“The boss is on the jobsite and told me to get you up here tomorrow,” Jason said. “He wants to get the order in right away. He's really on me about this.”

I pitied Jason. His boss, Rocco, was a fast-moving, hard-driving real estate developer who juggled more projects than a circus act. His work style, while diligent and productive, was also chaotic and often unpredictable. Rocco's practice was to visit a project first thing in the morning and then make that project the priority of his entire organization, regardless of any previously decided schedules.

Jason was a very good project manager who I didn't want to let down and Rocco was a very good account. I told him I'd be there first thing. The job was about an hour and a half away, so I rescheduled several appointments. I knew Rocco would expect pricing in a hurry and delivery soon after that, so I gave my distributors a heads up, telling them I'd need some help processing a big order quickly.

When I walked into the building, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was pure chaos. Interior walls were being torn down, an architect was taking measurements while dodging tradesmen, an inspector was slapping red stickers everywhere, and in the middle of it all was Jason, looking like he wished he'd never gotten out of bed that morning. “I'm awfully sorry,” he said. “Rocco made some changes. I'm not ready for you yet.”

What could I say? It wasn't Jason's fault. His boss, our customer, liked to operate this way, regardless of the toll on efficiency. I got back in the car and scrambled to rebook the meetings I'd cancelled the previous day.

Back at the office, my boss barked at me for wasting the morning. He thought I knew Rocco well enough to realize that when he says he's ready today, that really means next month at the earliest after he changes things around first thing every morning.

Eventually, Jason's job turned into a nice order for us, but I never forgot the time I wasted that morning.

Then one day I received a voice-mail from Rocco himself. “We added just a few things at Jason's site. Nothing major,” the message said. “Stop by when you can.”

Well, that sounded much more reasonable. Perhaps Rocco was realizing that his break-neck pace was costing him, his subs, and his suppliers time and money as we all chase our tails in an effort to keep up with him.

I went out to the job when my schedule allowed, three days later. I walked into the building only to be met by a frantic Jason.