Who should manage my building project? It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
“As a client one of the most important roles you have is deciding how the project is going to run. Get it right and the whole experience can be a real pleasure. Get it wrong and it can wreck lives, marriages, financial security and every dream you’ve had for the place.” Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs Handbook
If that doesn’t give food for thought, what will?
At the beginning of your building project everything is exciting. You’re inspired by your designers’ creative ideas, you’ve already made the mental leap into your finished home, imagining the colour of your curtains and the dinner parties that you’ll host in your new kitchen.
What you have completely passed by are the months in between…the nervous anticipation of achieving planning (the “will we, won’t we” game), seemingly endless hordes of builders and tradesmen traipsing in and out of what used to be your home, countless phone calls to utilities companies about the date for your gas meter move, waiting in for deliveries that never arrive… and so on and so on.
These small frustrations and disappointments will, after several months, leave you dispirited and slightly disenchanted with the whole process.
However, in the scheme of things these are minor inconveniences which will be forgotten once the building project is finished. Much more serious will be the consequences of failing to make the right choice about who will manage your building project.
When deciding who will be the best person to manage the building project you need ask yourself the following:
How much time do I have?
What previous experience of managing complex building projects do I have?
How much money do I have?
Being slightly flippant, if you conclude that you have all the time in the world to commit to the building project, previous experience of managing a large build and an endless pot of money to dip into if things go wrong then you might well decide to manage it yourself.
Looking more seriously at your building project management options, you need to also consider the following figures from an independent survey we recently commissioned:
80% of respondents had overspent on their build
50% had spent at least 10% more than they meant too AND half of those had overspent by 20% or more
Of those responding:
50% had “self managed”
9% had architect or designer managed
36% had builder managed
5% had “other” managed
So what’s the right choice for you? When making your decision about who will manage your building project, you might find the following helpful:
Building Project Management – Self Project Management:
- Your budget will look as though you have saved yourself some professional fees (the reality is that you actually may not have done as mistakes that you will almost certainly make can be costly to rectify)
- You will be completely involved in the process so know what’s going on all of the time
- You may very much want to “get your hands dirty” and have a genuine passion for the learning experience that managing your build will give you
- You probably will not have done this before and therefore not be experienced enough to spot design mistakes that only become apparent once you have started to build. If this happens, the design will have to be re-worked (probably at further expense and therefore cutting into your budget) and you may lose some of what you had originally hoped to achieve.
- Lack of experience may mean compromise further down the line. If you do not really understand the technical nature of what you are being asked to decide at certain critical points of the building project (or if the builder is deliberating steering you down a route that suits him best) choices you make through lack of knowledge might greatly reduce options that you have in the future. You can end up with the build that someone else wants.
- Your time will be hugely overstretched – if you are working, you will have to take time out of your role which could leave you or your company commercially compromised.
- If you have a family, the stress of time delays, worries about overspending and just the inability to have your own “space” can be very detrimental.
Building Project Management – Architect Managed
- The “architect / builder / client” combination is traditional and well recognised in the building industry. Builders are used to this arrangement and therefore not likely to be “put out” in a way that they may be if you use an independent, “unknown” third party such as a building project manager or quantity surveyor to manage the works.
- The architect will know your design inside out and will therefore be able to ensure that there is consistency in the design as the build progresses.
- Your architect might be a great designer but a poor building project manager. The main architectural function is one of design – practices are established with this as their main service offering. Building project management can be done and is offered by many but it is secondary to design work. Not everyone has the right skill set to be a good manager of time, cost and people!
- Cost issue 1 – you will be paying building project management fees to an architect – their charge for that service will almost certainly be higher than any other party you might choose to employ for the role.
- Cost issue 2 – many architectural practices will only consider building project management of one main contractor. It might be more cost effect for you as the client to “buy” different elements of the build separately eg, glazing, kitchens, bathrooms. Your architect is unlikely to want to manage all of those different suppliers and therefore you many spend thousands more on your build than you need to.
- Time on site – your architect will have many pressures on his or her time, not least of which is to ensure that the design work that he or she founded the practice on is being completed. If they are unable to commit to being on site two or three times a week then the chances that changes are effectively communicated, costed and monitored is quite low. This could mean a dispute about the builders’ final bill at the end of the job.
- Possible of conflict of interest within their roles of architect and Contract Administrator. As your designer, the architect will want perfection from the build…nothing less than 100% in attention to detail. However in their role as the person overseeing the building contract, 95% good might be good enough. Their Contract Administrator “head” will know that to redo work that is good enough (but not the best) will cost the client money but their architectural “heart” might want perfection.
Building Project Management – Independent Building Project Manager Managed
- The clue is in the title, “independent building project manager”. This will be someone who works for you, is not part of the design or the build teams and is therefore responsible for ensuring that your interests (not those of the designer or builder) are protected.
- The person you employ for this function will have plenty of building project experience. They are likely to be from an engineering or construction background and therefore have the technical ability to challenge design or building issues where they conflict with your wishes.
- Their key function of the role is to be a more technically competent version of yourself and so can help you make good decisions based on clear information.
- Communication: an independent project manager will want to be on site regularly. Part of this will be to discuss, record and ensure that changes are costed as they happen. This independent role can also be invaluable to communicate difficult requests to your building team, particularly if you are getting stressed by something that is going on in the build or want to make changes. Taking the “emotional heat” out of a situation (and if necessary the project manager taking on the role of the “bad guy”) can be invaluable to keep the relationship with the builder on track and the build progressing.
- You have an option to save money through “buying” your project in “packages”. An independent project manager will be ideal if you want to buy parts of the build from different sources. They have the time and ability to co-ordinate a wide range of suppliers and can help you source and price high cost items such as glazing, kitchens, bathrooms and specialist products from a variety of providers, thus enabling you to save money on these purchases.
- You are very heavily dependent upon one person for managing a great deal of the information that you need. If this relationship breaks down, they are ill or unable to complete your project you may be in a vulnerable position.
- More fees – there is a cost attached to using a project manager. Depending on the size of your project and how you want to set it up, a building project manager may or may not make sense. However, a good one will be able to give you a reasonably accurate idea of how much they will cost you before you employ them.
- More “due diligence” – as with other members of your team (architect, builder etc), if you use a project manager it is imperative that you check their references and their insurance cover. It needs to be done but it is another job to add to your already long list.
- You may find that your are less involved than you want to be – if you are the kind of person who really wants to know every detail of what’s going on, using an independent building project manager may not suit you.
Building Project Management – Builder Managed
- Using one main builder who employs and manages all of the subcontractors can make the build process simpler and allows you and your designer to concentrate on the design side of the building project.
- Some builders offer a “design and build” system. This can be a quick and cost effective solution and again, means you don’t have to engage with a large number of different parties.
- A good builder will have a team of specialist trades people who have frequently worked together. This should mean swift progression through the job and no personality conflicts to deal with.
- You are very dependent upon the builder being a competent manager of his time, your money and his staff.
- The builder is not independent of the process – their job is to build in the most time and cost effective manner for their firm. At different stages of the build you will be asked to make technical decisions – you might be offered option A or option B. However, there might also be options C, D and E available. If you do not have sufficient technical knowledge about the build process, you will not know to ask the right questions to get the information you need.
- A “design and build” option will almost certainly mean choosing from a catalogue of standard houses – this means that you will get a home that lacks your input and personality.
- Keeping the builder motivated for the final phase and finishing of the job can be a challenge. Hopefully you will have been sensible enough to retain a sufficiently high percentage of the price to make him keep turning up to site and return at the end of the defects period to do the snagging.
- Should the relationship begin to deteriorate, you may find yourself in a desperately difficult and stressful situation. If things get so bad that you ask the builder to leave or he walks off of the job, finding someone willing to take over that work may be very challenging. There are complex issues about who will be legally responsible for which elements of the work should the work prove to be sub standard in the future.
There are lots of options to consider and ultimately your decision is based upon those three key elements referenced to earlier; your time availability, your experience of building projects and the money available for the project.
We started with Kevin McCloud and we’ll finish with him: “The truth is that the less professional help you get, the more likely the project is going to be compromised one way or another. Without good management, it’s going to be delayed; or over budget; or the quality’s going to suffer; or the design will be compromised; or detail decisions won’t get the kind of attention from you that they deserve; or you’ll find yourself highly stressed and deeply unhappy doing a job you don’t quite understand”*
Wise words indeed.
- Kevin McCloud, Grand Designs Handbook
About the Authors: ClearPlan Project Management are an independent building project management consultancy who save their client’s time, money and stress. Applying commercial construction processes and principles to the domestic home renovation market, we provide support to ensure client’s “Build the Dream”.