Project management is many things. The term project management is a broad category. It can be defined and manifested in different ways. There are key aspects and processes to the role of project management that need to be executed in order to achieve success. Project management in one company differs from that of another, yet there should be some common ground, some similarities, across all of project management in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) industry.
All companies bigger than the ability or availability of an individual owner, or group of owners, to manage at the project level, are dependent on project management to determine the success of their projects, their profits, quality, and ultimately, the success of failure of their client relationships. That’s right; everything intersects at the project manager level and in the project operational domain. The success of project management determines the future growth, size, scalability, and health of the organization.
Project managers are the gatekeepers of each company’s clients, values, projects, profits and quality. This should produce a sober reality on making clear their roles and responsibilities. This is easy to say, and difficult to do.
Project management involves both quantitative and qualitative skills and attributes. This includes what we define as “hard” skills and “soft” skills. The things we are trained for in school, the operational tools we learn to support project management tasks like scheduling, budgeting, accounting systems, CRM platforms, and more, ultimately do not determine its success. Tools help support and define the work. But the success of project management, any good fruit, is produced from a proper mindset, people skills, knowledge of the work, a solution orientation, discipline and accountability, along with the tools to support the work.
Here’s a high-level view of some key aspects to project management. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few basic areas of impact.
- This is the primary differentiator. Focus on communication. If there’s one thing to do, do this thing. Clear, concise, timely, polite, professional, appropriate communication. The means is contextual to the need or client preference; email, phone, letters, instant messaging, texting, DM’s, WebEx, Skype, Face to face, and other. All forms; and it must be timely; concurrent; “real time”. Tools and platforms used in our companies should support communication in the best manner possible.
- Scope and Contract management:
- We’ve got to remember the project scope and make sure to benchmark to it. Knowing when to shift and when to draw the line on scope creep is a key to maintaining profitability while building a strong client relationship. Trust is the key. Build trust.
- Document management:
- Keeping track of documents, timing, logging documents, updating our teams, etc.; this includes things like ASI’s, CSK’s, bulletins, addendums, BIM updates, owner changes, and on and on.
- Earned Value Tracking (EVT):
- EVT is about measuring the real progress of our work as it relates to the budget. The goal of EVT is to estimate as accurately as possible, the percent complete on the project (the spent amount) vs. the budget we must work with.
- Schedule management, milestones, submittals:
- If we don’t establish a schedule, we won’t succeed. The schedule typically drives everything. Creating benchmarks and milestones along the way, allows us to stay on track. Schedules rarely appear to be realistic by the time the project gets released, but we must start somewhere. I’ve yet to see a single schedule maintained exactly, except perhaps the “turnkey” moment when the owner will be handed the keys to open and occupy the building. We must constrain the work. In fact, time constraining is a design variable (more on that in another blog.) Also, look up “Parkinson’s Law.” This is the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Have a defined “ship it” date and stick to it.
- Project meetings, design-review meetings, huddles, post-project review meetings, kick-off meetings; all serve to create collaboration. We must share in each other’s reality (ours and our client’s) to drive awareness, stay aligned, and maintain milestones. We’ve got to be aware of business and people dynamics and manage them (B2B and H2H items.) Meetings should have a clear start and stop time. There should be an agenda, proposed outcome and solution orientation. Stick to the end time rigidly. I was not good at starting and stopping on time for many years. It sent a bad message. Stick to the end time, have a person designated as the timekeeper, stop 5 minutes before the end of the meeting time, and clarify all actions or “to-do’s”, who will handle it, by when, and then adjourn. We are following the EOS format for meetings more and more and I highly recommend it. I find virtual meetings via MS Teams, with the ability to screen share work products and collaborate on screen, to be highly effective for many meetings. I prefer face to face meetings in some contexts, but that’s another blog post on when is virtual vs. face-to-face better.
- In our company we created a project management process that’s taken about 6 months to define from the ground-up. My partner and I stayed out of this deliberately because both of us had defined and led a PM process effort in prior years, but without it ever being “owned” and accepted by everyone in our organization. We now have a “swim lane” process chart from which responsibilities have been defined and key scorecard metrics have been developed. The team of project managers, with insight from other “subject matter experts” within the company, developed the process with an outside facilitator who works with us. This is being implemented, can be a point of reference from which to manage change, and to improve upon. Define process and build consistency. Create specific scorecard metrics and drive clarity. Perhaps I’ll write another blog on process and how best to develop to achieve buy-in and accountability.
As we approach the end of the year, I am asking myself how we can improve project management in 2022 and beyond. It’s an ongoing process in perpetuity. How about you?
Note: A prior version of this blog was published in November of 2019 in the publication “US Glass Metal and Glazing” when I was blogging for them. The blog has been updated and modified here with more content and experiences in this new post.