Project Management

You may choose to have your architect or designer stay on as full project manager or you may have an arrangement where your builder is the project manager and the designer takes on an overview role. Project Management is important.

If you’re wanting to be your own project manager and you’ve never done any building before, may we suggest you don’t. Building a house is far more complex than you realise, and there is a reason why Kevin McLeod regularly makes the comment “I’m not sure they know what they’ve got themselves into…”. This is especially relevant today as responsibilities for the quality of the build stay with the professionals employed on the site for ten years – including the project manager.

However, should you still wish to pursue such folly, we have some suggestions below. And if you think there’s a lot of ground to cover, you are correct. Please realise you’re undertaking a project likely to take 12 months at least, employ around 50 different specialists, use hundreds of different products and which costs around half a million dollars – give or take half a million dollars…

Whichever path you take – make sure the arrangement is fully spelt out in the building contract and there is clear understanding over what responsibilities belong to which party.

There are specialist project management companies and, while this may be a bit more expensive, this can take many of the hassles out of the whole building process.

BRANZ (the Building Research Association of New Zealand) has a list of Accredited Advisors who can also manage a building project, or even specific elements within the overall job.

You may wish to be the project manager yourself. Ensure you have the time – it requires a lot – and, ideally, the expertise. The Building Code is a complex and exacting rule book and the technical aspects of many components of the building process are important to get right.

Be aware that Restricted Building Work will need to be done by a Licensed Building Practioner or at least supervised by one. Building Your Own House

The good news is you are allowed to build your own house without having to be an LBP. Any work you do still has to meet the Building Code and you will still need Council Building Consent and inspections to ensure you’re building correctly. Click here to find out more…

Planning: The Key to Project Managing

Project Management through Planning is the key to any successful building and will help avoid costly problems and delays.

If there is one thing the building industry is notable for, it is over-promising on delivery and always, but always being late!

You plan as a matter of course in your business, but how systematic is it? How many times have materials or people not shown up on time – and could the problem have been avoided if you had organised and planned far enough ahead? How much does it cost you while you wait?

The secret to good project management is to be able to think ahead and know:

  1. Who will be involved
  2. What materials are needed and when
  3. Anticipate possible problems or hold ups
  4. Identify critical time related issues (Milestones) that must be completed before you can proceed to the next stage

Because construction requires the integration of numerous trades in your building, the management of subcontractors is an essential part of project management. As main contractor it is YOU who is totally responsible for all planning and project management.

The system we recommend using is the Project Management Bar Chart. This Bar Chart lists all the activities associated with the project and the time each step takes. Each item is movable, so you can factor delays in on an ongoing basis.

Here’s how to put one together:

Building Your Project Management Spreadsheet

Using all this information it’s now time to start the actual planning so:

  1. Enter the activities listed below into a spreadsheet, listing the individual steps vertically down the left-hand column. Block out the number of days for activity in that row. Each cell represents one working day.
  2. In the next row down, begin the next coloured block at the appropriate time (it may be concurrent, sequential or there may be an overlap).
  3. Starting with step 1 and working through each step, block out the boxes for the number of days allocated to complete the work. (You will need accurate time estimates from your sub-contractors).
  4. This will give you a rough working for the length of time for the full project. Note: Activities won’t necessarily be finished in a specified timeframe just because you want it to and it’s better to be honest with yourself on how long things will take rather than lie and have to front up about it later. Remember – you need to plan your life around this project. It also means that when one item is delayed, you can quickly see the knock-on effect on other items in your project and for the overall timeframe for the project, too.
Project Management Spreadsheet

Day to Day management…

  • You can start to see when the next step can start well in advance and alert your subcontractors accordingly, adjusting each step in the process by monitoring daily. Overlaps and concurrent work can be shown on your chart and it highlights both conflicts in activities and timings and resources.
  • Make sure you hold your sub-contractors and suppliers to account. If they say they’re going to be there on a specific day and time, make sure they are. Note when they don’t show up. Now you can start to monitor who your underperforming subcontractors are.
  • Now you can see them before they happen and you’re on top of your project and managing it!
  • While your lines should generally indicate the length of time needed to complete each activity, in some cases there is no essential start and finish time required — for example, external drainage. In such cases, the line on your chart should show the earliest possible start time, and most importantly the latest completion time for that activity. However, on that line it is also essential to show the number of days required to complete the activity so the extent of the work involved is always visible.
  • Note the latest ordering dates for any prefabricated work such as pre-nailed wall framing, roof trusses, metal windows and doors, timber doors, kitchen joinery, internal fittings and fixtures, to ensure these items are delivered on time.
  • Also identified on your bar chart should be the BCA Inspections, as these will normally be linked to the completion of activities and play a very significant part in your project management of the building.

What you have now is an easily understood visual representation of the job. A copy should be on site for all parties to view (showing updates), and is a lever to make everyone involved accountable in achieving your targets.

Example of Items:

Assuming a house with a concrete slab and following the construction sequence as closely as possible, first build a list of steps consisting of the following (you can modify to suit your own needs):

  • site establishment
  • site boundaries and building profile
  • boxing, DPC and reinforcing to perimeter foundations
  • services under-floor
  • concrete to perimeter foundations
  • fill, boxing ,DPC, reinforcing to floor slab and thickenings
  • concrete to floor slab
  • erect pre-nailed wall framing
  • erect pre-nailed roof trusses
  • external trim
  • roof cladding
  • spouting
  • external wrap including preparing openings
  • external windows and doors
  • external cladding
  • external painting
  • complete internal wall framing
  • ceiling battens
  • plumbing/piping
  • electrical wiring
  • door & frames
  • Internal lining
  • kitchen installation
  • fixtures and fittings
  • plumbing fittings
  • electrical fittings
  • external drainage
  • internal trim
  • painting
  • landscaping
  • cleanup

The range, detail and order of activities will depend on the design and construction of the house, but each sub-contractor should be identified as a separate activity so these can clearly be seen fitting into the programme. More than one step may need to be completed before a specific activity is started, and several activities often can start at the same time.

Now estimate how many days to allow for each of these activities. Make allowances for things going wrong – you must be reasonably generous in your approach to this number-crunching exercise and not use the ideal number of days.

At first this process may not be that accurate. It is not a guessing game, and the more experience you have the more accurate will be the outcome. Every day on a building site is different and subbies often have things that interfere with their timeliness, but be firm.

Using a chart like this helps give:

  1. An easily understood timeframe and sequence for each step in the building project
  2. A more accurate estimation of the timeframe for the whole project
  3. A good basis for letting you know whether a job is worth taking on
  4. A good method for identifying poor performing suppliers and sub-contractors so you can sharpen them up or ship them out

Building Project Management:
Your Checklists

So, you are about to successfully project manage your next building!

Have you set up your systems and processes and prepared your plan complete with your Project Management Spreadsheet? You can’t expect to take up the role without doing your homework, so before starting this role ensure the following are set up:

  • full contract details set up and signed
  • building consent approved building documentation available
  • sub contractor systems set up and notified
  • staff allocated
  • bar chart with all activities completed
  • risk analysis completed
  • quality system with check sheets established
  • site health and safety plan established
  • process for handling variations set up

Now you are about to start on site and as this is one of the busiest times, the following is your initial checklist:

  • full documentation ready for site usage
  • site survey booked for correct building set out
  • site establishment items identified and ready
  • initial personnel, including subcontractors, ready to start
  • priorities relevant to bar chat plan set
  • health and safety plan established
  • local authority requirements set in place

Running a meeting as a Project Manager

Meetings can be a good communications tool, dealing with problems efficiently and effectively, but they need planning as well. Meetings are often considered a waste of time, but in fact, they can be a very efficient way of communication. Done properly they are an excellent tool for Project Management.

Follow recognised guidelines and set a proper meeting structure by:

  • Notifying all parties well in advance of time and place.
  • Having regular meetings.
  • Issuing a full agenda prior to the meeting – just a simple email listing each item.
  • Stick to the agenda!
  • Circulating full minutes asap, including:
  1. what tasks were decided
  2. who is doing them
  3. deadlines
  4. Resolve outstanding issues first.
  5. Detail new unresolved issues in the meeting minutes.
  6. Encourage all attendees to actively contribute to the meeting – provide opportunities for anybody to propose items or topics for discussion.
  7. Ensure absent members are suitably represented and/or personally get the necessary meeting information.

Doing this will open up discussions for frank and honest comments that will resolve and often anticipate problems and will help ensure a smoothly run project.

Managing your Project Management Spreadsheet

The bar chart activities, timing and sequencing are useful guide in the planning of your building project and it’s better than going on a best guess estimate.

Its use as a tool to keep on top of subcontractors sequencing of work and being able to spot conflicts and trouble spots well in advance of them happening cannot be undervalued.

Make sure you:

  • Make a ongoing visual inspections of the site to gain up-to-date firsthand knowledge of the project.
  • Maintain feedback from all those on-site of their time expectations for completion of their activities.
  • Obtain an idea of timing from those not on-site whose activities should have been completed or are only partially complete.
  • Obtain an idea of timing of those who are meant to be on site but are not, whose activities are partially completed (and find out where they are!).
  • Obtain an idea is from those have not yet started work on site whose activities should have been partly or fully completed.
  • Identify partial or full completion of activities that are ahead of the time proposed on the bar chart.
  • Include feedback on progress for off-site prefabrication.
  • If things are running behind, ask those responsible to review their work and resources to get the programme back on time. This is the first warning shot to those guilty of dragging the chain!

Changes to the proposed dates are a critical time for the project manager. Remember, changes affect numerous parties and you need their support and co-operation. Communication is the key to ensure that what you’ve changed is known by everybody and you are totally responsible for that communication.

One thing is for sure, like the first price the client hears, the first completion date the client hears for his building is the one they will always remember, irrespective of all the changes that occur and the discussions and agreements made later.

Be realistic and if necessary overgenerous when giving approximate building completion dates to clients. Use only achievable target dates when establishing times for activities and setting the overall programme timeframe for the project, you end up gaining a reputation for completing buildings on time.

Using your bar chart for Resource Allocation

The calendar contract period that runs across the top your bar chart allows for resources used over a period of time to be visually identified and tracked. Resources for your building operations generally relate to plant and equipment. Some of these are for specific site activities, while others are for preliminary and general items for general site operations. For example:

  • Water pumps for foundation trenches.
  • Concrete placement gear; pumps, screeds, vibrators.
  • Concrete finishing equipment; power floats.
  • Grinding equipment.
  • Specialist hoisting gear.
  • Exterior scaffolding.
  • Raking supports.
  • Interior scaffolding.
  • Hydraulic lifter for sheet linings.
  • Stilts.
  • Upper floor temporary support systems.
  • Applied products mixing and application equipment.
  • Vacuumed sanding equipment.
  • Spray application equipment.

These can all be listed at the bottom of the chart in the first column and the calendar date for use on-site boxes filled in to show when they are needed on site.

Using your bar chart for Labour Allocation

Allocation of labour can similarly be identified on your bar chart to align with the activities, and the number of staff working on site can be visually identified. For the builder such labour allocation is best broken down into general and specialist trade skills and supervision for such roles as:

  • Carpenter.
  • General hand.
  • Concrete specialist.
  • Labourer.
  • External cladding [various].
  • Internal linings.
  • Finishings.
  • Leading hand.
  • Supervisor [working].

Such items are also listed down the left-hand column of the bar chart and the appropriate days across the chart relevant to each activity filled in.

Such information will allow you to juggle staff with particular expertise between sites, balance the number of staff on site over certain periods and be useful for quick visual identification of who is on site at any particular time.

However, a separate colour used for sub-contractor specific activities identified in the main part of your bar chart will show the number of different subcontractors that are on site at a particular time.

Note: Use the chart to determine the allocation of supervisory or management staff on site, once the full extent of the site operations and personnel and resources used becomes obvious.

Writing a report as a project manager

Properly presented, reports are vital to the construction process because of the everyday uniqueness of building operation and the need for proper documentation. Keep photographic documentation and write notes after every incident. Don’t forget your responsibilities for Health and Safety on site, Code of Compliance Certification and adequate construction insurance is in place.

Make sure it is:

  • Sufficiently detailed and relevant.
  • Valid.
  • The latest information.
  • Factual and accurate.

The basic format of a building project report is:

  • Name of Project.
  • Summary (how close to deadline did it finish, how close to budget, major issues, successes briefly covered off).
  • Construction breakdown into broad sections with notes on each section in detail.
  • Items from summary but in more detail.
  • Site issues, personnel.
  • How subcontractors performed.
  • Materials’ performance.
  • Suppliers’ delivery timing.
  • Issues with BCAs, etc.
  • Conclusion with discussion and recommendations.

While this is an outline of the systems that will effectively manage your project, what we don’t cover are the numerous decisions made – starting with the design of the project, through the build, changes on a daily basis, decisions around what to do when things go wrong (and they will), decisions on a fine scale and large.

We strongly recommend using professionals who are familiar with the processes and demands of a building project.

Project Management Results