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What do you actually need from a Project Manager?

I was exhibiting recently at the Home-building & Renovating Show at Sandown Park and met many potential Self-Builders.

There seemed to be a common theme which was “what does a Project Manager actually do, how do I know that I need one, and how can I justify the cost?”

Now, the majority of people considering embarking on a project; be it a complete house build,refurb/extend/conversion, using building contractor or sub-contractors, have this underlying feeling that they can manage the works themselves, therefore saving the cost of employing a professional. Mmmmm maybe!

The misconception being that if armed with a set of detailed drawings, all they have to do is approach builders to price the works, eventually decide on the builder, and stand back while he constructs their dream, falling back on the architect if something needs sorting. Sounds ideal, but very rarely works that way.

Let us look firstly at what does a PM actually do:- As a snapshot; In my case, I would firstly interrogate the drawings to see if the planned construction mechanics actually work and advise on any efficiency or cost saving details. Contrary to popular belief, most architects have never built, so can only design the mechanics of the build according to their limited knowledge. I then help find the right builder/subbies by way of firstly providing the correct information regarding scope (Schedule of Works), any specifying, and client choices, then obtain quotes, and eventually concluding how much it will cost and vet who should be doing the works.

Before works commence I would be ensuring that any legislation/legal aspects are in place and if employing a main contractor, the correct contract documents and understandings are present.

During the construction phase, I would be utilising my previous life of 40 years as a builder/tradesman, coupled with my Chartered Construction Manager status, to advise and police the actual works, therefore providing the necessary protection and assurance for my client. I would be making sure that not only are the works being constructed correctly but inspected at the relevant times by any other professionals (Building Control, Structural Engineer). I would also be controlling payments both in frequency and accuracy. If working with a building contractor under contract, I would be performing Contract Administrator duties.

So how do the above show a cost justification for using a Project Manager? It is not unusual for an architect to designs aspects that are over-complicated or costly, and without expert advice, a builder would simply quote for these superfluous works. You would probably not even know that a saving could have been made. Also, in the absence of a decent scope and specification, the builder/contractor would be left to interpret the works according to his own knowledge and agenda, therefore potentially including unnecessary costs. Likewise, he might pepper the quote with provisional sums which again could be interpreted in many ways, but in any case would not give a clear indication of actual cost. During the works, it goes without saying that having your own dedicated, knowledgeable professional on board will avoid any unnecessary works (cost), will organise and manage trades, deal with any queries and ensure that works are being completed efficiently and correctly. He would communicate with builders (make sure they are not pulling the wool over your eyes) and take care of a payment structure. Your Project Manager will ensure that everything is taken care of and allow you to sleep at night.

The smooth running of the above shows cost savings well in excess of a Project Manager’s fees.

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