In This Episode:
In this episode, I interviewed Chris Chavez, a real estate project manager from Florida that works in the residential housing development sector.
walt, project management, company, industry, construction, project, manatee county, people, role, work, learn, graphics, project manager, notes, built, year, land, OneNote, job, week
Walt Sparling, Chris Chavez
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 00:36
Welcome to episode number six of PM-Mastery. Today I am interviewing Chris Chavez, a project manager in the real estate world. Did I get your last name right, Chris?
Chris Chavez 00:49
You did Walt, thank you. It's good to be with you today.
Walt Sparling 00:53
Glad to have you here. So we'll go through. Typically we have a list of questions that we go through, and we're going to try to learn as much about you and what you do. So we can share that with the audience. So let's start out with who - tell us a little bit about yourself.
Chris Chavez 01:12
Sure. Well, I grew up in the western part of the United States. I currently live in Bradenton, Florida, which is in Manatee County, just south of St. Petersburg. I'm married. I'm the father of two elementary school-aged children. And I've been in the project management and construction industry for 15 years. Good deal, and
Walt Sparling 01:41
What do you do now? As far as in that project management role?
Chris Chavez 01:47
So currently, I am working for a regional homebuilding and land development company in the Bradenton Manatee County, Sarasota County area. And my role is a project manager within land development. So I oversee all the horizontal construction activities for this company.
Walt Sparling 02:14
All right, so that involves site work.
Chris Chavez 02:18
Yes, so it involves site work and involves earthwork the construction of roads, and sidewalks, curb and gutter as well as all the underground utilities, such as potable water pipes, storm sewer pipes, and sanitary sewer pipes.
Walt Sparling 02:41
That you're the first in that area that we've talked with. Now, I actually met you a few years ago. We were peers for a short period of time. And it before you came there, you worked in a different area. I believe it was, was it commissioning?
Chris Chavez 03:02
That's exactly right. Walt, yes, great memory. So I did, I worked in LEED commissioning for several years. And this was in the city of Los Angeles. And I worked for a consulting firm, where we were contracted to the Los Angeles Community College District, which was, we were working through a $9 billion program of classroom upgrades in new construction. And everything that was built or renovated, had to be the LEED standard. So we were part of the team of project managers. And we worked exclusively in commissioning of all these buildings. So I've had a varied career within the project management field. So that was vertical construction, with the community college district in Los Angeles, and currently, I'm strictly in horizontal construction.
Walt Sparling 04:13
Cool. Well, it's good to have a variety of experience that gives you insight into things that you wouldn't have if you just had one job.
Chris Chavez 04:23
It's the same work with different trades.
Walt Sparling 04:26
All right. So what drew you to or how did you get into, tell us a little bit about that part of it?
Chris Chavez 04:35
Sure. I, I think I've always had an interest in the built environment. And I can trace it back to a specific day where I became very interested in it. And that was when I was probably 15 or 16 years old. I took a trip to Madrid, Spain with my cousins who I grew up with their mother is Spanish, and she was from Madrid, my cousins would visit Madrid every other summer. And I got to go with them. One summer, I saved up for airline tickets, and I stayed with my cousins in their aunts and uncles' home in Madrid, and I got on a subway for the first time. And I saw a large public square for the first time. And it was a lot of walking and exploring. And I became fascinated with the built environment. And it's something that has always stayed with me through the years. And it's very exciting. And I think all of us in this profession, enjoy seeing things get built and then utilized. So it was an eye-opening experience for me in a lot of ways. And I had no idea that it would impact my profession when I got older, but it certainly did.
Walt Sparling 06:12
That's awesome. I think a lot of people do get an interest in doing something that they'll ultimately end up in when they're younger. And I know, mine is a little different. I wanted to be an architect, I work in the design world and in the construction world, but I am not an architect, but it's what got me here.
Chris Chavez 06:33
That's right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's those interests when we're young. So it's, um, I feel lucky that I've been able to get a career out of it. And just to give you a little bit more background, I studied planning, which I worked in the planning field for several years before moving into project management in construction. And with my current role, I get to be involved in planning when we are when we have purchased a piece of land that we have to get entitled. So in addition to the project management, I get to work in planning as well, when we are going through the entitlement process for a piece of property, I get to use some of that education and some of that previous experience. And I feel like this role I have now brings together the different experiences I've had in the past to use them all together for this job, which I really enjoy.
Walt Sparling 07:40
That's cool. So you've obviously learned a lot, you've done a couple of different parts of the industry, but it's been project management related. When you're not learning on the job, do you seek out other ways to increase your knowledge? And if so, what are they?
Chris Chavez 08:00
Well, I, I do, but there's been a lot of on the job learning for me. Currently, there has been a learning curve to know more about the industry I'm in now. So I've been I'm part of a community of people in the land development and home building industry, who have a monthly zoom meeting, which I attend. And there are communications with this group. And these are groups of this is a group of people that's in Manatee County in Sarasota County. So while I'm not exactly my role does not exactly involve homebuilding. The home building and land development go hand in hand. And this is people involved in the industry. And they talk about legislation, they talk about unit costs, and we talk about processes. And I've been a participant listening in I have not been contributing as much per se, but it's something that I have been able to participate in and learn from. I enjoy professional development podcasts such as your podcast, Walt, I think it's been very helpful for me. And when you and I work together, Walt, you encouraged me to go through the PMI coursework, which I started, I haven't finished and it's something I need to continue to do, I think to get me to the next level. Well, good.
Walt Sparling 09:55
That's Yes, I've got another peer that is in the process of going through that the big change this year after, I don't remember the exact date, but in January, that's going to be a new test version seven - a lot better standing a lot more agile in this one compared to the last one had a section of Agile that was added to it from five. But this one is going to be, I think, almost half agile, which will be interesting.
Chris Chavez 10:25
Yeah, well, I'll be reaching out to you. Soon enough a week when I get into that.
Walt Sparling 10:31
You're, you're doing some learning. It sounds like you're doing a lot of the learning through what you, just through your connections with the job and maybe the regional government area that you work in. Does that?
Chris Chavez 10:46
Walt Sparling 10:47
Okay. So what about challenges? Now, you're, you have the new stuff you got to learn. But do you have any other challenges? Or is that considered one of your challenges?
Chris Chavez 11:00
Yeah, there's been. So as I alluded to, before, there have been some components of this job that I've had to learn, I've had to learn on the job. And luckily, the owner of the company, who's very engaged on a day to day basis, has been a has been contributing to my, to my knowledge and in working with me, he knows what I'm she knows my strengths, he knows my weaknesses. And he's able to assist in parts of the role that I don't have a lot of experience in. In addition to that. We do work in this corporation with a couple of consultants, wonderful of whom is a retired division president for a homebuilder and he consults for this company that I that I'm at. And he is just a wealth of knowledge. He's patient, he has a good sense of humor. And he's very helpful in the project process. One of my big challenges with this company is that we have essentially been a one-man show, the land development department has been a department of one, which is me. We have recently hired two new employees, a project coordinator, a young woman recently out of college, and a more seasoned vice president of land development, who has been in this industry for the past 25 years or so, who has a lot of regional knowledge. So my struggles, where I've needed help is just a matter of bandwidth. It's so I feel very excited about the year ahead. We have a great team. These hires have been made in the past month, and they've been in the process for quite a while. And I'm very excited about where we're going to go. Within the next year, we have a lot of projects in the pipeline. It's still a little bit of a there's some unknown in our industry because of the pandemic, but it is had an ironically, it's had a positive influence in the homebuilding industry, were here in Florida, at least, Walt, there's been an increased demand for new homes. So we've been able to continue working, we have a lot of projects in the pipeline. So our challenges are going to be to complete our projects in time to turn over to our homebuilding department, who can start building houses and getting the houses on the market. And, and, and sold. So it's been a really interesting year. And I'm looking forward to 2021. And the challenges that I've been facing in the past year, and the past year before that will be addressed right now in the next few months. So I'm very excited about the year ahead, for that reason.
Walt Sparling 14:40
Good deal. And I can understand that I think a lot of folks are excited about the year ahead, and 2020 is going to be one of those years that has never forgotten.
Chris Chavez 14:51
Yeah, you're right about that. I guess we're all excited to get Yes. You're right. You're right. Well,
Walt Sparling 14:59
yeah, it's Then based on how things are looking, even with a vaccine coming out, it looks like it's going to at least go through almost an entire year cycle before things start turning around.
Walt Sparling 15:12
And Walt, we were all considered essential workers, so I stayed busy through the entire pandemic. And our whole company has been busy. We didn't, we didn't know that that's what was going to happen. But it did. And we're grateful for that. And we're grateful to, to meet those challenges head-on. And I'm sure a lot of us in the industry experienced the same thing that we're all essential workers, it felt good to be an essential worker.
Walt Sparling 15:40
Yeah, it's essential in a different way than what a lot of people think of essential workers. I know that we got, I personally received a letter from, you know, the legal corporate that said, "Hey, if you ever get stopped, you present this letter. And this indicates that you are an essential worker." And because of the type of customer we have, it is somewhat essential. So we keep the lights on.
Chris Chavez 16:08
That's exactly right. Yes. And, yeah, we're not in. We're not first responders, and they are obviously the most essential, but we're very, very happy, to continue to work to help our communities continue, to operate and function.
Walt Sparling 16:28
So let's jump into some tools. What if you have any favorite tools, these can be hardware software, what is it that you really enjoy using that helps you do your job?
Chris Chavez 16:42
Oh, Walt, I've been a committed Excel spreadsheet user. For my whole career. I have recently started using the Asana software, which I really enjoy the interface, and how it works. I'm a new user, I'm, I'm learning. It's it, it offers great ways to track a project and ways for me to visualize a project using styles such as the sticky note format, or can be board format, as well as a Gantt chart. We, in my company, we, we, we rely on our, our contractors for schedules, we request schedules monthly from them. But I like to keep a schedule also so that I can determine when something is impacting the critical path. So to that end, I use an MS Project. And I use Excel spreadsheets. And I'm a new user of the Asana software. I also rely daily on Microsoft OneNote. I, I find it incredibly powerful, but I can use it on my phone, I can use it on my laptop. And I can embed documents in the notes, I can embed photographs in the notes. And it's updated without having to hit Save it's or the notes are saved automatically. So if I'm using it on my mobile device, or I'm using it on my laptop, I have access to those notes anytime, anywhere. And on a day to day basis. That's what I use the most. And it has as fun functions such as a box that you can check when you've completed a task. So I use that all the time. And I have I use it. I create a new sheet every week. And I check things off as I complete tasks. Anything that's not completed that week, I roll over to the next week. And anytime I need to research something that was said or a task I completed or dates that we discussed, I can search within one-note and pull those notes up at any moment. I feel like it's a secret weapon. Not a lot of people in my Corporation use it and it's something that I have gotten a lot of miles Jada is and I, and I know I don't I'm not even using it to its full capabilities. So it's great software.
Walt Sparling 20:07
Yeah, that's a common trait of most software, especially like the Microsoft suite of product products is that you don't, you barely scratched the surface of the capabilities. But OneNote is super popular. I think nearly everyone that I've interviewed so far uses that great start, I'm not a big fan of the Outlook tasks some people are, it's all in how you work. What I do though, is I'll create a reminder, a daily morning, it's like my am check-in, in there is a link to my OneNote checklist. So instead of it opening up a task or something in Outlook, it pops up the page that has my checklist, like you said, the little boxes, and I have I basically copy in a table, all my morning check-ins. And then as I go through them, I put a check-in and I insert the date that I did them. And I'll usually only keep track of maybe a week's worth, and I wipe it out and start over. But I go through the same routine every morning and say, hey, did I checked the invoices are outstanding, that are checked to make sure the project has the latest updates in it, etc. So it's about looking in OneNote, one note is definitely a sweet tool.
Chris Chavez 21:26
Walt, I need some assistance. Without look, I think that's the next thing that I need to gain mastery over. Something you and I did together that I would like to incorporate in my current job and role in a company that I work for is lunch and learns. I I really enjoy using Snagit for graphics. And I I assume we all do. Right, Walt, I think that's it.
Walt Sparling 21:57
Anybody that uses it loves it.
Chris Chavez 21:59
I love it. And I've introduced a few of my coworkers to it because they said Chris, how do you turn around these graphics so quick. And I'm happy to share. And I think if you're proficient with Microsoft, PowerPoint, the which I feel very comfortable. And I think that it's Snagit, it uses a lot of that same style interface. So it's a lot of fun to use. The owner of my company who he's not extremely software savvy, but that's not him, that's not where his strengths are. He asks me all the time to make a graphic forum, and I'm able to turn it around. He's he expects a certain quality of graphic to come from me. And I'm able to turn around really quickly. Oftentimes he looks and he says, Oh, this is perfect. This is exactly what I wanted. And I enjoy using it as well, I think it's fun to use. So I want to implement the lunch and learns. And I would like someone to come to the lunch and learn and in Teach me more about the power of Outlook. And I'd like to share about Snagit. And I'd like to share more about Excel and OneNote. So there are enough people in my company to attend those. And I think I can drum up a lot of interest in it. It was fun doing those when you and I work together.
Walt Sparling 23:39
Yeah, and let me know the Outlook one is something I want to dive into more as a presentation. I've done a few in the past, I did one as part of Walt's wisdoms that I did for our account. And it was big on calendar scheduling, time blocking, which I'm big on how to set up templates that you can use to basically write those emails you write every week status updates, and they're just a template you pop up and fill in the blanks and you don't have to think about the wording because it's already in there. Those are some of the things I use Outlook for so that my correspondences very consistent, and it's easy to set up.
Chris Chavez 24:20
That's great. That's great. And I think in your role you have a lot of parties you have to correspond with and you have to be very precise and exact with your communications with those individuals. I'm communicating inside our company with only about three people that need the information that I have. The contractors are overseen by me and I provide updates to our home building department and the owner of the company. So I have a more liberal To the audience, but it's still critical. And it's still very important.
Walt Sparling 25:04
Communication is a big part of what a pm does. So you master that whether it be through graphics or skills with your writing, the better you are, and those the better you're going to communicate with your audience, wherever they are.
Chris Chavez 25:22
I've found in this role where I am now, I have to be extremely concise with my writing. And often I just use bullet points to, to communicate in an email because the owner of the company, he can't read a multi-paragraph, email, just meaning his time is too tight. And he has a lot of things on his plate at all times. So I try to be very punchy with my communication with him. And I've found, it actually helps me to distill the information in the most succinct way I can. And it actually helps me to understand what I'm doing better because I have to be very precise with my writing.
Walt Sparling 26:14
So there are two things to that. And I understand that completely. In a lot of the correspondence I deal with I usually if it's a project status update, I do an executive summary. So it's a very short couple of sentences. This is basically where we're at. And then everything below that is the detail. This is the expected schedule, this is the two-week look ahead. This is where we're at. These are the problems we're having. These are action items for everybody on the team, etc. Recently, in a mastermind meeting, one of our members did a presentation on a concept they called bluf. And it stands for "bottom line up front". So whatever it is you're asking for, I want the bluf first. And then Yes, tell me where you're going. Do I need to read? So yes.
Walt Sparling 27:04
So there are different ways of doing it. But, I think the important part is, especially when you're dealing with executives and higher-level busy people, get to your point right away, and then I'll from that point, I'll determine if I want to dig in any more, or I'll generate questions from that.
Chris Chavez 27:22
Oh, that's excellent. I love that. I think I've been learning to do that without knowing the bluf acronym. So that's, that's terrific.
Walt Sparling 27:31
Yeah, I like I prefer the executive summary to the bluf, the guy who did it. He was adamant about it. And I'm like, okay, that's fine. And it works for you. Yeah, like the executive summary. But they're both they do the same thing. They cut to the chase, and they go, Okay, here's, here's what we need you to know. If you want more detail, hang around. Otherwise, you can go and get back with me when you have some time.
Chris Chavez 27:54
it's it even happens, not just an email, but in my meetings and conversations with the owner of the company or the or the president of homebuilding. They just need to know, the the the bottom line right away, then if there are questions after that, if there's detail they need we can get into that. And I've learned to communicate in that way. So yeah, I think that's terrific. Well, I think that's something I'll share with my teammates as well.
Walt Sparling 28:25
Yeah. And that's some of the stuff that we'll be, I'll be cut digging into more on the blog side of the site. And we might have some conversations on the podcast, but a lot of that meeting etiquette meeting, structure, status, updates, things like that. How should you structure them and why we'll have covered in the blog. For the last item is one of the things that I started doing at work is called a Did you know, and I just did it. I explained this every time but I just did it. To break things up one time, and then I found out people really liked it. So bottom line, I do it all the time now. And I thought it would be a cool thing to do on the podcast so that maybe someone will put something out there that someone was not aware of and enlighten them a little bit. So I'm hoping you can share a Did You Know with the audience today?
Chris Chavez 29:24
Well, I got two for you today, Walt.
Walt Sparling 29:27
Chris Chavez 29:29
Okay, so, uh, did you know there is no SH sound in the Spanish language? So my last name, Chavez is a Spanish last name. I want people to know that there is no SH sound. In Spanish. It's just it's a CH like chocolate. So there's Did You Know number one. Number two, this is more fun. Did you know Walt that North Korea and Cuba are the only places in the world where you can't buy Coca Cola?
Walt Sparling 30:08
Oh, that's interesting.
Chris Chavez 30:10
So, I haven't been to either. But if I go, I guess I'll bring my own Coca Cola in case I need that. Yeah, I
Walt Sparling 30:20
don't know, Cuba, I've considered going there. North Korea, not so much.
Chris Chavez 30:26
You're probably right. You're probably right about that. Yeah.
Walt Sparling 30:29
That is an interesting, interesting point. All right. Well, I greatly appreciate you coming and sharing some time and your experiences with us. And I do hope that in the future, we can do some more things together. Maybe after talking through some of these lunch and learns, we can come up and do a session about one of them on the podcast.
Chris Chavez 30:55
That's a great idea Walt and I too, have enjoyed this. And for those, for those listeners out there, you know that Walt is a good mentor, a very fun person to work with, and a real professional in our industry.
Walt Sparling 31:14
Well, I appreciate that Chris. And I did not pay him a penny to say that
Chris Chavez 31:20
Did not - no. Did not.
Walt Sparling 31:23
All right. Well, Chris, thanks for joining us. Thank you to everyone who is listening in and we will see you on the next episode of PM-Mastery.
Chris Chavez 31:33
Thank you Walt. Bye, everyone.