Pick a quality that defines a successful construction project manager.
A successful construction project manager needs to be a people person. That’s number one in my mind. At the same time, I’m a by-the-book kind of guy and I believe that you need to have a solid understanding of project management processes and procedures. You can manage a project if you follow the processes—it works! And you also have to be organized; your job is to manage, and management requires organization and structure.
But really, in addition to the knowledge and experience, people skills are vital. You need to get along with all sorts of people because their collaboration is essential for the success of your client’s project. You don’t have any leverage, you don’t pay people and you don’t have a stick, so to motivate contractors, designers, architects, officials and everyone else to get the job done effectively, you need people skills.
Can you tell us more about project management theory, process and procedures?
Process and procedures are the keys to successful construction project management. It’s all about the process! Like with other forms of knowledge, there are theories related to project management. Every project—IT, construction, design, and so on—has its areas of expertise. In construction management, there are several pre-defined categories and every single parameter falls into them: human resources, cost, budget, risk, procurement, regulations, conflict resolution, quality control, contingencies and so on.
For each parameter, we work in terms of input, planning, and output. What this means is that the construction project manager gathers information—that’s input—and, if necessary, hires experts to analyze it. Then a proposal or solution is developed—that’s planning. Next, we see that the solution is implemented—that’s the outcome. Every area is crucial. Take scheduling, for example. You can’t run a project without a schedule, so you need to know what goes first, what comes next, what are the lags, what can go in between and what can be fast-tracked. The process of scheduling is an art, and every competent project manager has had to master this art.
What are some key mistakes to avoid when you first start out as a construction project manager?
Getting a project going without meticulous planning is a major mistake. You really can’t spend too much time on planning. For every new project, I sit down and focus on crucial planning questions. What does this project involve? What is its scope? What falls inside and outside of the scope? Who are the right people for the project? Who will be the designers, contractors, and engineers? What is the line of communication? What jurisdiction are we dealing with and what are the permit requirements?
Then we get to the budget. What are the restrictions of the project? Is it budget-restricted, is it time restricted? What are the risks? What type of contract are we getting into? Those are the project planning questions from day one. The more time you spend on them, the more complete the planning, the more successful your project is bound to be.
Another challenge if you’re just starting out in construction management is a natural tendency to take ownership of a project as if it were yours. It may be difficult to put yourself in the client’s shoes, but you have to. Don’t think this is your project, don’t make decisions based on what you would do. You may not like the way they design their house, hire people or make decisions. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not yours. You need to put yourself in their shoes and think like them to help them make the best decisions for their projects.
What does your typical project manager workday look like?
The typical workday in the project management world doesn’t exist. But for me, it always starts the same: coffee.
And whatever the day has in store, for me as well as for any other effective construction project manager, communication on every level is going to be an essential part of the job.
What would you say is the most challenging part about being a construction manager?
Some people might say that the fact that there’s no typical construction manager’s day is a challenge because this job really requires a lot of flexibility. But most CMs enjoy the ever-changing challenges and atypical work schedules. If they don’t, they might want to consider another career.Sometimes running different projects at the same time can be quite challenging because I have to deal with different people and different expectations concurrently. Here again, flexibility is essential. When I’m in the zone with one project and I get a call regarding a different project—totally different team, systems and priorities—I need to switch hats right away. I have to be sure not to mix this contractor with another contractor, this architect with a different architect, this client with that one so I can help each client find the best solutions, options, and ideas for their particular project