Project Management

miss_rumphius_rules(z6 NJ)October 27, 2005

It seems to me that a related thread about working with others started turning into this topic instead. Project management is a relatively complex subject and can encompass a broad range of topics. It might be useful to start off with a discussion of what is typically under the umbrella of project management in an upscale residential landscape design installation. Let's assume the project is 'typical' and includes some grading and hardscaped details along with the planting, irrigation and lighting. How would you approach a 'typical' project and how do you define your management style?

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Ms. R.,
I am freshly worn dog gone out from a recent Project Management position from Hell.

It was the worse case scenario going in and it only got worse as the project lumbered on.

Never under any circumstances will I ever undertake the position of Project Administrator if I cannot choose to bring in my own subcontractors.

It's challenging enough being a woman in a mans job and administrating a project with your regular subs but it is down right combatant when you have to manage subcontractors that your client brought in and who are hell bent on making your life misreable because they harbor resentment about you and your company's position.

I have never had much trouble in the past 17 + years administrating projects in which I/we was incharge of setting up the teams.
I've been in this biz long enough to have working relationships with a variety of tradespeople who I respect and they respect our company.

Sure the regular crap happens , like one sub falling behind and the other(s) are impacted because of it. But at least I/we can work something out because of the strong team effort that permiates our projects and quite frankly our projects are usually efficiently run and enjoyable to be on.

This efficiency comes from a tremendous amount of preplanning , handholding and legwork during the project as well as occasionally sheilding the contractors from the clients and vice versa .

This is why I no longer call myself a project manager but instead ...." Super Construction Nanny".

You ask how we would describe our management style.
My style would be termed friendly, open minded, proactive , helpful but forceful when push comes to shove.
I am , after all, The Advocate for my client, and in that position I have to fight for fair and reasonable 'augmentations' that may rear their ugly heads ( ie, the dreaded 'change order' )
At the same time I have great empathy for the various contractors because I know the hardship they / we have in doing our daily jobs.

Not to pat myself on the back , but the phrase that I most often here from both my repeat clients and the various contractors that I come in contact with is that I am a very fair facilitator.
In this last past week I have heard that term used on a few different projects we are working on.
Facilitation between the Gestapo like Design Review boards, facilitation between client and general contractor when we are the subcontractors, and facilitation between stubborn contractors whose schedules are not cooperating with one another.

I feel like I could type on for hours and hours on this subject , droning on about this and that.
Project management can be a challenging position , it is not for the faint of heart or someone who can easily get pushed over or intimidated.

I would not recommend a project management position to anyone who hasn't been in the trade for awhile because that is one of the things that creates a good working bond between you and your contractors.
If you can demonstrate that you know the construction business then you have already proved that you can join the team.

.... have I written enough yet..... as I said, I can drone one for hours and hours and hours on this subject.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2005 at 10:02PM
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Perhaps I come from the old school ...

Hiring subs was never significant in "upscale" or any other projects I built as a landscape contractor .. we were tradesman or technicians we did not need to rely on others to build what we envisioned and designed ... if we could not build what we envisioned we rightly left it for someone else to build.

Hence we did not have the friction on projects that some of you describe ... the biggest ego was the owner ... the biggest profit went to the owner ... the management syle could afford to be simple and blunt ... morning coffee .. work like hell to lunch .. buy the crew lunch .. work like hell to the end of the day ... shake hands and go home and what happens on the job stays on the job.

That was then today there are legal aspects to contend with .... here in my state a general contractor is a legal title and a general can not work on a project unless there are more then three trades or subs involved and a sub or "designer" has no legal business at all calling themselves a "general contractor" or a manger of other businesses besides their own business. Architects are licensed and are rarely if ever seen working on even "upscale" residential landscapes.

Licensed designers fall into a fuzzy classification ... they can make conceptual designs but are not licensed to build them so they attempt to highjack a landscape contractor business in an attempt grab more of the profits for themselves and fail to realize the landscape contractor has tens of thousands invested in capital and any good landscape contractor would never turn project control over to a designer.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 10:20AM
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Many of the projects that we work on have to include a variety of contractors, either by law, by union specification or just by the shear size and scope.

Because there can be so many trades people coming in under one umbrella there has to be organization as well as a point person who one and all can come to to make things right when things inevitability go wrong.

I don't swallow your last paragraph where you state that a landscape designer hijacks a general contractor so that s/he can grab more of the profits for themselves and that a 'any good landscape contractor would never turn project control over to a designer. '

I don't know what your project sizes and budgets are all about and who your clients hire as their landscape architect/ designer, but pretty much all of my clients want to see the designers involvement in the project in some form of project oversight whether it is a low end job of $80 to $100 thousand to a hirer end job in the low million. ( our budget range )

Someone has to look out for the interests of the client and the intent of the design and that is why the designer is often put a managerial advocate type position.
It isn't always about money, its about insuring a high standard of quality construction and that the collaborative vision of the client and designer comes to fruition.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 12:18PM
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"Someone has to look out for the interests of the client and the intent of the design and that is why the designer is often put a managerial advocate type position. "

.. and that someone should have a major financial investment in the project.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 1:48PM
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miss_rumphius_rules(z6 NJ)

So, are you saying that if you can't build it, don't get involved in it? That is old school. In today's climate of municipal and local controls, there are few who even want to take on some projects. Just yesterday I spent an hour (for the second time) in a permit office applying for 3 permits neccessary to build a simple 20 x 30 bluestone patio with simple built in BBQ. The client could have spent the time, the contractor certainly could have spent the time, but it was my responsibility as the administrator of the project. Does that make my participation less valuable than that of the licensed plumber who had to sign off on the gas line or the engineer who had to sign off on the grading and drainage? No, it just makes me the one who is coordinating all of those efforts to insure that the client gets the patio built. Is it a visable, sexy part of my job, no, but someone has to do it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 2:45PM
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"So, are you saying that if you can't build it, don't get involved in it? "

Well ... if you can't build it I would not be dictating critical decisions to contractors who's bottom line is at risk ??

"Adminastrator" .. "advocate" .. I don't like these words .. they are to safe sounding.

If your a designer and you want to manage the project then it's your job and you can run it and dictate quality and profits BUT you better be able to take complete financial responsibility if the worst case happens and the project in part or whole ends up a financial disaster ... their is no passing the buck. If sub contractor A flies the coup and burns up $5,000 or $50,000 of the projects budget you better be able to replace the lost funds.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 4:46PM
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Mohave it is apparent that the playing field that you ply your trade on is quite a different field then the field that Ms. R's or myself play on.

On highly detailed high end residential projects it is extremely rare that the designer does not have a role in the project oversight. We assume responsibility and we are also compensated for this responsibilty .

The amount of liability that the designer/architect assumes as CA ( CA = proper termilogy : Construction Administrator as defined in the standard AIA contract) is articulated in the contractual agreement at the onset of the project.
One can set their own rules in said contract for any amount of liability in regards to their obligation as long as they are argreed to by all involved parties.
Limits of liability can vary depending on the boundaries of the project set forth by either my attorney who draws up the contract on my behalf or the clients attorney or if keeping it simple for smaller projects a stardard boiler plate contract with or without amendments are submitted for approval.

One does not have to be a contractor to be able to recognize poor craftsmanship ( just one example ) and insist that it be installed up to the standards that were documented on the legally binding set of plans.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 8:01PM
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If you are administrator on the job, you are building it! It is no different than being the owner of your company and having your guys pour the concrete or plant the shrubs. You are the employer! The job does not get done without you anymore than your laborers are going to go out and do your landscaping without you to guide them.

This is exactly what I was talking about in the thread that inspired this one. The image some of those that come into this business have that you can pass off these jobs to contractors and have it get done and collect a substantial fee for "administrator" does not deal with reality as is clearly illustrated above. It is also not understood by small contractors that have that same notion as is also clearly illustrated above.

To really oversee a project is very tough hard work and you earn every penny of it. Not all jobs require anything more than a contractor to get the job done. But, go ahead an hand over a design that has any variables to random contractors and see what you get.

Charge your client twenty percent and wander around the site letting the contractor "interpret" your plan without checcking their work, without demanding the plan be followed exactly, without quality control, and see how long your client keeps you around.

I staked out a driveway a couple of weeks ago on a job that I am not hired to over see. They may have followed the stakes when they started grading, but I can tell you that after that they winged it. Now as a driveway it is fine. What they don't know is that there is a precisely laid out brick walk, a planting bed, a picket fence, and another planting bed on the other side of that which is all laid out parallel to the house. Folks, it ain't gonna fit. I'm also wondering if they actually chose that exposed aggregate or if they thought they were getting the native peastone chip seal that I recommended. I guess I'll hear about it. Now twenty percent does not sound that bad after all, does it?

I'm sure that contractor was thinking "why the hell did they have some pretty boy stake this job for us?". ... and I have no doubt why that same pretty boy took all those pictures of the paint and stakes.

Michelle is telling it like it is, as usual. It is a tough job to be in charge. If you expect to be in charge, you have to understand that, which is what I was trying to say in the other thread.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 10:01PM
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"Mohave it is apparent that the playing field that you ply your trade on is quite a different field then the field that Ms. R's or myself play on. "

I am involved with multi million dollar public projects on a regular basis and to tell you the truth I don't see designers anywhere ... architects have their names on the blue prints and show up for openning day. Then we spend the next twenty years fixing everything that was done wrong.

I think your taking this a bit personal ... Mich. I was simply answering Mrs R's question. In my own business I would choose to design and build my projects ... and I know that you and Mrs. R are good responsible designers .. the jist of my comments were not aimed at the "good guys" .. ( oops or gals ).

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 2:43AM
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.....architects have their names on the blue prints and show up for openning day. Then we spend the next twenty years fixing everything that was done wrong.

Perhaps that was the problem in the first place - no oversight as the project was going in.

;~ )

Something tells me that when Peter Walker shows up on opening day when his design is beginning to be implemented that he or anyone from his office will never be seen again until the project is over.

It just doesn't happen to projects where the architect and the client are invested in the design process.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 1:47PM
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Remember in the other thread "working with others", the point I was trying to make about being a sub contractor? Mojave makes my point. There is not an eagerness to be part of someone else's project. What contractor would like to be told what to do by someone who they perceive not to know "the real way" to do it vs. applying his own knowledge to do it as he perceives is that way?

I was asked "why so bleak". Now the one person who is stating his experience as a sub is answering the question. He is not wrong from his perspective. I have been in his shoes boots rather, and that is how it is. It is all perspective and you have to understand that it is very difficult to understand that perspective until you experience it.

All I'm saying is that you can not expect to hire subs and find people that want to take you under their wing (pay attention Landman) in order to have your job come out great. It can happen, but you can't expect it. You have to push it and it is a lot easier to push it if you are not in over your head. Sometimes the subs are incapable. Sometimes they are capable and resentful. Sometimes they are capable and helpful. Sometimes they are capable, but do not understand the entire project and why something is very important which is generally not important in what they usually do.

Is Mojave right that the jobs are poorly designed? Maybe. But, does he know all of the constraints and factors that were dealt with along the way? Probably not.

Would you be just as happy, cooperative, and comfortable to have someone marking up your work, telling you when and how to do it, deciding when your work is acceptable, deciding when and if you are getting paid, and taking credit for all of your work? That is the perspective of a subcontractor. Now throw in the belief that the person doing all that to you has never done the work that you do. If thast is not enough, throw in the notion that the person is also physically incapable of doing what you do. Finally, throw in the choice to work under that person or do jobs with no one being between you and the client. That is what you are up against in project management or as a subcontractor.

Choose your perspective, but it helps to understand the others perspective going into it. It aint fun and games no matter which of those hats you wear.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 6:51PM
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Well stated Laag ... very well stated. So to sum things up sa far on this thread : Connectivity and compassion are two concepts that every project manager should strive to develope.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 11:24PM
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"Connectivity and compassion are two concepts that every project manager should strive to develope."

... from your perspective. But, it is a two way street.

The sub wants the baby sitter out of the way so he can get the his job done, move on to the next one, and get paid. The PM has to make sure no one is ignoring the big picture or is going to impact the work or schedule of others. One agenda conflicts with the other, it is an inherent conflict.

So, connectivity and compassion are two concepts every sub should strive to develop as well.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 7:58AM
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miss_rumphius_rules(z6 NJ)

In another life, I had to manage many people and a big budget. One thing that I learned early on is that you get the best results if those you are managing feel that they have a vested interest in what they are doing beyond a paycheck. It's up to the manager to create that environment.

Conflict is not a bad thing and can create a synergistic environment in which everyone wins and the result is greater than the individual could achieve. Sure everyone's bottom line is getting paid and in the very fluid landscape industry, being able to move on to the next project/paycheck is paramount, but excellence doesn't have to be sacrificed in the process.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 8:12AM
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It is clear that the real burden to make the project work is on the PM. It is also clear, to me at least, that the subs do not instantly recognize that. It is clear to me that people not involved in projects that require a PM really understand what is involved. They often hear of high earnings and either resent it or want to assume the role without taking the responsibility of it, or don't understand the responsibility of it.

Anyone have any great stories of being a sub that helped out a new project manager? Has anyone other than Mojave ever been a subcontractor? Or are we looking at this thing from one perspective?

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 8:28AM
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I used to do sub-contract planting for a large landscaping contractor, my ability to read a plan as ridiculous as some of them were, was a real plus for them and I worked alongside my small team to ensure quality work. Because of this the contractor gave us more and more work and I decided to take on another crew who first worked along side us to learn the ropes and when I thought I could trust them to go out on their own I did. Three months later I had no more work from the contractor because the second crew lied about what they did and how long it took, used or stole my tools and time to do work of their own etc. I would lay out the plants according to the drawing and then move on to supervise another job which may have been across the site or across town.
I had a time sheet in front of me when the contractor called to find out the progress on a job as he was being pressed by the owner, I hadn't checked but the time sheet told me that the job was completed, I trusted that and told the contractor who trusted me and he told the owner. It so happened that the owner was calling from the site which had not been completed and everyone back down the line was fired as a result. You can see the mistakes I made but the checking on the integrity of employees is never ending and gets to be tedious.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 10:39AM
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Project : New Estate development in Ross, Marin CA.

We are the masonry subcontractor for a portion of the job that came under the generals contract to rebuild a stone wall and columns that were demo'ed at the start of project in order to bring large earthmoving equipt. onto site.

The remainding portion of our scope of work comes under a separate contract directly with homeowner whereas we then become the general contractor.

In the beginning there were two sets of plans drafted up by the Architect and the Site Engineer .

In one set of plans the stone columns are inline with the stone wall and in the alternate set of plans the stone columns are offset of the stonewall by 3 feet .
My office was given the set of plans that had the columns Offset . We bid to rebuild 3 new sets of columns.

We submitted a bid of $6000.00 to rebuild a set of 3 columns.

The General Contractor enclosed a $ 800 credit to the clients to rebuild the columns , ( this was at the start of job prior to him putting together his full team of subs)

Big discreptency. Major hold-up of final payment ( $$$) to GC, lots of not so happy people.

While at the P + B department on Friday reviewing city codes compliance and resubmitting for changes in the project I see the original set of plans submitted & immediately notice the Columns in Question shown in a different location than the set of plans that we were given to bid off of.

A series of phone calls were made by me to : Architect, Site Engineer, General Contractor, Planning Dept. and Clients and upon inspection of the old wall + duel sets of conflicting plans I was able to figure out a way that the General Contractor could have the columns rebuilt for far less than $ 6000. and in a very timely manner.
In the mean time in a previously phone call earlier on that week when the sh*t hit the fan I broke down the bid into line items and also resourced the materials that were no longer being quarried thus easily and cheaply available.

Yeah, its a long story that has lots of twists and turns but that is the nature of being a Project Manager even when you are not fully overseeing the complete project from the beginning of the job.
In the instance above I was more of a Facilitator during the last two thirds of the job and then full Project management kicked in as the terms of the contracts turned tables.
In the end, we have a great working relationship with the clients and an excellent relationship with the General Contractor.
The GC and the Clients still have some beefs with one another but as far as our standing goes, we are in good shape in all of the camps.

Cliff notes of this project- General Contractor just saved himself 5000 out of pocket , had several hours of resource information handed to him gratis and will be signed off the job as soon as the columns are rebuilt.

Facilitation is a beautiful thing.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2005 at 12:15PM
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