Why not cut out the middleman?

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As has been rightly said: if you are going to be asked for decisions all the time why not save yourself the bother and do it yourself. Surely it can’t be that difficult to be a project manager.

Laurie Sice of sbh.uk is understanding: “In an era when cost-cutting is a byword it may seem to make sense for managers who normally run a logistics operation to believe that they can manage a new build or extension, using perhaps a main contractor and a few key subcontractors.”

Indeed, Keith Boardall of cold storage specialist Reed Boardall has done just that and very successfully. Reed Boardall has had an on-going expansion programme at its 50 acre site in Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire since arriving there in 1992. It has now reached Phase 9 with cold storage covering some 426,012 sq ft and 92,000 pallet spaces. There is 100 kilometres of rack space and the facility has the capacity to blast freeze 150 tonnes per day.

Project managers have never been used. Design and build is managed by group managing director Keith Boardall: “I like to keep it simple. If I have a project manager he is only going to ask me for decisions so I may as well do the job myself.

Hidden extras

“I employ contractors directly. Together we decide what has to be done, agree time scales and fix a price. We have site meetings every fortnight with all contractors and I’m on site every day so I can keep an eye on progress and the job is done. There are no disputes or hidden extras. Everyone sticks to the agreement. In our case, I don’t know what a project manager would bring to the party.”

Boardall has the one thing that all project managers have – experience. Graham Prisk of Knight Frank says project managers use experience to deliver value. And this is a recurring theme. As Maurice Dalton of ProLogis points out: “Someone doing a one off project does not get the opportunity to learn and grow their knowledge base.” With ProLogis doing 20+ projects in any one year their project managers are going to have things down to a pretty fine art. A recent project saw the team save the client £1m in procurement costs alone.

In effect experience pays. Sice says: “It’s very easy to overlook even obvious requirements when the project is just one of the activities taking your time and attention – or to fail to appreciate the benefits of “what if” thinking.”

He cites a couple of examples where a client’s reluctance to take advice cost the company dearly. “In one case the client rejected the idea of having a standby generator installed, only to experience a power failure at a critical time soon after opening. And another could not see the sense of spending a little more at the time of building to have a floor suitable for VNA, as they did not plan to operate such equipment at the time. Three years later when business patterns changed, they had to incur many times the original cost to have the floor modified for VNA equipment.”

Avoiding pitfalls

He adds: “It’s surprising how often the same building elements are overlooked at the planning stage, costing far more to add as an alteration to plan than if they had been part of the original specification.”

These include electrical services, staff protection, environment and waste disposal even dock levellers – a basic is the correct dock height.

Nick Pettit of Bidwells warns that there are many pitfalls before one can even think of starting to construct a building: “Just look at planning which is becoming more and more onerous. [It] is always a much bigger [prospect]than people anticipate especially when consulting the public”. For example, he says the size of a building must be clearly defined. “Before you know it you can compromise on height and easily lose a meter only to find that because of that you cannot use racking system you would like.”

One of the biggest bug bears many will have with their project managers is the endless meeting before there is any action to be seen. Prisk recounts how he was challenged by a client on this very subject in a meeting with 18 others all involved in the project. “The client stopped me and said ‘Graham explain why I have to go through this level of detail now because the building isn’t going to be up for 10 months why can’t I worry about it then’.

“My response went: ‘If we don’t define accurately what we need then the spec and the budget will be wrong in the first place and the whole thing falls apart’.

A few months down the line, the client felt confident enough to tell Prisk that he understood why he had been put through all the pain.

Alan Stewart of Graftongate says that should you use a project manager the most important point to remember is communication.

Two teams

“For example we were dealing with a large warehouse scheme with separate offices procured from a developer under a lease arrangement. In this circumstance there were two teams in place – the customer’s team led by a project manager and the developers team led by their project manager with external project manager in the employers’ agent role. Although this isn’t unusual it is possible to see how egos can come into play.

“The customer’s project manager had his brief from the end user for their requirements, the clients’ project manager had his brief and he in turn provided the brief to the employer’s agent, so it is easy to imagine how different end games can be played out leading to disagreements.

“In this case disagreements came about due to mis-communications of the sprinkler spec requirements as well as for the power supply end need, both resolved following lengthy technical and cost meetings, both situations easily avoided if (a) the respective project managers had communicated properly, (b) the objectives for the scheme had been shared at the outset and not kept within teams and (c) the financial agreement between the parties had been properly understood by all.

“Poor communications are always at the root of all problems on a project, sometimes due to a lack of ability and as often quite deliberately, either way disagreements or disputes can be avoided by diplomacy and tact as well as strong skills in people management. When successful it is invariably due to the efforts of a first class project manager whether or not he or she has been appointed to that role or not,” says Stewart.

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