Paradigm Building & Remodeling: Professional Project Management
One thing often lacking in the residential building and and remodeling industry is professional project management for projects. While it was written about information technology projects in her book The Accidental Project Manager: Surviving the Transition from Techie to Manager Patricia Ensworth describes a common dilemma where a skilled technician is often elevated to a position where the are suddenly a project leader without any kind of training in the necessary skills of project management. Project management is a trade skill in an of itself.
I used four decades of exploring the science of project management learning what I could of the disciplines of Critical Path, Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM), Agile, Lean, Job-Shop Lean, Lean Construction, Last Planner, and what NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) promotes and teaches called Lead Carpenter and have developed what I call the “Lean Carpenter Methodology” and I am working on writing a book about it now.
It should go without saying that the key to a successful remodeling or construction project is good planning and good communication amongst all the stakeholders and project team members.
Basic Project Organization Consists Of:
- Document review
- Site logistics and planning
- Scope and budget assessment
- Value engineering
- Creating a project organization system that works for the intended project
Over the years I have developed a Cost Planning Program because we realized that research, accurate costing and thorough planning are the foundations of a successful building project.
- Cost planning helps you understand the details and decisions you will be required to make that will affect the cost of your home.
- Cost planning helps you avoid many of the uncertainties and disappointments that can occur during the designing and building of your home.
- Cost planning provides you with a realistic breakdown of labor and material costs up-front so that you know more accurately what your home will cost.
Cost Planning Consists Of:
- Review plans
- Material take-off lists
- Evaluation of material costs and alternative material options
- Selecting subcontractors and providing them with well written Requests For Proposals and proper Scope of Work Descriptions
- Reviewing the subcontractor proposals
- Evaluation of labor costs
- Preparation of project estimate documents for financing if needed.
Creating a the Pre-Construction Plan can take anywhere from an hour to several days depending upon the type of project and it’s scope, and may possibly require design review meetings, meetings with specialty trade contractors, trips to material suppliers, meetings with permitting authorities, and even more.
Plans and Specifications
Your building plans and specifications are your primary tools for communicating to everyone on the building team what you want built, and how to build it. The visual plans and written specifications work together — with the plans focusing on what to build, and the specifications focusing on the how to build it.
Plans in the case of remodeling projects we need to take exact measurements of the area(s) to be renovated, location of walls, outlets, switches, etc. This may include the entire home, and we transfer these into new CAD generated floor plan on our office computer. One set of existing and another including the changes. The production of these drawing can take anywhere from a few hour to several days again depending upon the type and scope of project you are considering.
Specifications which describe how the items drawn on the actual construction documents while mostly pulled from a database of specification boilerplate I’ve built up over the years still need to be tweaked and sometimes in the case of new processes or new building and remodeling materials have to be written from scratch.
Estimating is sometimes described as part art and part science, and it is often the biggest challenge of companies starting out and, if never mastered, will result in a short-lived firm. As a building and/or remodeling client you want to know that your contractor has a real estimating system and process in place and isn’t just winging it with every new project they look at.
Depending upon what stage you are at in your project planning there are different estimating methods with different degrees of accuracy that may be applied.
Order of Magnitude and Square Foot estimates while useful in the prelimninary planning stage are due to their inhereent inaccuracy virtually useless in prepareing a final bid or quote. They are essentially just “Ballpark Estimates”. They give way to Parametric and Systems (Assembly) Cost Estimates as the project elements start to get defined and eventually lead to Detailed Unit Cost Estimates based on actual materials and/or labor takeoffs. It only in the Detailed Unit Cost Estimate stage that the estimator can really take into consideration and cost plan with The Golden Rule of Construction Cost Estimating (as quoted from Richardson Engineering Services General Construction Estimating Standards) in mind.
Consider not only the cubic foot, cubic yard, lineal foot, square foot, pound or ton but all of the complicating conditions encountered in putting the materials in place
In the mid 1990s after having a few years of computer use under my belt and a little bit of hack programming experience I set out to develop my own software for recording and organizing estimating data and tracking its accuracy and that program some twenty years later has become part of the 360 Difference Platform of Macintosh, iOS, and Windows construction management tools I market and sell today.
Bidding or Tendering
Once you’ve got a detailed plan for your project, described in accurate drawings and written specifications, it’s time to put your project out to bid. Whether you are hiring a general contractor to perform most the work, or you are an owner-builder soliciting bids from subcontractors, the same strategies apply. The goal is to get the best work at the lowest price.
Unless you are paying cash for your project, you will need a construction loan to pay for the materials and labor, and you can use it to buy the land as well. Construction loans are a little more complicated than conventional mortgage loans because you are borrowing money on something that doesn’t yet exist. The bank wants assurances that you (and your contractor if you are hiring one) can get the house built on time and on budget.
A new home or large remodel involves a lot of people with different interests who need to work cooperatively to complete your project. The three main tools for communication among this group are the plans, specifications, and contract. Without a written contract, the plans and specs are of little value as they only describe what is to be built, but not who is responsible for what tasks, and how you will handle payments, changes to the plan, hidden conditions, delays, construction quality, defective work, warranty issues, and disputes.
Designing and Managing the Project Schedule
In short Lean Carpenter Methodology is a process methodology ideally suited for High-Variety Low-Volume (HVLV) Job Jobs which fits the description of 96% of most building and remodeling contractors according to a study performed and reported on by Joint Center for Housing Studies Harvard University in 2007 (link). Its a mix of Lean and Critical Chain Project Management applied over the Lead Carpenter framework. It’s more modern structured way of thinking about workflow that results in faster delivery pf projects. While its a lot more detailed than I want to describe here this illustration speaks volumes…
Many larger construction companies employ very few tradespeople and do all or most of their work with subcontractors. As an owner-builder, you are also likely to hire a number of subcontractors to complete phases of the job that you cannot or choose not to handle yourself. On many jobs, the quality of the final project depends heavily on the workmanship of the subcontractors. So it is important to find and hire good subs and to manage them effectively.
Despite your best efforts to nail down every detail prior to construction, there will always be loose ends to tie up at the start of the job and during the course of the project. This may involve costs, design details, job-site issues, contract procedures, or concerns about quality and workmanship. You don’t have to document every little item that comes up for discussion, but anything that is important to you – or that involves a lot of money – should be documented in writing.