James Bryden, CLPM’s Managing Director, has worked in the construction industry for over 25 years and founded his own company, ClearPlan Project Management, in 2009. CLPM was formed in 2014 by the merger of ClearPlan with Charlie Laing Ltd. 

I drag myself out of bed just after the 7:00 am news on the radio. I’m not really a morning person, but if I have a morning meeting I will get up much earlier to ensure I am there in good time to miss the rush-hour traffic. Breakfast is usually muesli. I have tried to have a morning run recently, maybe once or twice a week, but to be honest it’s not going well at all! I generally make myself a packed lunch before I set off for work in the car. I really should walk to work, and occasionally do if weather is good, but not as often as I’d like to.

The first thing I do when I get into the office is check overnight e-mails and text messages. I then make a cup of coffee, update my time-sheet from previous day, and write the to-do list. I tend to do my planning mostly in the mornings, but often the pressures of responding to our clients means I don’t get quite as much admin done as I’d like to.

I’m mainly office-based now, but still manage to do around 100 miles a week visiting new or existing clients. Our company car is a Toyota Aygo, as it’s very fuel efficient, nippy in traffic and very easy to park which is useful when visiting going on-site. If I’m heading into London I often take the tube, but it all depends on site locations.

Most of my time is spent dealing with the cost management side of our business. Each day I will typically focus on the cost needs of 3 client projects. This might involve doing the admin work required for a client’s valuation, organising the tender or building contract documentation for another client. I could also be updating a separate client’s cost report. There is a lot of detail and spreadsheet work involved in our business, and there’s also a steady procession of e-mail queries and phone calls from clients, builders, architects and other construction professionals. At some point around mid-day I’ll eat my lunch – sandwich and fruit. If I’m lucky, then sometimes one of the team in our head office will have baked something naughty for us all to share.

Much of my time is spent putting clarity into the contractual process, and looking into the justification of variations. This commonly means looking at contractor prices, and trying to build them up from first principles. We find that presenting prices in their simplified form as labour, plant and materials helps our clients to see what is involved in their project. Often what they perceive to be a simple “job” suddenly has a long list of activities that build it up, and this helps them to understand the associated cost.

I’ve spent a lot of my early career managing projects with concrete frames and major ground-works, so I know quite a bit about that side of construction. My preferred types of projects are interesting new builds. You can generally help the build team to improve the design, and I generally find that new builds can be project managed more effectively. Renovations are always rife with issues and unknowns. There’s a danger that some clients underestimate the value of detailed design plans and specifications, and a robust tender process. It’s this kind of scenario we seek to avoid by helping ensure our clients to think through their project thoroughly before talking to builders. Without a professional design review there is a risk that clients end up with arguments with their builder over what should have been included in the tender.

My main tip for how a client should get the most out of their project management company is to be clear on how they allocate the responsibilities for their project. Clients need to be certain about which bits they want their project manager to deal with, and which elements they can do themselves. They must be realistic about their available time, skills and knowledge. It’s best to ensure the chain of command and communication is agreed prior to work starting on site with the contractor, so that the contractor does not get confused. It’s also best to get their project manager involved early in the process to allow them to be as effective as possible – a third pair of expert eyes at the design review stage is invaluable.

We work in a collaborative way with lots of architectural practices. We generally start getting involved when their clients are looking to get estimates for their designs, either before or after they have obtained planning permission.  Often we find that our clients have budget issues – particularly with renovations or innovative self-builds. One of the things I most enjoy is problem solving with the design team. This might involve working out ways to make the client’s construction budget go further or how to make a building more energy efficient.

Another enjoyable part of my job is meeting the general public. Sitting on the Ask The Expert panels at Grand Designs Live, Build It Live and the NSBRC is very worthwhile, as it seems to be really helpful for people. You also get the occasional really wild design! I’ve talked to people who want to use a barge on dry land as their main building and work from there. I’ve also met a self-builder who wanted to build most of their house underground with a circular central main building. I often been asked about how to use shipping containers to build homes. The courses and presentations can be good fun as well. I particularly enjoyed the Grand Design’s Self Build Bootcamp at the NEC this October.

I’ve completed a few house refurbishments myself over the years. It’s a bit of a bus-man’s holiday, but in my spare time I do like to get involved with DIY projects in my own home. I’ve just completed a shower room re-fit. I tiled the floors myself but employed a professional for walls, as I know what needs to look good. I also used a plumber for the radiator, but the remainder was done by me with help from a couple of friends.

I generally finish work for the day at around 6:30pm, unless I have an evening appointment to go and meet a potential new client. I’ve always been a keen sportsman and am still playing competitive hockey at the weekends. I’m nearing retirement hockey-wise but help out at our local club and try to do hockey training once a week. Otherwise I spend my free time being a Taxi driver for our teenage kids, or avoiding taking the dog for a walk.

If you are planning a major building project then get in touch. It’s never too early to talk and hear how CLPM can help make your building project a success. Call 01923 896550, email info@cl-pm.com or complete a contact form. 

CLPM Project Managers cover London, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, and West Sussex. Energy Consultancy and Cost Advice services available across the UK.