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Through the lens of a project manager: How experience, proactive work style and foresight can help mitigate project schedule risks

By Tej Badhesha, Senior Director, Western Region – Canada, Project & Development Services

Good drivers scan the landscape a block ahead for potential threats, rather than reacting to the tail lights of the car in front of them when the unexpected happens.  The same principle applies to project management, where risk factors are harder to spot and the unexpected is far from uncommon. That’s why great project managers need more than just technical skill: They need foresight and a proactive approach to risk management.

Managing cost and schedule risks requires a critical eye when examining Architectural & Engineering drawings with their associated specifications.  Are the specs in line with the client’s cost and quality priorities?  Can equipment and materials be delivered and installed in time?  Is there enough flexibility in the plan to handle changes in scope and other issues that might arise?  To cope with potential threats, you first need the analytical capacity to identify them—the sooner the better.

But foresight is useless if nothing is done to support and execute it in a timely fashion. Project managers need to be proactive in ensuring that clients understand the relative risks and costs of every possible course of action.  The project manager is the client advocate, in place to objectively ensure that architect and contractor partners also act in the best interest of our clients.

A proactive approach often means managing client expectations:  Good project managers understand how design/engineering and construction decisions, with all the peripheral moving parts of Furniture, IT, AV, Telephony and Security, affect a project’s schedule and quality – and it’s essential to clearly convey that knowledge to the client.

Being proactive can also involve looking for solutions that may be outside the scope of what a project manager might typically be expected to do.   At Cushman & Wakefield that can mean tapping into brokers, facility managers or financial services experts for ideas, especially if the client relationship goes beyond project and development services.

A good example of proactive project management involves a recent interior buildout assignment for a Professional Services firm that was relocating to a new  building.  The project was already on an accelerated schedule to have the space ready in time for the critical move date, when an unanticipated hiring surge added 15 percent to the client’s headcount.   While some open office plans have the flexibility to accommodate the extra people more easily, most Professional Services firms prefer traditional space with increased closed spaces and private offices  that make quick planning adjustments more challenging

Thus, the unexpected increase in headcount meant the space would have to be reconfigured and undergo a new round of plans, client approvals and construction documents for the field to implement. Meanwhile, the deadline for completion remained fixed and loomed over the team with added pressure to ensure creative solutions or a solid contingency plan was in place for Day-1.

Our project team looked at ways to accelerate the construction process, such as working around the clock and sequencing subcontractors closer together with less margin for error.  These methods would have allowed us to save time, but that speed and after-hours efforts would come at considerable cost and with a heightened chance of serious error.

However, the team considered another approach that a less experienced project manager might have missed.  With the client’s approval, and working closely with our Broker partner, we negotiated with the landlord of the existing lease to extend the client’s occupancy by an additional month at no net cost impact. That allowed our team to make the necessary changes and gain client approvals in time for the new move-in date.   We still had a lot to accomplish in a very short time, but the additional four weeks alleviated the cost and risk factors.

This case illustrates how a proactive approach, a willingness to question the unlikely and to reach within the organization to leverage existing relationships all combined to result in a positive outcome that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We like to operate as true partners for our Broker partners and our mutual clients, always mindful of the risks and bottom-line impacts so that we can strive to bring added value and creative solutions to the table in solving any challenge that may arise.

Tej Badhesha has been involved in Project & Development Management services within the corporate commercial real estate industry progressively for over 20 years. He is an award winning Senior Director who has provided extensive real estate solutions both nationally and globally.

 

 

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