At some point in our lives, we were all asked to do something that we had not yet done. But we focus, learn, and build on our past skills to get the job done.
Below is an example of a job that I had never tackled before, but I used my previous skills to complete the task, on time and within budget.
In the fall of 2017, I undertook the project of creating a large mural for a new arts and athletics center near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The parameters of the mural project were these:
For me, the most restrictive element of the project was that I was required to include 15 senior high-school students of varying skill levels in the mural’s planning, design, and execution.
At the start of each project, I begin with a series of questions. The questions for the mural project included these:
What does the client expect?
How do I ensure the technical aspects of the project are met?
How can I effectively manage the students’ varying skill levels?
How do I complete the project in time and within budget?
As I explored these questions, I created a flowchart to decide the order in which elements of the project needed to be identified and resolved. Subsequently, I met with the client, site architect and developer, building superintendent, president of the school, numerous career mural artists, a paint engineer, and the students involved in the project.
With the information these meetings yielded, I created a comprehensive 40-week plan to carry the project from contract signing to mural completion.
One of the challenges of the project was giving the students free rein in the design phase of the project while also managing the quality of their output. To achieve this, I divided the students into three groups and created three different themes for them to explore: Teamwork, Focus, and Transitions.
After 4 weeks of drafting, the team produced three design concepts to present to the client. From among those three, one concept emerged as the winner and the students and I regrouped to create a second draft.
After one of the concepts was decided upon, the students and I created a second draft of that concept based on feedback from the client.
Going the extra mile
Now in a solo project, the quality of the above drawing would be sufficient enough for me to begin painting on the wall. But this project was different. In order to manage 15 students of varying artistic skills paint multiple different sections simultaneously across the 40ft. wall, I needed to devise a way to instruct them all at the same time to ensure the highest quality outcome.
To do this, I painted the entire mural digitally. Full scale. The Photoshop file was set to 35ft. x 11ft, and was ultimately 186 GB.
Next, I visited the paint supplier to input their available colors to my digital palette. This way I could work with 40 colors in total and create a gigantic "paint by numbers" instruction for the students to follow.
With the final design approved, the team sanded the wall down to the primer and began painting. We used painter’s tape to block off the various sections. It was impressive to see the mural taking shape and satisfying to be running on schedule.
But three hundred hours into the project and nearly halfway completed, we encountered a massive problem. For some reason, the painter’s tape was adhering too tightly to the wall. As we removed it, the tape not only stripped away the mural but also drywall layer underneath.
Paint and topcoat peeling to primer
Topcoat, primer, and drywall paper peeling to drywall core.
This was the worst possible scenario I had imagined when planning the project. I halted the project.
I immediately called the building superintendent and the local manager of the paint distributor to come and look at the wall. I then met with the client and discussed the situation, letting him know that I was sending a sample of the paint to an engineer to find out why the paint had failed.
It turned out that there was particulate matter obstructing the bond between the drywall and the primer. The builder’s primer coat of paint had been improperly applied.
The solution was the cut out the entire 35ft. x 11ft wall, put in brand new drywall, and start from scratch.
The mural project included many firsts for me. It was my first time painting a mural on such a large scale. It was my first time managing 15 students who had few or no painting skills. And it was the first time I’d ever encountered such a catastrophic issue halfway through the project.
Despite all of the challenges above, my project management skills allowed me to get the job done. Several years’ experience in planning, communication, time management, risk management, leadership, and subject matter expertise allowed me to bring the project in on time, within budget and to the client’s complete satisfaction.