Construction projects: sound advice for clients
In your eyes, Ali, how can a client get the most value from working with a construction manager?
When there’s a working relationship based on mutual trust and understanding, the client can really make the most of their collaboration with a construction manager. Clients hire us to give solid, expert advice for their complex, costly projects. We talk them through solutions, recommendations and alternatives so that they can make informed decisions that will lead to the most satisfying results.
Good project managers should be the clients’ most trusted advisors. Clients are surrounded by designers, architects and others who provide advice from their specific area of expertise. There might be a dozen different professionals who are looking at the project from a dozen different angles. Construction managers, on the other hand, have no separate perspective or agenda. We’re the only objective source of truth on a project, the single most important source of counsel for each client with a new building or renovation project because we see the big picture from every angle.
We love it when clients use us as a funnel, as a single entity that gathers all the facts, reports back and explains the options. Our advice is always based on the client’s priorities and solution feasibility—that’s our job and we do it extremely well.
For clients or owners with a construction project, what are the biggest risks?
In the big scheme of things, for each building project we’ll define what we call a project management triangle comprised of time, cost and scope. What this means is that all of these projects are limited by deadlines, funding and features. If you stretch one, you put pressure on the other two. So, say you want lower costs. Either you’ll be spending more time for the same quality or you’ll need to drop the quality or scope. If you want more scope, either time increases or cost goes up or both! Risk here is the likelihood that one or more of these three parameters (of time, cost and scope) will be impacted in such a way that the owners’ expectations can’t be met. All three affect one another: that’s the triangle of risk.
The construction project manager works with the client early on to determine their risk-aversion. Some clients care less about the cost; the most important risk to them is time. They absolutely want to move into their home or open their commercial building at a certain time. Other people are very cost conscious, and budget is a big risk for them. For them, we make sure every detail is reported on cost. And for other clients, the priority is the quality of their project: both the aesthetic appearance and the features. Once we’ve identified clients’ preferences and priorities, we can plan so as to mitigate the risks and manage changes.
How do you help your clients avoid making mistakes on their construction projects?
I do my best to educate clients so that the risk of their making the kind of decision that takes a project in the wrong direction is minimal. Nine out of ten clients who aren’t professional developers don’t have much knowledge of construction. They don’t really know what goes into taking an idea and making a building out of it.
Our clients are very creative—their ideas are often excellent, so my job is to educate them about all of ramifications of the decisions they’ll have to make and what the risks are as they go forward. If I can provide clients with all the detailed information they need so they can make informed, grounded decisions, they’re likely to choose workable options. But if the client is working directly with designers and the project manager is out of the loop, the client’s choices may be based on taste and aesthetics alone, without factoring in any of the other parameters. We help clients make decisions they’ll be happy about in the future simply by bringing the consequences of their decisions to their attention.
How do you deal with difficult people in construction projects?
If projects were easy, those of us in construction management wouldn’t have jobs. And that’s exactly why, for a construction project manager, communication rules. Good communication is an essential part of the construction project manager’s job.
We have to get to know our clients and understand their needs and dreams. We also need to understand the capabilities and limitations of the team retained so that we can make the clients’ dreams a reality. There are always going to be problems. And team members may have habits or ways of dealing with things that make problematic situations more difficult. And sometimes clients make decisions in a vacuum or they aren’t available when we need their input.
As a project manager, I can’t ever impose my way of seeing or doing things. We’re here to serve our clients. We do our best to figure out what they want and to make it happen. Flexibility is one of the most important qualities of a project manager. Just as every project is unique, every client is unique; I simply need to be very flexible so I can serve them to my best ability.