Behind the Build: Interview with Kris Olmstead, Project Manager, Tri-City Electrical Contractors, Inc.

kris olmstead tri-city electric

This blog originally appeared on the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. 

What are the traits of a successful project manager in construction? While there are quite a few, one important quality could be an entrepreneurial spirit. When Kris Olmstead started at Tampa Bay Area company, Tri-City Electrical Contractors, Inc., he had just that. As a former small business owner, Kris knew how to manage projects with a similar mindset. “Basically, every job I’m involved with is like a miniature business. You're working with a budget and a group of people who work as a team. You need to take care of your customers and support the employees and subcontractors you’re managing,” he commented.

In this week’s Behind the Build, we speak with the Project Manager to learn more about his seven years at the company and how his team manages complex healthcare projects with technology.

How does Tri-City Electric stay ahead in today’s construction industry?

Tri-City Electric has been around since 1958. Since then, the company has built an excellent reputation for doing quality work safely. Our motto is, “To do more than expected.” We blend some more traditional and old school processes with technology to help us modernize and become more efficient. We have the mentality that if it's tried and true, you stick with it. But, on the other hand, if there are opportunities to make things more efficient, we embrace them. This mentality allows us to test technology and run programs like PlanGrid.

What’s your journey been like in the construction industry?

When I was younger and living in Indiana, I started as a mechanic for a convenience store chain then an equipment rental company. However, I had the entrepreneurial bug. I ended up starting a couple of businesses focused on residential construction. In 2008, I moved to Florida and began working at Tri-City Electric as a Project Engineer, and about four years ago, I transitioned to a project management role.

As a Project Manager at Tri-City Electric, do you see any parallels between running your own business and what you do today?

Basically, every job I’m involved with is like a miniature business. You're working with a budget and a group of people who work as a team.

You need to take care of your customers and support the employees and subcontractors you’re managing.

There is always a lot going on. Beyond that, you are usually running three to four projects at one time. I think my entrepreneurial background has helped me find success.

Back when I came into this, I wasn't an electrician. I recently earned my Electrical Contractors License. I did that to learn, but also to build more credibility amongst my peers and customers. That has helped me catapult to where I am today because I have a better understanding of what’s going on and can talk confidently with my field team.

What gets you excited about your day?

The number one thing that makes me pop up out of bed in the morning is my team. What we do is hard work, and they are incredible. My team gives me confidence.

Knowing that I've got people that have different strengths and weaknesses, we can become like a Swiss army knife; able to handle pretty much anything that’s thrown at us.

I also get to work with some neat customers and people in the trades. I’m exposed to some cool things that most people would never get to see. For instance, I get to see inside buildings like the inner workings of a hospital to see how its infrastructure all ties together.

What’s the most challenging part of what you do?

In my PM role, I think the biggest challenge for me personally is managing my time. There’s a lot to process and plan for. For the industry, in general though, especially when you consider projects in the healthcare sector, the greatest challenge is managing risk.

If one thing is built incorrectly or a mistake is made, it can have a domino effect. In some cases, it can be a life or death situation if the power goes out. We have to be very careful about how we approach our work as well.

What could take us two hours on a commercial project may take two days on a hospital build.

You recently finished a project in the healthcare sector. How was PlanGrid used on this project?

We just recently finished up a large hospital project. We built out the recovery rooms in the observation area for the ER. We also did a vertical expansion where we added two floors to the hospital.

The GC on the project was using PlanGrid already, so it was great because we were able to keep everything up to date with all of the drawings, documentation, communication and other processes like submittals. PlanGrid helped us save a lot of time, especially with the punch list. Before PlanGrid, I would have had to work manually and spend hours running around, documenting, updating and verifying with the field. With PlanGrid Tasks for punch lists, everything is digital, so I can go through what needs to be done and assign tasks to who needs to get involved. They can immediately see action items, fix them, document them and sign off.

For this project, we also had what's called a “Data Vault” on the superintendent’s floor, which is like a big gang box. It has a huge 40-inch screen, and you can put a laptop in there to pull up PlanGrid. That way, our team can use the information available in real-time instead of printed sheets on a plan table. It’s becoming a standard thing on all of our healthcare projects now.

How would you describe PlanGrid to a new team member who has never used it?

PlanGrid is a cloud-based program where you can download everything pertinent to your project onto your tablet, laptop, or phone. You then have access to all of the information in real-time. You don't have to lug around several binders of information or rolls of drawings. You can communicate or advise on pretty much anything on the spot, all from the palm of your hand.

What's your advice to the next generation of Project Managers?

Embrace what’s tried and true but keep an open mind. There are always going to be innovations like PlanGrid that can make work easier and faster; don’t shy away from them.