Back to Basics

By Al Moores-Warren as featured in Construction Today
Project management can be easy if you pay attention to three critical stages.

Sound project management can make the difference between being profitable and losing large amounts of money. If done well, it can assure the sustainability of a firm. Conversely, if done poorly, it can threaten its very existence. In fact, many professionals in the industry believe that the management of a project and the ability and skill sets of the project manager are directly proportional to the profitability of any moderate or large-scale construction project.

Project management, if done properly and injected early in the conception phase of a project, goes a long way in designing, creating and delivering a well-conceived customer value proposition. As such, it can be the single most effective marketing tool. Project management is walking the walk after the talk has been talked.

1. Preconstruction

The success of a project is determined largely before a single shovel of dirt is moved. A good rule of thumb is that 20 percent of the time, effort and money in the preliminary stage can be worth 80 percent later in the project. The preconstruction phase begins with planning, which has to occur within the constraints of financing and terms and conditions of the contract. It includes a review of plans, specifications, owner requirements and conditions of the contract. For better results, discuss all aspects of the project with architects, engineers, geologists (if applicable), inspectors and other professionals. Walk the site and envision the process. Develop realistic time lines for the construction process and a budget that accounts for all the material and labor requirements of all the subtrades. Problems due to weather, contractor changes, material shortages, missed schedules and the like have to be anticipated and allowances made.

Finally, the preconstruction phase also includes the selection of subcontractors, internal crews and materials. This phase requires a careful look at the anticipated end-cost of each item, not just the initial bid or quote. Thoroughly planning the project from its inception is absolutely critical. If this stage is not performed well, the project’s successful and timely completion is put in jeopardy.

2. Construction

As the project manager executes the construction plan, he or she has to manage multiple processes in an extremely fluid environment and recalculate the overall plan with each bump in the road through to completion of the project. He or she stays involved with the owner’s representative and coordinates the various subtrades. Constant communication with all participants is essential, ensuring they are informed as necessary and that change orders are implemented and documented.

One very common mistake in this phase is inadequate management of subtrades. Each subtrade has to be monitored and managed carefully and held accountable to the particular issue at hand. In fact, the single most important factor in making a project come together is the seamless turnover of one task to the next. Additionally, subtrades need to be managed not simply in terms of performed tasks, but also to keep them from becoming disruptive in any way to other trades.

Also, part of this phase is the cleanup initiative. A 10 percent additional effort can save 80 percent of cost later in the project. As such, this task starts at the beginning – not the end – of the construction phase.

3. Post construction

This phase consists of a reflection on successes and failures throughout the entire construction phase to learn from mistakes or miscalculations. Be a tough critic. If there were cost overruns, understand why. If there were no budget overruns, including all subtraders, understand what contributed to this success. Review all scheduling to determine if there were missed opportunities to complete the project more expeditiously and save money.

Select the right project manager

Given the complexity of construction projects and the specific skills essential to project management, it’s important to select a project manager with the appropriate level of experience, skills and familiarity with technology tools to guide the project to a successful conclusion.

This requires a thorough knowledge of the construction industry, construction management and project management skills. This includes the ability to work under pressure in a fast-paced environment, the ability to coordinate several major activities at once and good communication and leadership skills. Past experience and performance are good indicators.