Time on your side: The value of effective project management

by FM Media
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BENJAMIN NAUGHTIN, national capital projects manager at AMP Capital, shares seven ways in which to improve capital works programming.

What is the difference between facilities mangers and Doctor Who? Facilities managers need to manage time to be successful. Doctor Who doesn’t manage time as he relies on the TARDIS – with totally unpredictable results. It may be time for facilities managers to consider their capital work projects as the TARDIS; if you’re not in control, then you could be lost in space…

It’s no secret that facilities management is becoming much more complex. Facilities managers are facing an increasing need for excellent tenant engagement, controlling operating costs, decreasing capital budgets and ageing assets, while still ensuring that capital works are delivered on time and on budget, all while meeting stringent quality expectations. Project management skills are more important than ever in order to allow facilities managers to meet all of these challenges.

Facilities managers often fall into the trap of working under pressure in a reactive state and don’t capitalise on the benefits that good time management and planning can bring. They often leave capital work projects on to-do lists, with important matters getting little attention until time pressures build up. And that’s when many of us move into the reactive project management space. Panic sets in, designs are rushed, tendering is ignored, excuses develop and policies are overlooked. They then start to rely on the blind hope that a quality outcome will be achieved.

Frequently, the blame for poor or late delivery lands on convoluted approval processes, limited budgets, poor design, limited specialised contractor network, delays in contract drafting and contractors requesting variations or time extensions due to poor tender documentation. But all of these things can be prevented by effective decision-making on time and project management issues at the start of the project.

KNOW WHEN TO BRING IN A PROJECT MANAGER

In the early stages of project planning, especially when a project appears to be simple enough, many find it hard to justify the additional cost of appointing a project manager.

When capital becomes harder to secure, many are tempted to cut services like external project management, so that they can reallocate the capital to the contract sum. It’s important to realise at this point that this decision will more than likely increase the facilities manager’s workload and can impact on overall productivity, particularly if effective time management strategies are not in place.

Any project, big or small, can be complicated and projects with small budgets can be the ones that carry significant risk. It’s important to make an accurate assessment early on about whether or not to bring in a qualified project manager.

In my experience, appointing a qualified project manager can result in more compliant tendering, tighter control over cost and variations, milestones being met, best market value being achieved, quality being achieved and, importantly, happy stakeholders at all levels. These benefits can far outweigh the initial cost and help to ensure that the agreed budget is adhered to.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE YOUR BUDGET

One of the main traps that facilities managers and property managers can fall into is underestimating the amount of time needed to plan and implement projects. This is especially the case when facilities managers are managing projects they are not experienced in – for example, major fire compliance upgrades, amenity upgrades, building management system (BMS) installations or major tenancy reconfiguration works. If the project constraints and complexities are not fully understood, time estimation will be compromised.

We can’t always avoid difficult or unfamiliar territory. Sooner or later one of these types of projects will land on your desk. Don’t forget there will also be project constraints, skill set constraints, stakeholder expectations and other ‘business as usual’ commitments to manage throughout the year.

Remember that the earlier you start planning the better – you need to have time on your side and in your control. Once you have set out a realistic path ahead factoring in possible time constraints, the chance of successful delivery is greatly increased.

Make sure that you have a clear view from the outset of what the project needs to achieve. Establish agreement on the scope of the project right from the outset and develop good, structured budget estimates. Keep in mind that your delivery milestones need to be realistic. Even apparently simple projects can hit major snags, so make sure you plan for them and factor in some extra time.

Keep a critical eye on your project plan. If your short-term and long-term capital plans are filled with gaps, unrealistic budget estimates and poorly scoped projects, you won’t have the foundations for overall success. If you focus on early planning to ensure your capital costs are realistic and delivery targets achievable, by the time your capital budgets are approved you should ready to hit the ground running.

MANAGE THE STAGES

All projects can be broken down into two main stages: stage one, planning and design; and stage two, delivery. As most capital budgets are based on 12-month cycles, it is common for stage one and stage two to be forecast for completion in the same annual budget cycle.

However, one-year planning and delivery models tend to have higher risk of non-delivery, rushed design resulting in rework, bad management practices (cutting corners), scope reductions and cost blowouts due to time constraints.

As a general rule, I tend to find that for capital projects under $2 million you need to allow at least a 10-month time-frame from planning to completion. A factor that many project managers fail to take account of in calendar year budgets is that the interruptions brought about by the Christmas holiday period can be quite extensive. Often facilities managers and those they rely on don’t really get into the swing of their calendar year capital projects until well into March. At this point they have moved into time critical project management. Workload pressures and risk of failure increase.

A simple way to avoid the problems that come about with calendar year budgets is to split your project over two years – aim to complete stage one in year one and stage two in year two.

For example, instead of taking on the planning, design and delivery of 10 projects in one year, you initially split this into planning and designing five projects and delivering five projects that were designed and tendered for the year before. Although you are delivering five projects as opposed to 10, there is greater certainty of success and value for money. Additionally, by implementing this model, firm numbers can be determined, which ultimately bolster up the business case.

Giving additional time to both stages will provide increased control over scope and cost, better management practices (with no need to cut corners), reduced ‘time’ pressures on property teams and a higher chance of achieving delivery targets and delivering bang for buck.

PRIORITISE TRAINING AND TOOLS FOR CONSISTENT RESULTS

Many companies struggle with project management because their project teams do not have the required competencies or are using ineffective processes, tools or templates. This creates a high failure rate for projects, wasted time and spending, and unnecessary frustration for stakeholders.

Effective foundations may take years to fully develop, but they are vital for success and cannot be ignored. Solid processes, policies, tools and systems are vital for the success of any project. Consistent use of project management methods and tools by every project team in the organisation, particularly where multiple sites are involved, will yield reliable and high quality results.

Senior management plays a key role in building a unified approach and they need to be prepared to make the effort to bring it about. If you are in a situation where your project management structure is all but non-existent, first identify where the gaps in your organisation are and then encourage senior management to focus on developing project management foundations based on industry standards and your organisation’s objectives, risk exposure and existing policies.

Ongoing training will ensure that all staff members know how to apply project management methodology, tools and templates. Online webinars are a great training vehicle if you have interstate colleagues. Commit to ongoing training around various project management topics such as roles and responsibilities, effective planning and project delivery, procurement, writing a business case and long-term and short-term capital planning.

By focusing on these foundations you will ensure that property management teams understand the consequences of poor planning and project management and are committed to following controlled policies and processes.

UNDERSTAND YOUR STAKEHOLDERS

How well do you know your stakeholders? What are their needs, expectations and requirements? The more you know about them, the greater the likelihood of your project’s success.

Make sure that you introduce the project concept to key stakeholders early on. A feasibility paper will help you to get a feel for your stakeholders’ appetite to spend capital. If your stakeholder doesn’t see the project as viable, then you can redirect your time to something more productive. On the other hand, if you have stakeholder acceptance and commitment to your project, you can commit to an agreed path for project management, planning and delivery.

All important stakeholders need to be engaged with early on, so that in later stages you are not faced with difficulties that may cause a delay in project, cost overruns or, in the worst case, the termination of a project. When setting your project plan, consider appointing a stakeholder champion to be responsible for managing relationships throughout the entire project. With effective stakeholder management, even if problems arise, if communicated and managed effectively your projects can still be considered an overall success.

ASK FOR ADVICE

Throughout my career I have found that most people love giving advice, you just have to ask for it. If you find yourself responsible for a project you have little or no experience with, always seek advice from either your colleagues or industry peers.

For facilities managers working in large property management companies, make time to get to know other management teams and investigate similar projects they have delivered. In seeking advice, you will be able to learn from others’ experience, use their business case as a base template, leverage their performance specifications and design material, and possibly use their supplier network.

If your property portfolio is small or remote, taking time to attend industry networking events becomes increasingly important as a means to meet other facilities managers you can call on for advice.

MANAGE TIME AS A TOP PRIORITY

Planning and delivering capital projects will always be a part of facilities management. It is the nature of capital projects that things do not always go to plan, which is why budget contingencies are commonly factored in – time contingencies should be also. The best way to deliver bang for buck is to make time management one of your top priorities and think about things that could go wrong. There will always be unknown factors in any projects, but there will also be unknown-unknowns that, no matter how much planning was undertaken, may still impact the smooth delivery of your projects.

By having time on your side, if things go wrong the consequences will be minimised or may even go unnoticed by other project stakeholders as you have time to rectify the situation without impacting the overall delivery schedule. Commitment to your early planning, taking a structured and consistent approach, and knowing when to engage external project managers will result in greater success and allow you to take pride in completing your capital works on budget, to scope and on time.

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