In the world of project management, what do we mean by complex?
Managing the refurbishment of historic buildings and public institutions in a densely populated city is one such complex and challenging environment.
These busy facilities often need to stay open while work is being carried out. Alongside this, project managers need to navigate heritage considerations, cross-era building standards, construction logistics and multiple funding sources. These are just a few of the diverse complexities.
Having managed the refurbishment of several major civic institutions across the state of Victoria (Australia) – each with its own unique set of dynamics – I’ve built up a 'library' of project management strategies which help to ensure successful delivery.
1. Articulate a governance structure
Devoting time and energy early on in the project initiation phase to establish a clear project governance structure is essential, particularly when dealing with a broad stakeholder group. There should be two clearly separated functions: a strategic steering committee empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organization and a working group concerned with day-to-day operations. Each should be clearly defined in terms of responsibilities, roles and reporting lines and transparently incorporating the interests of key project stakeholders.
2. Establish a procurement framework
In these complicated projects, procurement needs to be tailored to very specific criteria. A clear understanding of the drivers behind the project – such as quality, scope, flexibility and so on – is essential, as this will inform how individuals are procured and lead to a more collaborative style of contracting.
But, remember, project managers can’t be expected to know everything. So leave room in the process for others voicing ideas and encourage collective problem solving – it’s the key to innovation.
3. Create a collaborative culture
An important but often neglected part of the project manager’s role is setting the tone around project culture and behaviour, as well the critical task of building trust and respect throughout the wider project team. This starts with building a positive relationship with the client, then broadens to include and align everyone who comes on board. Spending time ensuring the team knows what they are doing and why is critical to the final outcome.
Finding a construction partner who believes in a modern collective and is comfortable working at this level of sophistication may not be easy, but it will pay dividends in the long run.
4. Control scope and latent conditions
Include more hold-points in the project scoping and design process than usual. At each formal design pause review every aspect of the project; nothing should be progressed until this process has been completed – including any necessary value management, budgetary decisions, signoff of design intent or re-drawings. This cycle is the best way to flush out any potential issues and ensure there is a clear understanding in terms of client expectations.
Unexpected latent conditions can often be a problem in old buildings. Minimize the risks by considering how to best document the base conditions, such as commissioning detailed 3D surveys before the project starts and ensure a builder carries out practical investigations before going in with a documented design and tight timeframe. It’s all part of due diligence to find out as much as you can about these quirky buildings as early as possible. Hope for the best but plan for the worst.
5. Follow a staged delivery and handover
Due to the ‘live’ nature of these social projects, one stage will generally be completed and delivered before moving on to the next. It’s vital to recognize the impact of these works on the daily operation of the building. Sending an email to the client is not enough. Direct communication and walking the site to explain each phase – and the designated line between public access and construction – is vital and can’t be over-emphasized.