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The construction process can be quite complex, with dozens or even hundreds of different elements involved. These include materials, equipment, subcontractors, project owners, and inspectors who must interact cohesively to complete the job. The individual responsible for overseeing this process and facilitating coordination and communication is the project manager. The project manager not only ensures that the building is completed according to the blueprints, but that it is delivered on schedule and within a specified budget. To manage these tasks successfully, he or she must rely on project management techniques and systems that aid in project planning and control.
One of the most difficult elements to control is the project budget. Even with careful planning and estimating, hidden construction issues or mistakes can add unexpected costs to the job. To keep costs under control, it's important to find a tracking system that works for both the project manager and the contractor's accounting office. Project management software like Timberline or Prolog is one popular way to control the budget, as are simple spreadsheets. Take the time to set up the budget in one of these systems well before the first invoice is received. Work with accounting to develop cost codes for each category on the job. This helps to ensure that the project is on budget, and also indicates areas that may go off-track. For example, tools and safety equipment may be placed under cost code 10-150. All receipts and invoices in this category should be marked with this cost code so that expenses can easily be tracked. Many contractors rely on the MasterFormat codes, which were developed by the Construction Specifications Institute. To control costs associated with change orders, ask subcontractors to submit a thorough breakdown of their price. This includes hourly labor rates, material prices, tools, equipment, taxes, overhead, and profit. Having the price broken down in this way will allow the project manager to review the cost more easily. This keeps subcontractors from inflating their prices, and may also help the project manager evaluate alternative options.
The various elements of a construction project are interdependent on one another. This means that a simple delay by one trade can cause the entire project schedule to unravel. This can lead to major cost impacts, as well as lawsuits or unhappy clients. To improve the odds that the project will be completed on time, it's important to take the time to develop a schedule before contracts are awarded to subcontractors. Schedules should be completed using scheduling software, such as Suretrak or Project, which display the impact various activities have on one another. This schedule should be issued as part of the bidding process, and again as part of the scope review meetings after bids are received. Each major subcontractor should be asked about his or her ability to meet the schedule, and the schedule should then become a part of the contract. It is often worth paying a bit extra to hire a contractor who has the manpower and resources to complete the project on time, rather than simply hiring the lowest bidder and hoping for the best. Once the schedule is made part of the contract, all parties on the job are bound to the dates provided. This makes it easier for the project manager to require overtime, expedited shipping, or additional manpower at the expense of the subcontractor. During construction, the project manager should stay abreast of progress, and provide written notice of changes or additions to the time line. Another useful technique used to maintain the schedule involves looking ahead to the next two weeks of the project, then providing reminder notices to any trades who will be needed on site during that time.
Communication and Contracts
One major cause of headaches on the job site is poor communication between trades. This is often caused by poorly defined scopes of work, which leads to confusion over who is responsible for certain tasks. For example, a door contractor may supply doors, or may supply and install them. This contractor may also install aluminum storefronts, windows, cabinet hardware, rolling doors, or electronic locks. These various tasks are known as scope items. To minimize confusion, the project manager should take the time to carefully review the building plans during bidding, and use this information to create scopes of work. The scopes should be reviewed by applicable trades, then inserted into the contract. It is often tempting for the busy project manager to skip this step, and instead specify that work should be completed according to "plans and specs" or "project documents." This is a sure cause of confusion and miscommunication, and can leave the project manager with gaps in the scope, or with subcontractors arguing over who is responsible for specific tasks. By taking the time to write thorough scopes before the project starts, you improve your chances of having the job run smoothly. When disagreements arise, you'll be able to easily resolve them by referring to each party's contract. This will also prevent last minute disasters where you learn that no one is contracted to provide specific scope items, leaving you scrambling to find both contractors and available funds to cover this work.
Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.