12 Jun 2014

So you think you can project manage?

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Often considered to be a daunting and challenging prospect, the role of project manager has traditionally been left to expert consultants or the more experienced self-builder. Adrian Hateley of the National Self Build & Renovation Centre explains that, with the help of today’s tools, services and products, you can project manage your build to successful completion.

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Believe it or not, even after several years advising self-builders and renovators here at the NSBRC, I am continually surprised by the apparent trepidation from those who are keen to take on the role of project manager.

So why is project management still considered a job for the experts? It may be the fact that because construction issues and matters do not feature in our daily lives, we don’t feel we have the expertise. But perhaps without realising, we undertake project management in a variety of guises, be it a work project, organising an overseas holiday or a major event such as a family wedding.

Project management is not about doing the work yourself, it’s about taking on a management role, utilising the available tools, services and products on the marketplace and ensuring the build process develops in line with your budget and plans. Essentially, you don’t need any set skills to become a project manager – all it takes is organisation, logic, good communication skills, a keen eye for figures, patience and the ability to adapt to what the project throws at you!

The question you need to ask yourself is this: if you are building an average £200,000 build, are you prepared to give away the equivalent 15% fee of £30,000 to a dedicated project manager when it could be better spent on a premium kitchen and quality bathroom?

Project management is essentially broken down into two specific areas – ‘task’ management and ‘people’ management and this subject forms one of the most prominent modules on our popular self-build courses here at the NSBRC. As project manager, it’s in your hands how the build progresses. From the start date to completion, making sure the build progresses at the desired speed requires constant supervision and an understanding of what has happened, what is currently happening and what is next to be done in the schedule.

Where ‘task‘ management is all about defining your objectives, establishing what is most important to you (i.e.time, cost, quality), planning and budgeting, and ensuring all insurances, warranties and regulations are met, ‘people’ management addresses roles and responsibilities, authorities and delegation, setting expectations, motivation, negotiation and communication!

Until recently, if you were to assume the role of project manager, you would probably have relied heavily on your contracted builder and trades to assist in the sourcing of materials, equipment hire, etc., and probably for an additional fee! I meet self-builders here on a daily basis and the most common issues highlighted are budgeting, planning and sourcing appropriate, local trades. This concern has prompted the introduction of a new NSBRC Estimating Service – for just under £200 and an initial consultation, a detailed report will be produced within seven working days from your plans, featuring a breakdown of how long each stage of the project should take, local plant and labour costs, and a detailed schedule of works. And as plans and schedules invariably change throughout the build process, revisions are easily administered.

Alternatively, www.build-cost.co.uk also offers an independent estimating service for any size/scale of project, with a detailed cost structure produced for either a loft conversion or a new build with six or more bedrooms. Director Jon Freeman says: “As they say ‘the devil is in the detail’ - don’t forget if you project manage yourself those magical interfaces between trades may well become an issue. A good contractor will manage these elements as part of their day-to-day activities. Also don’t underestimate the ‘fetching and carrying’ and general welfare of the site.”

The subject of project management hasn’t by-passed the internet either, so if you’re looking for an interactive online management tool that you can access at your leisure, the www.theprojectmaster.com could provide you with the ideal solution. A jargon-free, easy-to-use package developed by Mark Millar who has over 40 years in the industry, The Project Master gives you fully editable templates from as little as £49 for the Basic Package and £99 for the Pro Package.

With his wide-ranging expertise, Mark has some wise words: “The key to good management is communication. It is absolutely vital that you are able to convey to your builder or tradesman, precisely what you want to achieve, clearly and without any room for misunderstanding. Only then can you realistically expect the builder to be able to give you a precise costing and timescale. All other management disciplines follow on from that clarity of communication. It goes without saying that the more precise you can be at pre-tender stage, the more accurate your budget and timescale forecast will be and the more likely your project will be on time, on budget.”

Extra help

Admittedly there will be occasions when you may need to pull-in the experts. For example, if your project is complicated, if you have a demanding job or live miles away from the site, if you need expert opinion on workmanship standards or even guidance when creating an ‘eco-home’. It might seem like an unnecessary additional expense but it has been shown time and time again that using a professional project manager will not only significantly improve the quality of the build but can also prevent errors on site and reduce the risk of over-spending and running over deadline. One of our established centre partners, www.charlielaing.com, provides project management support on a scalable basis to meet individual requirements. As Charlie says: “It’s not rocket-science – clients can do much of it themselves. They just must be prepared to put in the time or to go easy on themselves and not expect to deliver the most efficient or hassle-free project first-time. Keep things in perspective and keep your sanity!”

I understand that it’s tempting to get ‘hands-on’ with your build, but unless you’re experienced, leave it to the experts! If you really want to become involved, then my advice is to keep the site tidy, ensure sand and cement is covered and stored in a dry place and sweep up excess mortar from floors as months later when the plumber wants to lay underfloor heating or the carpenter wants to lay the floating floor, it could take a couple of days with a hammer and bolster!

So you think you can project manage – yes you can!

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