Manage the project

project manager on extension

A successful self-build requires a capable Project Manager. The person who elects to manage the project requires a mix of personal and technical skills. In terms of people management, the project manager will be dealing with the architect or designer, planning officers, building control inspectors, tradesmen, service suppliers and many others. From an operational viewpoint, the primary objective of the project manager is to complete the project on time and within budget. In essence, this person needs to be good at figures, be able to organise and have a focus on results.

There is a wide range of tasks to complete. It is the project managers job to schedule these tasks in the right order, ensuring that labour and materials are in the right place at the right time. Staying up-to-date with energy-efficiency technology is important so that new practices can be implemented smoothly. Good communication is also key, ensuring everyone is kept informed so that delays and misunderstandings are minimised.

Balancing time, quality and money
The decisions made by the Project Manager will always be a compromise between the main drivers of time, money and quality. If you are appointing someone else as project manager, you need to communicate which of these 3 drivers is the most important. This also applies when you are the project manager. You need to have clarity about your own principal driver!

Consider each of the 3 drivers:

Aiming for a short build time
If completion on time or earlier is the main objective, you will need to pay more to get the trades to work unsociable hours. However, if you are pressuring the trades to finish, the quality of their work might not be the best. There might be occasions when a trade needs to repeat the work.

Where build time is compressed, this means that the project manager needs to work harder. The project manager needs to work more hours each day in order to stay ahead of quote submissions, material ordering and scheduling changes. Inevitably, mistakes occur when working under pressure and this adds to the stress experienced on site. A pressured workforce is not always conducive to a smooth build operation.

Aiming to save money
Having the main focus on cost control can impact on the quality of the finished house. By taking the lowest quotes to keep costs under control, there is a danger that a lower standard of contractor will be employed. This is because the best contractors are usually in high demand and will submit relatively high quotes.

Aiming for quality
Where quality is more important than the budget or the schedule, there will be different problems to handle. The main challenge will be to ensure that all the tradesmen are providing work of a consistently high quality. You will be paying more and allowing more time to achieve the desired quality.

Types of Project Manager

  • Architect – employing an architect as Project Manager could turn out very expensive if the architect is billing you on a percentage of the overall build costs; there is little incentive to keep costs down. Be alert to the architect sub-contracting the work to someone else as they will charge for managing that person! However, with the right architect and a fair fee arrangement, this could be a stress-free solution for you.
  • Main contractor – your contract with a main contractor can include project management within the package price. It usually turns out cheaper than engaging the architect as project manager.
  • Self-employed project manager – if you are not using a main contractor or a package supplier, a self-employed project manager is a good option. You gain from their experience and it’s probably cheaper than you giving up a well-paid job to do it.

Shell Package supplier
There are several different types of package provided by these suppliers. Project Management services are offered at 2 levels:

  • Turnkey package – the supplier manages the entire project and then hands you the keys to the house 
  • Shell-only package – the supplier project-manages the design, fabrication and installation of the shell. The rest of the build is down to you.

The DIY option is where you take control of the entire project. If you need some training, there are several project management courses run especially for self builders. Check out the Buildstore Self-Build Courses.

Duties of a Project Manager

On a daily basis, the project manager will:
• Attend the site
• Be aware of the progress of all aspects of the site
• Assess the quality of the work
• Ensure the completed work is in line with the plans
• Know what tasks are currently in progress
• Manage the housekeeping, including rubbish removal, site security, Health & Safety etc

On a weekly basis, the project manager will:
• Run a site meeting to review completed work and to agree the work for the current week
• Plan the forthcoming tasks, including ensuring the required materials and plant will be delivered on time
• Ensure timely payments to contractors and material suppliers

On an ongoing basis, the Project Manager will manage a critical flow chart. For each task, the Project Manager will :
• establish any required preceding tasks
• set the likely minimum and maximum duration periods
• Identify who will do the work

If the task is weather-dependent, the Project Manager needs to build some slack into the chart or be ready to assign alternative tasks. Where the project is affected by time over-runs, delayed materials and no-shows by contractors, the Project Manager needs to adjust the schedule accordingly. By keeping the critical flow chart maintained on a daily basis, such schedule interruptions can be swiftly accommodated.