Need a Project Manager?

 

In Australia, project management is unregulated. As a result, the variation of qualifications and experience is huge. For this reason, from the client’s perspective, finding a good project manager who is able to achieve your outcomes can be extremely difficult.

When a senior manager is responsible for expanding the property assets of a government or private organisation, he or she will be acutely aware of how crucial it is to get everything right—and how easy it is for things to go wrong.

The level of expense involved in this type of investment is substantial, the risk is high, and the possibility of litigation is very real. Having someone on your team who manages the risks can mean the difference between successfully achieving your outcomes,  or blowing the budget, running over time, and staring down the wrong end of a messy court case.

Often, when a new building is required for an organisation, senior managers go straight to a builder or an architect, without talking to a project manager. Initially, this approach may seem to be plain sailing, but the lack of planning invariably leads to difficulties further down the track. And once things start to go wrong, rewinding the project in order to correct the problems is both costly and complicated.

A good project manager ensures that when the work begins, there are no outstanding decisions. When you are working on a large-scale project, it is so easy to get lost in the process. Trying to communicate your ideas clearly to a designer can quickly have you spinning round in circles, as the reality of having to change scope and the stress of cost variations begin to reveal themselves. The security of having complete trust and confidence that you can navigate every aspect of a project without the wheels coming off saves time, money, and stress for everyone involved.

Why Do Project Managers Get Left Out Of The Equation?

The belief that the rules which apply to domestic construction projects also apply to large-scale commercial projects is one of the reasons why people hold the mistaken belief that going to a builder or an architect is the first step they need to take.

In reality, there comes a tipping point in a project’s value where it becomes worthwhile to enlist the services of a project manager. Once a project exceeds a certain value, a good project manager will end up paying for themselves through the savings they make for you.

Having someone on your team with technical skills equal to your builder’s means that you are ahead of the game at the outset. Builders can play on a client’s lack of understanding about construction engineering; hence being in a position to challenge every aspect of what you are being told is central to the success of the project.

For instance, a project manager will ensure that the design directly translates to the construction site. This could mean making sure your builder is not substituting what’s been specified for a cheaper quality product, making sure quality is meeting standards and is compliant, and that where it’s not, this is rectified—without the client getting into a dispute with the builder.

The Bridge Between The Client And The Builder

Project managers speak the same language as builders, which benefits both the client and the builder, and enables the technical aspects of construction to be quickly and easily translated into a context that the client fully understands. This does not equate to the project manager holding the reins—a good project manager ensures the client is always fully in control of the project. If this is not the client’s perception, then the project manager is not doing his or her job.

When selecting a project manager whom you can trust, amongst the most important points to consider are their qualifications and experience, examples of their work, their personality, and their leadership skills.

You want your project manager to make a project look easy, even though it isn’t. You also want them to know that it isn’t. There are always things that go wrong, and any project manager who doesn’t acknowledge that fact is not going to serve you well. Projects that are badly managed create unnecessary expense, delays, defects, safety and environmental issues.

Project Management As A Core Discipline

As a civil engineer with over 14 years’ experience in the industry, I have seen too many people experiencing difficulties that could have been avoided. Having started my career working as a contractor for some of Australia’s largest building companies, including Mirvac and Laing O’Rourke, I then moved to the client-side, working as a project manager with the multinational engineering design firm, Jacobs.  

In 2015, I decided to start Wildara, I was driven by a desire to create a company that focused exclusively on project management. The majority of companies providing project management services do so as a side function to their core business, and so project management is really just an ‘add-on’. This means that the role does not always meet the high standards that clients expect and deserve.

My experience in the role that project management plays when determining the success of a project led me to conclude that project management needs to be a core discipline. In Australia, project management is unregulated. As a result, the variation of qualifications and experience is huge.

I have worked with clients who have appointed project managers to oversee $100 million projects, and yet they have no relevant qualifications. For this reason, from the client’s perspective, finding a good project manager who is able to achieve your outcomes can be extremely difficult. That is why I am so driven to ensure clients know exactly what to look for.

Being caught between a builder who is not providing you with what you need and a project manager who doesn’t have the skills or experience to make sure your builder delivers means that it is very easy for clients to become disempowered and be taken advantage of. It is therefore important that we start bringing projects up to a far higher level of professionalism, so that construction operates at the same level as other major industries.

Having looked at some of the impacts that can occur when things go wrong, it’s helpful to examine the reasons why project managers are so important.

Anticipating And Capturing Change

Imagine a builder is handed a set of architectural and engineering designs and told to complete the project in a six-month time frame. The builder agrees, because they want the contract, and your expectation is that the work will be completed because the design tells the builder exactly what it needs to do.

In reality, it never works like that. The builders will have their own interpretation of the design and changes will be made, some of which will be necessary and some of which will be based in the builder’s interpretation of the project. At this point, people get confused about what is and isn’t needed, and what is and isn’t happening, and the project is not delivered to the client’s specifications or in a timely and cost-effective way.

The primary role of the project manager is to anticipate and capture change and then to make a decision in the interest of the client that brings the project back on track. These changes may be in relation to design, cost, safety, environmental quality, or a number of other factors.

Your project manager is your filter. They receive and review the designs before any work begins. This means that they can then go straight back to the engineer or the architect and point out the faults and the flaws before they become an issue. This is far better than throwing the design at the builder and expecting everything to be fine. The builder may not notice the flaws until the work is underway, but even if they do, they may not alert the client to the fact, as their focus is on winning the contract, not on telling the client that there are going to be problems.

Assessing And Assigning Risk

Builders are aware that if a client loves a design, they are unlikely to want to hear that it’s not going to work. They would rather get the contract signed and then address any issues further down the line. It makes sense for the builder, but not for the client. With a project manager, because their role is to assess risk, the focus is on identifying and addressing any potential problems before they arise.

As well as assessing risk, a project manager will assign risk. This benefits the client and the builder and greatly assists in assuring the project’s success. For instance, most clients will instinctively try to pass down as much risk as they can to the builder. However, there are some risks that the builder may not be suitably qualified to hold or that passing down to the builder causes more problems than it solves. Once again, the builder may be willing to take on the risk, even if it is unrealistic, in order to win the contract.

For example, if you tell your builder they have six months to complete a project and that they need to take all the risk on wet weather, but then it rains for four months straight, the builder will be left with two months to complete a project that would probably take it five and a half months. It is unrealistic and will cause problems for everyone. There are times when the risk needs to be shared, and a good project manager will understand which areas of risk, and what percentages, need to be assigned to which parties.

To bring this full circle, the level of expense and risk, and the possibility of litigation involved in expanding the property assets of an organisation, are substantial. This means that the hardest job for a client on any project is ensuring they have engaged a good project manager.

With a competent project manager on board, a project can run smoothly. Understanding how to recognise what a good project manager looks like is key, and due to the lack of regulation in the industry, this can be a minefield. However, with awareness and guidance, you can ensure that your project manager is worthy of your trust, and worth their weight in gold.

If this resonates with you and you are open to discussing how working with a project manager can benefit your organisation when it comes to expanding your property assets, you can contact me directly at peter.bowden@wildara.com.au 

 

Peter Bowden

 

 

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