What I Learned Managing $100 Million Worth of Construction

School was always a struggle for me. Actually, I ended up barely graduating from high school.

It’s not something I’m proud to talk about but it’s true, even during my college years.

“But wait Kyle, if you had a 1.2 GPA, how did you get into college?!?”

Excellent question my friend. The answer is I snuck in, like a snake in the grass. (Shhh…don’t tell anyone)

I graduated in May 2014 from Colorado State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management. The feeling was sensational, I was the first generation Nitchen to receive a college diploma.

Upon graduation, I took a position with Layton Construction – an industry leading Healthcare Builder.

My first assignment was a monster.

Three buildings in Miami Beach, FL along Collins Avenue – an arts center, retail bazaar and parking garage.

I didn’t have the slightest clue of what I was doing. All I knew was I wanted to move states, experience the world, get out of debt, and begin my journey toward becoming a world-class leader.

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The Faena West of Collins Project – Atlantic Hotels

During these 2 1/2 life changing years, I learned a lot about not only the construction management business, but also about business and life in general.

The purpose of this article is to share the biggest lessons that I learned so that you can apply them to your career and your life.

What is Construction Management?

The construction industry is vast and varied. Just take a look around – from homes to highways to hospitals – and you see the results of this industry.

Construction is big business, totaling more than $3.9 trillion annually worldwide, and no slowdown in sight. The industry employs about 7 million people directly and hundreds of thousands more indirectly.

The job of the construction manager (contractor) is to take a set of written plans and specifications and a raw piece of land and manage the cost, time, quality and safety of the project – without any accidents or errors, regardless of weather conditions, acts of God, or any other unforeseen conditions. (Damn!)

About the Project

The Primary Players:
  • Project Name: The Faena West of Collins – Atlantic Hotels
  • Owner: The Faena Group
  • Design Professional: OMA Architecture
  • Architect of Record: Revuelta Architecture International
  • Construction Manager: Layton Construction Company, LLC
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(Before)

All three buildings share a basement requiring 30 feet of below sea level excavation.

We poured what’s called a Tremie Slab – an underwater concrete slab. A group of professional divers from Belgium would go underwater for hours to pour a 4 foot thick slab (a tremie) that would allow us to dewater the area and construct the foundation.

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(After)


What I Learned Managing $100 Million Worth of Construction

(1) Communication

I can’t overstate how crucial communication skills are in construction management (and life in general).

Throughout the lifetime of any large scale project there are literally millions upon millions of emails, text messages, phone calls, meetings, conversations, and negotiations that go into turning an idea into a real life manifestation.

You need to be as clear as humanly possible.

In the construction world, not communicating clearly will only create room for error and exposure to risk.

Good CMs demand crystal-clear communication, always using the correct terminology. Bad CMs allow people to ramble on, beat around the bush, and use incorrect or confusing words.

Exceptional communication skills involve:

  • Assigning tasks directly and clearly
  • Seeking first to understand and then be understood
  • Gathering and confirming information before making a decision
  • Consider the situation before taking action
  • Meeting regularly face-to-face
  • Preparation

(2) Documentation

The amount of information that must be processed on a construction project is astronomical.

In the construction management game, you win and lose by the quality of your documentation. Documentation can mean the difference between profit and loss.

From the notice to proceed to the certificate of completion, every notification, clarification, correction, approval, request, change, letter, e-mail, phone call, and transaction must be tracked.

It has been reported that construction is the 2nd most riskiest business to be in, right behind the restaurant business. One of the most effective ways to minimize that risk is by detailed documentation.

The principle of documentation applies to everything outside of construction management as well. The better you document your mistakes, lessons learned, accomplishments, and growth (professionally and personally), the better chance you have at succeeding in life and business.

I strongly recommend people to document as much of their life as possible. The good news is its never been easier to do so with today’s technology.

(3) Leadership

If you’re a member of any management team, you had better have a relatively high “emotional intelligent quotient” because your ability to be flexible and responsive will far outweigh any benefits from being rigid and reactive.

If you’re not leading other people, that’s okay because you need to lead yourself. If you have a family, you need to lead your family. We’re all obligated in some way to exercise better leadership skills.

In order to succeed, first you must lead.

Ready for the biggest lesson in leadership I learned on this project?

The #1 difference I observed between the big hitters and the no-hitters is emotional detachment.

I’m talking about developing the skill of detaching yourself from whatever the situation, event, or circumstance is.

The leader doesn’t get his or her emotions involved in the situation or event. He or she looks at what’s going on from a distance and minimizes the “it’s about me” factor.

As soon as you find yourself getting upset, rattled, or worked up – you’ve lost. The person, situation, or event has control and you don’t. Like I said, detachment is a skill and something we all need to be aware of.

The same goes for dealing with people. The leader doesn’t take the things that people say or do personally. He or she has high internal value that isn’t built on external factors like the opinions of others or things that are out their control.

You can’t tell if a great leader is having a good day or a bad day, they’re too emotionally consistent. – Kyle Nitchen

I’ve noticed an impressive trend in the mindset of leaders – they believe the world doesn’t owe them anything. If they want something they have to work for it and deserve it.

I’ve become fascinated with the value of leadership. After all, it’s what this blog is primarily focused around.

My intuition tells me exceptional leadership in the workplace looks a lot like this:

All of the leaders and team members take extreme ownership. This is when all problems in the organization quickly get uncovered, owned, and resolved.

(4) Getting Things Done

Before getting into construction management, I was already studying the Getting Things Done philosophy for productivity. However, managing $100M worth of construction has without a doubt amplified my ability to add order to the chaos.

The basis by behind Getting Things Done is understanding The Power of the List and writing things down.

Here’s how Getting Things Done works in 5 easy steps:

  1. CAPTURECollect what has your attention – use a notepad to capture 100% of everything that has your attention. Little, big, personal, and professional – all your to-do’s, projects, things to handle or finish.
  2. CLARIFYProcess what it means – is it actionable? If no, then trash it. If yes, decide the next action. If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it NOW. If not, delegate it or put it on a list to do when you can.
  3. ORGANIZEPut it where it belongs – Put action reminders on the right lists.
  4. REFLECTReview frequently – Look over your lists as often as necessary to determine what to do next. Update your lists, and clear your mind.
  5. ENGAGESimply Do – Use your system to take appropriate actions with confidence.

The power of the list is truly amazing. You wouldn’t think something so easy to make and dumb could have such a huge impact on your life, that is unless you have a set of important lists that you use on a daily basis. Lists help you stay focused and learn from your past successes and mistakes.

They help you remember mundane things that you would forget otherwise and provide a way for you to stay organized.

Related: The Principles of Monkey Management

(5) Teamwork & Getting Along

Remarkable buildings and companies are not built by one person. Construction and all things great is always the result of a collective team effort.

The primary players in the construction game are the owners, design professionals, architects, engineers, and general contractor. The secondary players are the subcontractors (plumber, electrician, concrete, etc.), suppliers, and vendors. All of the players make up the team.

With that being said, if you want to be successful you must know how to get along with others.

Construction Management has reinforced the value of being a great teammate and how fundamental it is to accomplishing a shared goal.

(6) Personal & Professional Development

As human beings, our ancestral minds are wired to naturally seek comfort. However, comfort is the killer of growth.

Personal and professional development only occurs when you apply one thing: pressure.

Pressure is stress. Stress is uncomfortable. Therefore, the key to growth is to get uncomfortable, often.

Throughout the duration of this project I noticed one alluring fact:

It was only during the times of extreme discomfort that I became a better employee, manager, leader, teammate, and person.

The only way to make it to to that next level is to stretch yourself farther than you ever thought possible. It’s when you fuck things up, get burned, and look like a fool, you truly learn.

It’s time to re-wire your brain. Your new mission is to intentionally hunt uncomfortable situations. Stress, pressure, and feelings of anxiety are now your queues to knowing you’re on the right path.

If its greatness you’re after – get comfortable being uncomfortable.


I just happen to be the person documenting this project and sharing the lessons that I learned. In no way shape or form can I take credit for the outstanding work that has been done to bring this project to life. After all, this is only my first project.

The credit goes to my managers, executives, and everyone else above me who guided me along the way. I cannot thank them enough for what they’ve allowed me to experience.

I hope you’re able to sift out the golden nuggets from this experience and employ them into your life and business.

Now go out there and lead by example.

Kyle Nitchen

Ok, that’s all for now. Come say Hi on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe below for more excellent content.

PS: Photo Gallery & Lost Footage

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Photo Cred: Paxton Sheldahl (OMA)

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Photo Cred: Paxton Sheldahl (OMA)

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Construction Time-Lapse Video:

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SnapChat: @Nitch21

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