when you work on somebody who's came from somewhere else, you don't want to constantly hear about how they did it, and this and that. So I try to, I naturally want to say, Well, I used to do it like this, and that. But I have to be cognizant of that. And I try to avoid saying things like that, you know, because I'm not there anymore. So it doesn't really even matter.

 Walt Sparling  11:25

Right? Unless there's something that was better there. Yeah. And you can say, listen, we could at least try this because it definitely worked. Absolutely. So that's cool. So speaking of which, what about tools? So do you have any favorite tools that you use software hardware,

 Travis Chess  11:41

right now, my I love trying new things, new software. Right now my favorite new toy is the Ricoh Theta, it's a 360 camera, it's been working wonderfully for the needs that I have right now, which is documenting some existing conditions on a project that I'm going to we're going to be doing a fit out on an office building, it's got a lot of components in the in the Korn shell of the building right now. And just trying to coordinate its we're actually coordinating across our company and to other GCS that are working. And everybody's kind of been working in silos. So you know, being able to go out in the field and take a 360 degree photo existing conditions, and then you can even do video with it, and to be able to go back to the office and, and a couple days later, you know, something comes up, oh, man, I need to look up what was in that space. And you just pull out the 360 video or the photos and you can just spin it around any angle you need to look at, and whatever you need is right in front of you. It's amazing.

 Walt Sparling  12:46

That is cool. Because I know over the years, I spent a lot of time on the design side. And we used to go out and document existing conditions, and it never failed. You missed the one photo, and we would create methodologies. Okay, when you got to take a picture from far away, then you get to take a picture a little bit closer, then you go into the details that way, you know what's associated with what wall, there's a lot of times you're collecting them and providing them to someone else to help with the design. And they're like, I have no idea what this is. So the 360 and where you can get the entire space in. Like you don't even have to think about it. It's just automatic.

 Travis Chess  13:23

That's right. Yep. And I use that in conjunction with with a website service called struction site, you upload your your floor plans, you pinpoint your location on the plan on your phone. And when you take the photo or the video, it knows exactly where you're at, and it just syncs up to the cloud. And it's right where you need it. And you can share it with anybody that you need to share what

 Walt Sparling  13:47

awesome, it sounds like a pretty powerful setup. So what else

 Travis Chess  13:50

really, it's, it's worked out really good for us. We had a little bit of experience with it at my previous employer. And then we just we haven't really used it too much here at my current company. And then I was in the office a few weeks ago, and I realized they had one and I was like Oh man, I gotta have been using it ever since it was actually belong to one of the PMS in the office. And I told him I couldn't I didn't think I was gonna go to part ways with it. So I actually had to go and I had to get back and I went and bought my own. So now now I got my that's great. There's a few other tools that really come in handy recently. I know a lot of people may use them some maybe not so much. Microsoft OneNote is kind of my go to for for note taking. You can put a lot of information in one document and share it with whoever you need to sync it up with the cloud and Microsoft Teams that's really taken off here this especially since COVID. It's kind of my online meeting software of choice right now. I know our company's pushing it pretty hard for just trying to get all of our team members on the same page, you know 2020 And sharing and live documents and just trying to keep everybody all in one place. And we're kind of getting away from, from using any of the other types of online chat services. And strictly just using Microsoft Teams.

 Walt Sparling  15:14

Yeah, our company is going pretty much solid with that we still use WebEx for large scale trainings. But all local meetings with internally or with clients are done with Microsoft Teams. Pretty powerful. They've also made a ton of improvements, like you said, it really took off that in zoom really took off this year. But I think zoom is kind of ahead of the game. And Microsoft was like, Well, no, we're gonna catch up. So they've been doing a lot of improvements over the last couple months.

 Travis Chess  15:47

Yeah, I've noticed a lot of changes, it just seems to work a little bit better. And I don't know, just the fact that, you know, my company uses it. So we have a lot of files, we do a lot of online, you know, sending chat, setting up chat sessions, and just shooting quick messages back and forth. And it seems like especially over like the last few months, it's just really taken off within our company, and everybody's starting to use it more. It's been available for a while. But I think everybody's fully starting to embrace it and use it to its full potential.

 Walt Sparling  16:14

Yeah, I agree that I agree with that. And the others love Blue Beam,

 Travis Chess  16:19

I know pretty much everybody in the industry uses Blue Beam, for the most part, it does a lot of has a lot of useful uses for it, you can do take off with it, it's by far the best program that I've used as far as marking up documents and, and especially like the the studio sessions, like just the other day, uploaded a set of plans, we got our whole team looking at it dropping comments all at the same time. So it's just it, it's really useful for for what we do in this industry. And then, you know, if we're out in the field or something plangrid is my my, my document program of choice, it's got a lot of other useful issues to create and punch list and, you know, doing inspections and stuff like that, it just seems to work really well. You sync all the plans up to here, your iPad, or your even your phone. And when you're out in the field, you just whip it out, everything's right where you need it. So we do a lot of playing grid documentation.

 Walt Sparling  17:16

So you can do with that, the photos and sync it with a comment. So you can build your punch list from there.

 Travis Chess  17:22

Yep, you can upload you can you no pit, note the room you're in, you can set it up to tag, you can have certain tags in there, you know, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, you could set it up to automatically send out notifications to subcontractors, if they have open punch list items. Like he said he take a photo and everything is, you know attached to that it's that attached to that tag and that room and everything is right where they need it even do a little snippet of where the issues that within the room will show a little picture of the floor plan. And it'll show exactly where it's at in that room. Very useful for what we do. Very powerful. And I'd say Lastly, you know, everybody's using Cloud Storage these days. But I've used pretty much all of them out there. My last employer was big into Google, Google Drive. And you know, we we use box DPR. And it just seems to work like perfectly syncs up, especially if you're using ox drive on your computer to sync everything up. It's actually streaming the files from online, but it makes it look like it's right on your computer. And it syncs really fast. And as some of the other services have a delay, and it just doesn't seem to work as good, at least for my experience, and boxes seems to pay to work seamlessly for for our needs.

 Walt Sparling  18:41

Yeah, we actually our firm was big into box, and they've recently made the shift to OneDrive. And they do a lot of SharePoint online stuff, that's we have the same thing, you can sync the folders with your computer. And it's just like you it's locally even though it's really a separate folder structure that's in the cloud. And I have noticed some hesitations with even your personal documents because it's like from the corporate standpoint, they take your profile, and they put it on the cloud. So then it's accessible on your computer, but when it does updates, oh my god, it just seems like it drags It's so frustrating.

 Travis Chess  19:19

Technology is great. But you know, that's that's one of the downsides. It's sometimes these you got whether it's Google Drive box or OneDrive doesn't matter. It's sometimes that that's, that's the downside to having it on your computer, constantly synching up files, it slows things down, especially if you have files, you know, set to to view offline. And it's, it's actually, you know, constantly downloading everything and it's sometimes it can really bring your computer down to its knees.

 Walt Sparling  19:47

Yeah. So lastly, one of the things that I started doing at work was with our team is a little Did you know thing, and it's basically It was just something I wanted to try to mix things up in a meeting. And turned out, it was super popular. They wanted to when I stopped doing it, they wanted me to do it again. So now I do it all the time. And I thought that would be cool to do here on the podcast in with all the different people we're going to interview, they've got to have something that they can share that people out there don't know. So do you have a Did you know, you could share?

 Travis Chess  20:25

Actually, I do. My father lives in Alaska, we had a lot of conversations about, you know, how different things are there versus here. And one thing is, you know, they've pretty low population, at least in comparison to, you know, the states. So turns out that, you know, they're the largest state by size by landmass, but they have one of the lowest populations in the entire US, which comes in at about 735,000 people there actually number four and the smallest lowest population in the United States. And from Tampa. So just as a comparison, tap areas got 2.8 million people, and this entire state only has 735,000 people. I find that pretty interesting.

 Walt Sparling  21:12

Yeah. And you can view Florida's in Alaska.

 Travis Chess  21:15

Absolutely. I mean, it's in, you know, comparison to the 331 million people in the United States. It's only point oh, 2% of the entire population. So it's, it's apparent that Alaska may not be for everybody. It's not for me, you know, it's a little too cold for my blood specially born raised in Florida. I can't handle the cold so I don't think I'll ever live in Alaska. But you know, somebody like my daddy. He loves it there. He he likes living out in the middle of nowhere and he loves it. freezing temperatures. Becky's facetimed me before and 2030 degree weather outside in a T shirt now like, and the wind blows in Florida and I'm putting on a sweater or something. So different strokes, different folks. And yeah, there's one other thing it's it's got he it's always been a running joke. You know, he's had with me, he said, it's, there's a, there's 10 men, every one woman Well, I had to look it up. Not necessarily true. But they do have the highest male to female ratio in the United States. So it's kind of a running joke with with him. He says you don't you don't break up with your girlfriend, you just lose your turn.

 Walt Sparling  22:28

That's funny. Yeah, I've been there twice. One I went up and stayed for a couple weeks and got to do some camping up in the mountains near Portage and stayed with some friends and anchor. And then my wife and I actually took our anniversary cruise up to Alaska out of Seattle. It was really nice. We're gonna do a 10 year and repeat the trip. So looking forward to that. So Travis, I greatly appreciate you spending some time with us. I'm hoping that down the road right now it's we're kind of primarily interview focus, getting a feel for the different types of pm positions out there, right now, this year, the fourth person and everyone's construction. So far, I do have someone coming up in the software industry. And I'm hoping to reach out to some other folks in the training industry and got one guy possibly lined up in healthcare. So the whole thing is about there's there's a lot of things you can do as a project manager, a lot of industries and kind of get a feel for what's out there and then share some tools. So we talked about some tools, but down the road, I want to have some of the folks back like OneNote I love OneNote. I'd like to see how some of the other PMS are actually using them. We have a pm in our group that is just incredible in OneNote. And I've picked up a few things from her. So that's kind of the the goal for down the road. Hopefully, we'll have you back. I do appreciate you spending some time with us. And

 Travis Chess  24:00

absolutely, but I could contribute.

 Walt Sparling  24:02

Well, it is much appreciated. And for everyone else. Thank you for tuning in. And we'll see you on the next episode of pm mastery.

 Travis Chess  24:13

 All right. Thanks Walt.