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Building Project Management

Project Management

If you wish to build a house or any other building a sensible approach to project management can help to make your project successful. Project management can give you higher quality, lower costs and complete your project on time. Here we provide some advice on how to manage a building project.

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Building a House

Building houses is not for the faint hearted

It takes a particular kind of person to successfully build their dream home but, unfortunately, I've no idea what sort of a person that might be.

Most people who build their own house find themselves having to keep track of many different aspects of construction of which they have limited or no technical knowledge. They also find they have to watch every step of the construction very closely. All in all it can be very stressful and takes it's toll but, no pain - no gain, they do tend learn a lot on the way through.

There are, however, things that can be done to take the stress out of the task and make such a difficult undertaking feasible. The trick is to engage a team of professionals each working within their particular areas of expertise to execute the project correctly and provide advice.

Employ a Project Manager

A good idea is to employ a good Project Manager to take the stress away from you. Easier said than done I know so let us look at what Project Management is all about and the sort of person you might be looking for.

Before we start it is important to understand that the Project Manager's loyalty must be with you, the client. He/she is your representative and must be expected to constantly look after your interests. If he wants to employ his friend as the architect or the builder or particularly if he wants to do the work himself you need to be suspicious, this is a conflict of interest and will jeopardise his role as the Project Manager.

On any building project there are three distinct aims you are trying to achieve:

  1. To construct the building as specified in the drawings and to the desired level of quality.
  2. To ensure the building is constructed within budget.
  3. To ensure the building is completed on time.

Successful Project Managers use a number of skills and techniques to achieve these three goals, it is specialised work that requires training and expertise.

Aim 1 To complete the building as specified and to the required standard.

The project Manager must have sufficient knowledge of all the aspects of building design, documentation and construction to be able to guide and supervise the work of all the members of the team of specialists:

  • The architect whose role is to produce an attractive functional design;
  • The structural engineer, surveyor and soil scientist who will investigate the site and make sure the building is of structurally sound design and complies with earthquake requirements.
  • The electrical and plumbing designers who will prepare the MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) designs and specifications.
  • The quantity surveyor who will break down the work into tasks and prepare costings.
  • The landscape architect who will prepare the landscaping design specifications.
  • The lawyer and notaris who will prepare the land certificate, IMB (building permit), building contract, and payment schedule.

The Project Manager must know and understand the project inside out and must have the skills to be able to not only read the drawings but also to check that they are correct. Drawings must also have relevant supporting documents such as specification sheets and the bill of quantities (the list of all tasks and materials required for the project and what they will cost) that define everything about the project.

The Project Manager must also know and understand all the relevant building regulations and standards that apply. Building regulations cover such things as height restrictions, allowable building density and set backs from roads, shorelines and property boundaries. Standards include the Indonesian electrical and plumbing standards, the reinforced concrete standards, health and safety standards and many other prevailing government stipulations.

Finally the Project Manager must also be able to read and understand the building contract so he can make sure that his client's (your) interests are fully protected before you sign.

The more attention put into the above items before building starts the easier things will be later. Once building starts the Project Manager must constantly inspect and supervise the construction phase ensuring that everything complies with the the agreed specifications above. On building sites all over the world inspectors and supervisors must constantly be on their guard for shoddy or incorrect work and the ever present desire to cut corners and save money.

Aim 2 To complete the project within the budget

The starting point for this is the bill of quantities (BOQ) which lists all the tasks required to complete the project with labour and material costs against each task. The BOQ will also include such things as the architect's and structural engineer's fees, taxes and any other costs associated with the project such as electricity supply connections.

The building contract will state the total cost of construction and should also include a payment schedule and any penalties the builder must pay for late completion. Most projects will end up costing more than was originally planned as a result of unexpected occurrences or unforeseen price increases.

The Project Manager must continually monitor the percentage of work completed and the amount paid. He must also very carefully manage any variations from the original specifications as these will undoubtably incur increased costs.

This will inevitably require a well managed accounting system to keep track of all the financial aspects of the project. The Project Manager must be able to read and fully understand what is happening financially.

Aim 3 To complete the project on time

This one of the most challenging and specialised areas of project management. The Project Manager achieves this by preparing a detailed project plan and then monitoring progress against the plan and making decisions to keep the project on track.

The plan is normally produced in the form of a “Ghantt Chart” either using a computer program or manually on paper. This is a complex but essential process which lists in detail all the tasks to be completed to complete the project with time estimates for each task.

Now we get to the clever bit.

The “relationship” of each task to other tasks must also be determined. For example you can't build the walls until the foundations have been completed or you can't put the roof on until the walls are completed (or can you? - in countries with a lot of rain buildings are being designed these days so the roof can go on at an early stage and the walls are built afterwards).

Critical Path Analysis in home building

It can get very complicated depending on the size and complexity of the project and if a building is to be fast tracked we may have to break the tasks down to greater levels of detail. We can install the electrical circuits in this wall before the foundations for that wall have even been started etc. etc. This is known as “Network Analysis” and has within it what is known as “Critical Path Analysis”. The “Critical Path” of a project is the longest (in terms of time) sequence of individual consecutive tasks that have to be completed to complete the project. This critical path determines the minimum time it will take to complete the building.

Understanding and managing the interrelationship of tasks and in particular the critical path is a particular skill and an essential part of successful project management.

The project plan is presented as a “Gantt Chart”- a bar chart listing each of the tasks and showing bars to indicate the start and finish times and the duration of each task. Many people know and understand bar charts but not so many people know or understand the “Network Chart” which graphically indicates the complex relationship between tasks and, most importantly, the critical path of tasks.

Once the project begins progress of each task is entered onto the Gantt Chart. If a task falls behind schedule it can be quickly identified and also, very importantly, how the delay will affect tasks to be carried out much further on in the project can also be quickly determined. Decisions can be made to make adjustments to the building program that will bring the project back on schedule.

So this is what we should expect of our Project Manager, a lot of experience and specialist skills are required combined with a dedication to looking after your interests. It is easy to see why it is best that building projects are not managed by architects and builders.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson August 2011
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