COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CRISTA SWAN

Hiring outside help to manage construction projects

If your company is planning to expand your facilities, consolidate locations, relocate or renovate your existing facility, you must carefully consider how the effort will be managed.

No matter which of these situations your company might be in, management of the schedule, cost and quality goals are an important assignment. Often, companies assign a facilities manager, property manager or other in-house project manager to manage the project. In many cases, these in-house resources bring to the table the necessary experience and knowledge to meet the company’s project goals.

There may be times, however, when using in-house resources might not be the best approach. Knowing when to call in the professionals may save time and money and reduce company risk.

Too many projects

Your company may have too many projects going at once for your in-house resources to meet budget and schedule goals.

Unless your contractor agreement contains a liquidated damages clause where a contractor agrees to pay an agreed upon amount if they don’t meet their completion commitment, there is a good chance schedule milestone dates will come and go and the overall completion becomes significantly delayed.

One of the responsibilities of a project manager is to continuously monitor the schedule milestone dates and drive the project team to keep on task. It may beneficial to outsource some or all of the projects to help ease the burden of in-house staff and keep the projects on schedule, particularly in cases where a company may have a high short-term volume of work in progress.

Accurate cost estimates are a direct product of the accuracy of the design documents. The more incomplete or inaccurate the project requirements, the more inconsistent the cost estimates will be among contractors. If an in-house team is over-burdened, it’s easy to fall short of clearly communicating project requirements and scope.

Adding or changing scope after inception of construction puts a strain on project budgets and schedules. A project manager can fill in the gaps where necessary to communicate the owner’s intent, where the contract documents might lack detail.

A properly detailed request for proposal will help ensure you select the best contractor, consultant or vendor. Many external project managers are well-versed in the formal procurement process and bring a great deal of value to issuing structured and customized requests for proposals as well as overseeing a justifiable award and selection process.

Exceeding in-house experience

In-house project managers generally handle projects that focus on reorganizing or renovating existing spaces. Sometimes when it comes to building a new site, there is a greater level of complexity.

Ground-up construction requires knowledge and experience of the entitlement process, infrastructure planning and execution, growth and exit strategies, grading complexities and a greater focus on structural knowledge. Knowing when a project exceeds your in-house resource’s expertise can help ensure your project completes successfully.

Increasingly, companies are choosing to achieve LEED certification. If the in-house project manager’s resources do not have LEED project experience, the company may be at risk for schedule delays, cost over-runs or unsatisfactory results.

Few contemporary projects are simple real estate transactions. Often there is a landlord-tenant relationship as part of the mix, which is governed by legal documentation. It is crucial that these obligations are met by both sides during design and construction production. The experience of the project manager is important in applying and monitoring these requirements.

Contemporary construction projects increasingly include very technical scopes of work The project manager needs technology expertise as well as a basic understanding of the company’s needs regarding technical components so they can balance the need versus the cost.

Building out a project with high technical demands, such as a data center, FDA-validated facility or vivarium may warrant hiring a project manager specialist who is experienced in managing similar facilities.

Project scope is too large

What if your company has evolved over time to multiple locations and decides to expand or consolidate? Such a project may include the construction or build-out of a large space as well as the planning and coordination of moving employees.

Most moving companies have a project manager who assists with large corporate relocations. However, your company may want to consider hiring an outside project manager who can create an efficient moving plan, communicate with staff and management to minimize frustrations and set expectations, and oversee the execution of the move.

Furniture, fixtures and equipment procurement is another tedious aspect of this sort of project. A great deal of time goes into the proper selection of vendors and installation. The time needed to manage this aspect of the project may be more than what an in-house project manager can handle.

Typically a project manager works specifically with the construction team to drive the project to meet schedule and budget goals. But a construction project can reach far beyond management of the building contractor.

Often a project requires procuring and coordinating many other specialty vendors such as audio-visual, data and telecom, office furniture and manufacturing equipment. You might consider off-loading some specific project management tasks to an outside project manager who can effectively dedicate the time needed.

The risk is too great

Your company may decide not to renew its lease and instead consolidate, leaving limited time to build out a new space. Add to that fixed funds for the project and schedule and budget goals that are not flexible, leaving the company potentially at risk for lease agreement liabilities and associated costs.

Knowing how to quickly establish an execution plan to match specific goals often takes years of experience. Seasoned consultants can be valuable in this situation to supplement company staff.

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Where do you find a qualified project management company? The short answer is to ask other companies for a referral. As with many professional services, using a referral can help you obtain the best results possible.

Resources and project management companies can change quickly in a dynamic market, so make sure your referral is from a company that used the project manager firm within three years, and consider more than one firm before making a decision.

Using a request for proposal for procuring an outside project management firm can be helpful in qualifying candidates on a consistent level. Any request for proposal should be customized for each project.

The best time to get a project manager on board is during project planning. Of course, if you don’t hire early and find your project is in trouble down the road, don’t be afraid to hire a project manager to right the ship before major failure and embarrassment occurs.

Crista Swan is a business development and assistant project manager for Project Management Advisors, Inc., a project management consulting firm in Solana Beach.

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