The Art of Construction Project Management

Matthew Griffiths

September 17th, 2021
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The relationship between artist and canvas is a special and complicated one. To the untrained eye, there’s a blank piece of fabric, so pick up a brush, dip it in some paint and off you go.

If it were that simple, then names like Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Tiepolo’s would be mere footnotes of history rather than the heralded Old Masters as we know them today.

These historical names spent time developing their masterpieces. A painting is created in layers through techniques and processes. The process often begins with background staining (imprimatura), underpainting, blocking in, dry brushing, texturing (sgraffito) before finishing with detailing and glazing.

In many ways, there are similarities in creating a work of art on canvas with paint and one with bricks and mortar, or better known as a Construction Project. Processes need to be followed, concepts considered and confirmed, designs implemented, foundations put in place, layers built upon, progress tracked, and quality checked before finally unveiling the completed works.

What is a Project

What are we talking about when we say ‘project’? A project is the journey required to achieve an intended goal or aim. Specifically, in construction, this goal might be to build a shed, a skyscraper, renovate a disused church, or refurbish a company’s offices.

The next question is, “how do we get there?” To the good part where we’ve moved the lawnmower into its new shed home, or the CEO sits behind an overly large desk for the first time in their newly installed glass-walled corner office.

To run a project with the best chance of success is first to formalise a Project Plan. This plan will set out the project’s parameters: the headline budgets, sales projections/revenues, aims, desires, requirements, timescales. Having a plan gives a constant that can be referred back to and measure performance against. In addition, it will identify who the owner of the project is, the client in many cases for contractors, and what team is required to execute the project to satisfaction.

Why Do I need a Project Manager?

We have a plan, and now someone needs to take ownership of it, the whole project. The project owner? Generally not, as this might be a landowner or an end-user who aren’t construction minded. Therefore, a Project Team should be appointed, led by a Project Manager.

Smaller projects may only require a Project Manager or a more experienced Project Director.

However, larger and more complex schemes may contain several Project Managers, ranging from Associate/Assistant Project Managers, Project Managers, or Senior Project Managers. All of them will report to the Project Lead, likely to be a Project Director.

The Project Team is likely to consist of Quantity Surveyors, Buyers, Design Managers, Contracts Manager, Construction Manager, Site Manager.

A Project Manager is the linchpin of any project. They will be the single voice for the project, communicating the project needs and owner’s requirements to the Project Team whilst ensuring everyone is communicating and working together to achieve the project’s aims.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

Like an artist painting a masterpiece, Project Management is also an art form.

A good Project Manager controls, manages and oversees many aspects of a project simultaneously. As a result, they will have many plates spinning at any one time, ensuring none topple to the ground.

There are four key elements to managing a project:

  1. Project Initiation
  2. Project Planning
  3. Project Execution
  4. Project Monitoring and Control

The Project Manager will implement and execute the Project Plan on behalf of the project owner. They will report back to the owner, reviewing how the project is performing against targets and objectives. Key items being:

  • Progress Reporting
  • Programme – Design/Planning/Construction
  • Design Team Appointments
  • Planning Approvals and Conditions
  • Design Stages
  • Building Control
  • Building Warranty
  • Licences and Approvals with Statutory Authorities
  • Services
  • Procurement schedule
  • Budgets

The Project Manager will also communicate with other stakeholders and often with the local community to gain support for planning applications or keep people abreast of site progress.

The Importance of a Project Manager

Whilst the mention of a shed for Mr Lawn Mower earlier was admittedly a little tongue in cheek, there still needs to be planning here, even with what may seem an insignificant project.

Before you start, you need to confirm the budget. This may affect the size of the shed. What type of finish will it have and what features? Where will it go, what will it look like, will it be an eyesore, can it be tucked away in the garden, should leylandii be planted to disguise or soften it?

These are simple things to consider, especially for your garden. However, what if you arrange this on behalf of an elderly relative. For example, do you know the extent of their land boundary so that you don’t end up putting it on Mr Jones’ land next door? What about access? Are there times to avoid for deliveries, like Bingo O’clock or Book Club hour?

What about sourcing? Where are the materials coming from? Will the shed be pre-formed or arrive as individual planks of wood? Who will construct it? Steve from the social media recommendation you asked for, perhaps! What’s in Steve’s order? Is he supplying the screws and nails required? The list goes on and on.

On the first day on-site, Steve asks, after ordering his milky tea with three sugars, “Where is the shed going?” You tell him. “Ok, where’s the shed base then,” he replies. You look blank. “Has one been ordered? If not, does a concrete one need pouring – that’s an extra cost. I haven’t priced for that.” Steve tells you, nor has he allowed time for the concrete to cure. “I’ll have to come back next month.” Disaster.

Oh, and did you want electricity? If so, has an electrician been appointed to lay a cable from the house? Or a plumber for the tap you wanted to clean the dogs after a cross country winter walk?

Suddenly, the simple job of getting a new shed has gone over budget, and the expected one day to build is out of the window. As a result, you’re going to have to cancel this weekend’s garden party. Someone needs to get the project back on track.

A good Project Manager will foresee all of this. They will strategise and plan out a project from conception to completion, cradle to grave.

They won’t be doing all the work themselves. Most of the time, a Project Manager will coordinate and manage the Project Team and the experts and specialists required to deliver each project stage successfully. From planning, design, pre-construction, build through to completion.

Ensuring that each scope of works is detailed correctly, leaving no gaps. Consultants and services providers require orders and forms of contracts to be executed.

A Project Manager will work with the procurement team to ensure subcontractor orders are placed within budget, have no scope gaps, and can adhere to the programme’s parameters.

Once works commence on-site, the Project Manager will work with the Construction and Procurement Teams. An eye on the programme, long material lead-in times, any supply issues, quality control, and help unblock any problems that arise.

With excellent planning, management and control, a Project Manager will deliver outstanding projects every time.

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

About Matthew Griffiths

Matthew takes great pleasure in combining his two professions. One has seen him give two decades of service to the construction industry, from roles as an Estimator through to sitting on Boards. The second is his passion for the written word. He now has the best of both worlds, building homes and constructing written content.

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