March 31, 2016

Interview with Sylvie Barbeau, Project Director

Sylvie, you’ve been doing energy efficiency projects at Ecosystem for 10 years. What were you doing before that?

SB – When I started university I wasn’t sure what profession was right for me, so I did a year of general studies at the University of Montreal. I learned about art history, genetics, criminology… I took a lot of courses, and figured out that I wasn’t interested in learning off by heart. I’d rather rack my brains. So I registered at the Polytechnique Montreal in mechanical engineering. I knew it would open doors for me. When I graduated, at first I had a little difficulty finding work, partly because I had only done one internship. I went to Trois-Rivières for a job in quality assurance with Marmen, which does machining and welding for large pieces of metal. I worked with components for hydroelectric dams. Out of 350 employees, perhaps 10 of us were women. It was a real factory. I had to tell experienced men what they were supposed to do or not do.

Then I found a job in building mechanics at Nexacor, which manages the Bell Canada buildings. After two years, I’d had enough of doing paperwork. I had an interview at Ecosystem and I told them that I wanted to do more technical work, both for my personal and professional development. I had some experience in building mechanics, but for measures that were much simpler than what Ecosystem does. But issuing contracts, reading plans, negotiating, those are things that I knew how to do!

They gave me the task of designing upgrades for 29 schools for an energy efficiency project at the Portages de l’Outaouais School Board. We saw right away that I was able to manage a project without needing much support.

Early on in your career at Ecosystem, you took on big responsibilities related to construction, both for specific projects and within the company. Do you think it’s preferable when construction managers have already worked as project designers?

This is an idea that’s gaining ground at Ecosystem. We’ve been realizing that to manage the implementation of Ecosystem’s projects, it’s an advantage to have already designed energy efficiency measures, in order to fully understand the effects of different measures and their interactions with the building. The reverse is also true. It’s helpful when designers get involved in construction, so they don’t become bogged down by calculations. Figuring out what pump capacity is theoretically the best, that’s good, but we also need to take into consideration the space it will take up in the boiler room.

Now you’re in charge of an entire project team, from design to performance monitoring, and you’re also in charge of workplace health and safety. In the past, you were the construction director for all of Ecosystem’s projects. What was that like?

When I was a full-time construction director, which was a “horizontal” role in the company, it was important to me that human interaction was at the center of how we ran our meetings and conducted the work. I observed that people would listen attentively to others who worked in the same field and who had experience to share. We have respect for our peers. Another construction manager who shares ideas and questions is certainly more enriching than a construction director who says: you need to do this in such and such way, using such and such document, etc. And I wanted to stay involved in the projects so I’d have credibility when making recommendations. In short, getting people to communicate, that was my approach.

What issues are most important to construction managers at Ecosystem? The budget? The schedule? Supervising subcontractors? The technical elements of the work?

Before I started, construction meetings were heavily focused on negotiations with subcontractors. The technical side often received less attention, which wasn’t a good thing. Technical questions need to be discussed, since the financial viability of a project is tied to technical performance. Client satisfaction is also extremely important. Succeeding in this field has a lot to do with human relations. I’m someone who is focused on performance, but performance includes respecting the budget, respecting the schedule, the success of the measures, and client satisfaction.

Interested in learning more?