Professional Project Management

When a householder wants building work carried out the three traditional routes are:

  • Using a local jobbing builder.
  • Using a building contracting company.
  • Using local tradesmen and self-managing.

There is a better way:

  • Professional project management using a skilled construction manager.

When the contents of this website are taken on board, professional project management will be seen to contain plenty of benefits for anyone considering a building project, regardless of size, shape or complexity. It can resolve many thorny problems endured by homeowners still using traditional domestic building routes.

Some local jobbing builders are fair tradesmen and if the required job is maintenance, then that is probably the right way to go. If the work is a bit more complex however, even a small extension to a home, then it will require a different methodology. Managing a building project no matter how large or small requires a particular set of skills. No one is born with those skills, they have to be learned. Smaller builders acquire some of them by the process of trial and error. Sadly the people who pay for that are usually their customers and as with most things picked up that way, the results can be patchy at best.

The labour pool for a local builder tends to be made up from people met socially (in the pub) and that means that the client doesn’t always get the best tradesmen available for their project. Pricing the work itself tends to be a hit and miss affair with the dreaded ‘open estimate’ being the preferred method. TV programmes such as ‘rogue traders’ are not fictitious…these people are out there and they prey on individuals whose good natures don’t prepare them for what can so easily happen.

Larger contractors employ their own skilled project managers and add the cost to the bill. They do a much better job of managing a building project, but charge greatly for the service within their profits. The overheads of larger companies are naturally greater than a smaller firm and these overheads have to be covered in order to keep the shareholders or owners happy and content. This means that if you use a main contractor, you will still be paying for a project manager, he just wouldn’t be working for you!

The labour force used by this type of company is usually of a less skilled nature, as to be honest anyone worthy of a larger salary, works as a sub contractor in their own right. Using a less skilled labour force enables the larger contractor to enhance their profits while using their management professionals to keep the workforce moving along. It is companies like this that tend to use cheaper foreign labour. Unfortunately this style of operation is fraught with problems of motivation and quality control. The turnover of staff is normally high and as a result continuity and workmanship suffer. The only saving grace is that the management style is at least of a modern nature and can be productive. If your budget can afford it, this is the best method to use for the least amount of personal input. But be prepared to pay for that.

The third method from the list is to employ your own sub-contractors to carry out each separate portion of the work. This is a far more efficient method of ensuring better workmanship. However the earnings of sub- contractors are dependent on completing their work in the shortest time possible. Although this can appear to be a desirable goal, it is only if their work is carried out in a well organised and cohesive way that a properly constructed building can be achieved. For this system to operate well requires a skilled manager to oversee the project.

Another method is ‘professional project management this is a far superior way to achieve the desired outcome. Unlike all of the above methods where the client is not fully in control of the situation, project management is employed to cater for the client and the client alone.

  • The local builder will very rarely allow the client to determine how or when the works would be carried out. If they tried, disputes would surely follow. The local jobbing builder’s management skills are not normally great and motivation is about making as much money, for as little work as possible.
  • Likewise with the main contractor whose emphasis will be on profit and ease of operation, rather than the clients wishes. Their management skills are much better but then their price is much higher!
  • Creating your own build team from sub contractors is fine if you have the required experience to make it work. It can however soon degenerate into a financial black hole if not handled correctly.

Project management is used widely in the commercial construction market, solely because it works. It delivers all the principal needs for a well-managed and cost effective building project. Unlike all the other methods listed the construction project manager:

  • Works solely for the client.
  • Has no other agenda than the project.
  • Is experienced in all construction matters.
  • Is experienced in modern management methods.
  • Is accredited to the Chartered Institute Of Building.
  • Operates for fixed fees tied to the level of service.

Kevin McCloud says in his book Grand Designs, “project managing a build is not like project managing a sweet shop. Or the IT department at Rentokill. Its more like project managing the construction of an intergalactic rocket.” He goes on to say:- “All in all, building a house is much harder than building a rocket. Its got to survive longer than one vertical flight; its got to last through thick and thin and snow and gales—and last for a hundred or so years, at that. I think its akin to building a rocket in fourteenth-century rural Albania.”

Now that may be a bit over the top Kevin, but I do get where you’re coming from. Just because someone may be a dab hand at DIY; don’t for one minute think that building a house or an extension is the same animal…. It is a hell of a lot more involved and there are many things that can go wrong.

In almost any television programme or magazine about developing, building or restoring property one of the most frequent comments made by the presenter is “Someone has got to take control of this job”. Even if a jobbing builder or a main contractor is used, someone has to make sure that it all goes to plan and that all the work is completed properly, as specified by the designer. A jobbing builder has neither the skill nor the motivation to do this. A main contractor would be working for the good of their company and although an excellent one would consider the needs of the client… remember who pays the piper…. The job normally falls upon the client, whether they want it or not!

A person could be a born leader, or vice versa, possess some technical expertise. But those skills would be of little use unless they could be joined together with the ability to use logical management in gaining the best result. Running a building project efficiently is a highly complex process and should not be embarked upon lightly.

Project management computer programmes can do this! Well yes possibly…. But it wouldn’t help if the required set of joined up skills to use it to the full are not there and especially if there is a lack of technical proficiency to go along with that. All it would do is tie up an enormous amount of time, both setting up the programme and then dealing with all the necessary changes when the build doesn’t go to plan. Most of these programmes are for the management of system or organisational projects and are not necessarily conducive to the building process.

It would be much better to get some experienced help from a construction project manager. This doesn’t have to be a full time arrangement. Smaller schemes can be run either by the self-builder with some mentoring, or remotely by the project manager with full site supervision provided by a nominated tradesman. This would provide both the technical experience and the required management skills to gain the best results.

If however the project is a ‘Grand Design, then take Kevin’s further advice in the form of item 5 on his Top Ten list of do’s & don’ts. ” Employ as many professionals as you can afford, especially a good project manager…”

Commercial building clients, such as Insurance companies or pension funds, make full use of professional project management. They consider it essential to any successful venture and the project manager is usually ‘in the loop’ long before anyone else. The task of analysing all the various designs for feasibility falls on the project manager, who then helps the client to decide on the best value for money scheme. The same person then goes on to manage the whole construction project through to completion.

Why do commercial clients do this? Because it provides them with the best value for money they can get. Now if Insurance Companies… who lets be honest are renowned for having deep pockets and very short arms, invest in professional project management, then why on earth wouldn’t it be sensible for you to do the same?

A self-build project is certainly one of the most fulfilling and yet stressful activities ever attempted. Along with all of the highs of realising the dream, are all the lows of contractors or materials not turning up on time, or watching finances go down the drain because of mistakes and inefficiency. Problems along the way need to be dealt with quickly and competently and at the same time there is a normal life to get on with. The needs of family and managing a building project are not entirely compatible.

The widespread view throughout the building industry is that self-builders are both mad and stupid…. This just isn’t true and is plain ignorance at its worst. A number of self-builders however do seem strangely obsessed with creating more problems than they need to. When it’s all over though, the trials and tribulations are set aside, normally replaced with an intense feeling of pride and satisfaction. This same feeling is probably why most construction managers do the job anyway….

SFS Management Contracting could carry out the whole process, and for larger projects that is recommended. Alternatively a bespoke scheme could be designed to suit a clients particular needs, so that the right support would be there, just when it’s needed most. Imagine someone guiding through the difficult parts and keeping a wary eye to make sure no-one takes advantage. Having somebody to call when it all seems… just too much! Being left free to actively enjoy the process of creating a new home.

The cost of a complete project service is about 9% of the nett build cost for a new build. This would include all the works described in this website. Each individual page of this website explains the available service in full and the likely costs. Use the contact page to receive a fee proposal with a full list of costs and services and begin the process of the best way to build.

I can heartily recommend Kevin’s book ‘Grand Designs Handbook’ as a fantastic and at times hilarious way to read of his experiences in the field of ‘Self Building’. It is also packed full of good advice and tips to help you on your journey. You can get it from any good bookshop, or from Amazon Booksit’s well worth the read.

Project Management

What is this and why should we use it for our building project?
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Feasibility

What should we look for?
Can we afford to do this?
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Budgeting

Finding out what it should all cost.
Keeping those costs under control.
Read more

Programming

How it can really help a project.
How to do it properly.
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Tender Process

Making sure the build team is properly chosen and prepared.
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Procurement

Finding the best value materials.
Making sure they stay that way.
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Site Management

Working with the whole team,
helping everyone to get it right.
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CDM 2015 Regulations

Carrying out the Principle Contractor Role For CDM 2015 Regulations
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