I've been having a discussion with a colleague about some upcoming fieldwork. The details so far include: 29,000 acres of pedestrian survey, no more than 400 sites recorded, and about two years to hand in the final draft of the report. We're allotting at most one and a half years for the fieldwork.
My philosophy is to employ as many people for as long as possible. So, we could hire 50 techs to finish this in a couple months or we could use an outstanding crew of four and take up to eight months. Doing it with four people assumes an average daily acreage goal of at least 45 acres. From what I've been told about the terrain and the site density, 45 acres should be easy.
My colleague wants to bring his own crew of superstars and knock out 80 to 120 acres per day and finish the project in four months. He wants to get on to the next thing. What would be legitimate reasons for finishing field work that quickly?
Why the Rush?
Maybe the company has a lot of projects and they need to get to the next ones as early as possible. Maybe there is a weather concern and the project has to be finished before winter. Does the client need the project finished quickly for some reason? There are a number of reasons why this insane schedule would have to be adhered to. This project is not subject to any of the ones I just listed.
We have a ton of time, nothing really pressing on the horizon, and quite frankly, this project will make my crew and I plenty of money.
Sometimes you have to sit back and ask yourself, as a manager or a PI, why did I get into this business? Was it to bang out as many survey miles as possible? Was it to do $2,000,000 in work every year and think of nothing else? My guess is no.
However, it's possible that you've built your company to a point where you need $100k a month just to pay the bills and make payroll. I bet that was unintentional. When writing proposals, having a 10% win success rate is pretty good. But, sometimes you win several projects at one time and have to scramble and hire employees. Using a traditional business model, and archaeologists are nothing if not traditional, this usually means hiring new people. What do you do when the projects the new people are working on come to an end? You write more proposals. Now your wins start to add up and you need even more people. Before you know it you're too big to profit and are just trying to stay afloat. Enter: Lowballing.
I've talked about lowballing on this blog and on various social media sites so I'm not going to go that much into it again. I'll just say that there are some "legitimate" reasons for lowballing. I put legitimate in quotes because in a perfect world there is really no good reason for it. However, if you're in a tough spot and need to make payroll, and, the projects just aren't rolling in, you might be tempted to bid a project at cost just to keep your people employed. I understand the thinking behind that. I just hope that companies that are bidding that way try to rethink their business practices and get themselves out of the situation they're in.
So, no, I won't work my crew to death just because I can. They aren't tools to be used and discarded when the job is done. They are people with lives and they need to be treated with respect. Try to remember that when you've underbudgeted your project, are short on time, and want to work your crew 12 hours a day. Someday you'll have to pay for your mistakes.
Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the field!