Project coordination and management is a huge undertaking and entails planning, scheduling, monitoring, coordinating, directing, documenting, closing a project, and performing follow-up with the client after move-in.
So what's project management?
A project manager is like a ship's captain, steering the entire project and keeping it on course until it reaches its final destination. The most crucial member of a project, a project manager coordinates the entire project, from start to finish.
Depending on the project and office structure, a project manager can be the principal of a design firm, the interior designer, or a designated professional project manager within the office or hired from outside.
Any design project, no matter what size or complexity, has 3 factors: cost, time and quality. It is the project manager's aim to maintain balance between these three elements for the entire project.
Duties of a project manager are vast and include, but aren't limited to:
- Organizing and coordinating the project schedule and keeping it on track
- Scheduling meetings and coordinating all communication between the client, design team staff, contractor, consultants & governmental regulatory agencies
- Coordinating production of construction documents and participate in bidding/negotiations
- Obtaining client approvals when necessary
- Monitoring and documenting all aspects of the project
- Processing change orders, documents for payment
- Managing all personnel assigned to the team
- Resolving conflicts among team
- Coordinating with client after move-in and close out project
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Determining Scope of Work
Project managers are involved not only during the construction period, but at the very beginning of the project. They help define the scope of the project – the project's goals, tasks, costs and deadlines.
Sometimes, something has to give. The project manager is the person who changes course when needed. When project dreams run afloat of reality, often the design has to be altered or changes made to the schedule or budget, and the project manager communicates the options.
Project management of consultants
Most medium to large-sized projects have specialized consultants who are hired for their expertise. These can include, but aren't limited to:
- Architects / landscape architects
- Contractors / construction managers
- Electrical, structural, mechanical and civil engineers
- Lighting consultants
- Acoustical consultants
- Audio-visual / telecommunications consultants
- Security consultants
- Color consultants / art consultants / decorators
- Graphic / signage designers
- Food service consultants
- Real estate professionals / leasing agents
The project manager is responsible for managing the consultants and bringing them in at the start of the project. Consultants' input and understanding of the client's needs will affect the project's scope of work, which is why it's ideal to have them on board at the beginning of the project.
Each consultant will produce the appropriate drawings and specifications for the project. It is the responsibility of the project manager to help coordinate these drawings with the rest of the construction documents package.
Contracts, time and fee estimations and proposals
Contractual arrangements between all parties must be clearly spelled out in the contract with the owner. For example, if the interior designer or design firm is to take on project management responsibilities for a large project, it needs to be identified in the owner-designer agreement, and the designer's fee for those services. An outside project management professional is typically hired by the owner /client directly.
The contractual arrangement for consultants also needs to be determined. Either the owner or the project manager / interior designer could feasibly hire consultants. Owner-hired consultants makes the workload easier for the project manager / designer, but also a poses a possible loss of influence with the consultant. We all know it's not wise to bite the hand that feeds you!
Time and fee estimation
Fee projection chart
A fee projection chart is an approach primarily used to figure out whether there's enough money allocated to a project. However, because this approach is so detailed, it at also is a good way to determine the preliminary project schedule.
A chart is set up with the individual work tasks required listed in a column on the left side and time periods designated in a row on the top.
The project manager estimates the percentage of money and time that each phase will require, then divides it by the average billing rate for each designer and staff member to determine the number of hours the firm can allocate and still turn a profit.
Another thing to consider is the time required to review proposals for product substitutions. Depending on what type of specifications are written (e.g. proprietary, performance, etc.) the interior designer may need to allocate time to consider substitution proposals when time is limited.
Scheduling: Critical path, milestones and sequencing
Scheduling not only involves a time plan, but takes into consideration if there's enough staff and budget allocated to complete each phase.
Design scheduling is done by the interior designer while the construction schedule is the responsibility of the contractor. However, at the early stages of the project, before a contractor has been hired, the designer must be able to give the client an estimated project delivery date.
Most project management scheduling for large projects is done with computer software, like Microsoft's MS Project, Genius Project, among others.
Scheduling can be illustrated a couple of different ways:
- Bar or Gantt chart – a schedule in chart format that lists individual tasks with a timeline. While they are simple and easy to read, they don't show all sequences and dependencies. They are good for use for small to medium-sized projects.
- CPM (critical path method) chart – a diagram showing the earliest and latest possible finishing time. CPM chart identifies specific tasks that will affect the project finish date, which is called the critical path. A critical path is illustrated with a heavy line on a CPM chart.
A few other terms you'll want to be familiar with are:
Milestones – Tools used in project management to mark specific points along a project timeline. In most instances, milestones are symbolic and don't impact project duration or have a time associated with them. Instead, they focus on major progress points that must be reached for a successful project.
Sequencing – Arranging activities in the order which they need to be completed. For example, plumbing and electrical wiring must both be completed prior to drywalling.
Fast-tracking – Performing activities in parallel that would normally be done in sequence. Fast-tracking usually increases project risk.
Transmittals, Invoices and PO's
The project manager is responsible for the management of communication. While it sounds like a simple matter, it can get quite complex. Project communication needs to be sent to the right people at the right time.
While a lot of verbal discussions can occur on site and over the phone, it's pertinent to always follow up in writing. Project communications can include:
- General correspondence
- Meeting minutes
- Telephone and email logs
- Transmittal logs for documents received and sent out
- Design review notes
- Client approvals
Purchase order review
Another responsibility in project management is to review purchase orders and follow up on delivery times for furniture, accessories, and any critical items that may impact the project.
Certificates of payment / invoices
Issuing certificates of payment to the contractor and consultants is another project manager duty. The consultant / contractor issues an invoice, also called an application for payment, to the project manager listing the work completed, dates and hours. The project manager either approves or disapproves the application based on the accuracy of the information provided.
If the owner hired the consultant, the project manager recommends payment and forwards it to the owner to issue payment. Otherwise, if the consultant was hired by the project manager, payment is issued directly to the consultant.
Strategic planning (internal)
Before a project is started, and in some cases before the designer is even hired, behind-the-scenes information must be gathered by the design firm. This process is also referred to as pre-design work. It's necessary to do to accurately determine the scope of work and clearly identify the designer's fees – what's included and what can be identified as additional services. Some examples include:
- Researching client and project type. Examples for a retail project might include:
- Retail trends
- Client's merchandising strategy
- Retail equipment and technology
- Client's goals
- Building type
- Programming information
- Identifying stakeholders
- Determining scope of work
Post-occupancy evaluation services (POE)
Even though a client has moved into a space doesn't mean the job is “done”. Follow-up with a client afterwards can be part of the project and should be budgeted in your fees, but separate from your design services. Most of the time the POE is not paid for by the client, unless they plan to build multiples of the same type of space, for example – a chain of restaurants.
Expect to hear some problems and complaints soon after the client's occupancy and be ready to assist with minor issues like:
- Having contractor fix small items not originally included on punch / deficiency list
- Small adjustments to furniture, building controls, etc.
Project close-out procedures include:
- Making sure the client has all operating and maintenance instructions, guarantees/warranties and contact information for service and parts re-order
- Copies of professional photographs that may have been taken of the project
- Schedule a series of regular meetings (over a few weeks to several months) to discuss:
- Whether the space is being used as intended and satisfy the original program requirements in terms of stated goals, adjacencies, flexibility, function?
- Are the finishes holding up as expected (excluding normal wear and tear)?
- Are there any maintenance problems?
- Are lighting and acoustics adequate for the space?
- Are the client and users satisfied with the space, furniture & fixtures?
- Is there any additional design work required to modify the space?
Helping a client through this stressful, difficult time will resonate and do as much for your reputation as delivering a good looking, on-time, on-budget project. Besides referrals, maintaining follow-up communication also keeps you in the loop for any developing projects that you might be considered for.
Feedback will also help you and your firm make internal improvements for future jobs too.