If you are planning a major building project such as a new build, a renovation or a large extension to your home you’ve probably decided it’s a good idea to appoint an independent building project manager. But how do you choose the right independent building project manager for you, and your project?
In this blog we outline what you should consider, and why it makes sense to think carefully about what impact your decision will have both in the short, and the longer term.
How to Find the Right Independent Building Project Manager
If you are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, and/or have a limited amount of expertise or time to focus on your building project, then it makes sense to appoint an independent building project manager. They will act on your behalf and should get you a better result – while also significantly reducing your financial risk.
There are many people who can act as an independent building project manager. Typically, this might be a sole-practitioner – such as a freelance project manager, a quantity surveyor or structural engineer, or else a specialist multi-disciplinary construction consultancy (such as CLPM Ltd).
An Independent Building Project Manager is an Investment
Building projects are notoriously difficult to keep on budget. So, it is inevitable that you may be tempted to avoid the fees by attempting to cover the role yourself – or attempt to find a project manager for the lowest possible price. But this is a false economy.
It is a little-known fact that 9 out of 10 unmanaged building projects in the UK overspend by an average of 20 per cent. This means it is likely that an unmanaged £150,000 extension or refurbishment could incur £30,000 of extra costs. Hiring in a professional project manager will typically cost you around 8 per cent of your overall budget – but having the right professional by your side will reduce the stress on you and your family and could actually help prevent most of this overspend.
A good independent project manager should make sure your project gets off to a good start and will help keep the programme on track. Once onsite they should also help you keep on top of your project’s finances – and their experience should help you to avoid or minimise any unforeseen costs along the way.
14 Things to Consider When Hiring an Independent Project Manager
Whatever company or individual you choose; it is important to select the company based on their fit to your project, and to do your due diligence.
Here is a list of things to consider when looking at your options, and to help you make the best decision:
Do they hold relevant construction industry-related professional qualifications? Are they members of any industry associations? Check they are who they say they are.
The best project management companies are often well-known within the industry. Are they affiliated to any organisations such as the NSBRC or NACSBA? Do they run training programmes or present workshops? Have they been selected to write for or be experts for any of the well-known publications, shows or events?
3. Technical Expertise
Are they genuine construction experts? Have they managed complex projects such as those using modern methods of construction, or high levels of airtightness? Have they knowledge of traditional techniques like those used with listed or period properties?
4. Process & Procedural Knowledge
Contract Administration is a formal, legal role. Do they fully understand this role and are they able to advise you on the complexities of its execution?
Note: Your project manager needs to have a deep understanding of building contracts and Contract Administration so that they can ensure that your financial interests are protected. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on building sites and our clients’ projects has certainly highlighted the importance of CLPM having this depth of knowledge!
5. Organisational Skills
You would obviously expect a project manager to be well organised! But how does this translate into documentation? How are meetings held and how are the minutes circulated? What back office support exists to ensure that the project manager is efficient and that all communication are handed effectively?
6. Proactive Approach
Are they able to add value, for example by advising you on how to adapt or enhance your plans from a technology or sustainability perspective to make sure your decisions and financial investment are future-proof? Can they provide Cost Engineering expertise if your project is at risk of being over-budget?
7. Breadth of Knowledge
Are they sufficiently knowledgeable about all aspects of your project so that you benefit from a holistic approach for your project (e.g. related to Quantity Surveying, Building Regulations, Listed Buildings, Conservation Areas, Heating, Renewable Technologies or Sustainability), or will you need to pay for help from additional experts? Choosing a multi-disciplinary company will mean that your project benefits from a great deal more depth and breadth of construction experience. This often translates into a better solution to any site related issues which might arise. Likewise, having a project ‘team’ rather than an individual ensures ‘checks and balances’ and a variety of views meaning you get a higher level of independent oversight in the project.
Case Study: Mr and Mrs W, Wiltshire – our clients were planning to build a new timber-framed home. They had specified an unvented hot water system. When our project manager first visited the site he checked the mains water pressure and quickly realised that it was too low to run the unvented system. He then double-checked the plans and found there was insufficient room to add a cold water tank within the space – so he spoke to the client and liaised with the architect to redesign the roof and change to a vented system. Had this detail been missed by a less experienced project manager our client would have had a hot water system which did not work, and they would have had to retro fit and house a pressurisation unit – with all of the stress and cost implications involved.
The way the fees are structured, and the total amount you are quoted by project management companies can vary quite widely. Beware project managers who quote their fees based on the value of your project. This should be discouraged as they then have no incentive to keep your costs lean! In fact, if your project scope expands, you upgrade your specifications or the building works end up overspending you will also have to pay them even more money in fees! A fixed fee per month quotation may seem initially to be more expensive but is often lower in practice.
As fee structures vary, so can the quality and breadth of the service provided. Like any other purchase to do with your building project you need to balance the price you pay now, with the benefits and savings you may make later. This is not only true of the risk mitigation during the construction works themselves, but also in terms of how your project management company prevents errors or adds value before you even start onsite.
Case Study: Mr H, Kent – We recently started working with a couple who were planning to extend and refurbish their home. Their plans also involved upgrading their heating system by replacing their gas boiler with an Air Source Heat Pump. Current building regulations dictate that any new extension is to be insulated to modern standards. But there is no such requirement for original buildings. Upon reviewing their drawings, we noticed that they had not made any plans to boost the energy efficiency of the existing structure. Had we not had the specialist knowledge to fully understand this area, our clients could have made a very expensive mistake. As whilst the new parts of their newly refurbished property would have been warm, the rest of the house would have been cold as it struggled to retain the heat. In addition, our clients would have had extremely high heating bills too.
Many sole practitioners make their own jobs easier and some also take commission (which you indirectly pay for) by repeatedly recommending the same contractors. But this can lead to conflicts of interest – which are likely to be in the builder’s and project manager’s favour rather than yours. Make sure Your project manager is truly independent.
Is the project manager covered by sufficient professional liability insurance? You should expect insurance at least £250K – but the better project management companies (such as CLPM Ltd) provide £1million per project.
11. Relevant Experience
Have they completed several projects of a similar scale and type to yours? The more experienced companies should have a portfolio of case studies to show you. Avoid giving a large or complex project to a project manager who is used to managing building works which are more modest or straightforward.
Case Study: Mr and Mrs S, Ealing – Our clients had originally appointed a local sole practitioner to oversee their project; which was a conversion of a large residential house into 5 flats. After a few weeks onsite the project manager, who was obviously out of his depth, suddenly walked away leaving them with quality problems and some serious invoicing and programme issues. CLPM stepped in to help, and undertook a review of the build, analysed the payments against the contract and then drew up a new schedule with the contractor, before overseeing the project to completion in the roles of the Contract Administrator and Principal Designer.
12. Holiday & Sickness Cover
What cover arrangements do they have for prolonged periods of absence? If you appoint a sole practitioner, you could easily have several periods with no cover for your project. By comparison, a company with a team of project managers will seamlessly cover any time off.
Can you meet with, or speak with previous clients? Remember, no testimonial will be without its criticism as building is by its very nature a challenging time, but getting a ‘warts and all’ report helps you understand how the project manager has dealt with difficulties and can be very useful to help select your project manager.
14. Personal Fit
Do they speak your language? It is important to feel like your values are shared by your project management company. It is also good to meet with and check that you have a natural rapport with your chosen project manager. Afterall you will probably be talking to them on an almost daily basis throughout the life of your project!
We do hope you’ve found our blog on How to Find and Hire the Right Independent Building Project Manager useful.