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What is a Project Manager and Do You Need One?

Office Design & Build Management

If you're preparing for your first design and build project, you may be unsure where to start. Faced with such high levels of uncertainty and risk, you may be wondering whether to appoint a project manager to run your design & build project. However, you likely have a lot of different questions. Questions about how they work, whether a project manager would be beneficial for you, and so on.


In this article, we'll answer two of your biggest questions: "What is a Project Manager?" and "Do We Need a Project Manager?" First, we'll go through how the design & build process works when using a project manager. We'll then give you 4 factors to help you decide whether you should appoint a project manager or not. By the end, you'll be able to decide if you need a project manager, giving your project the best possible chance of success.


What is a Project Manager?

A project manager is an agent or company you appoint to manage your office fit out or refurbishment. There are many different names for a project manager, such as cost consultant, quantity surveyor, commercial manager, and client representative. They may have different skillsets or areas of focus, but fundamentally, they're doing the same thing.


Exactly what they do will vary depending on the type of project manager you appoint and the requirements of your project. Regardless of this, they manage the project on your behalf, advise you on key decisions, and take care of the day-to-day project management.


First, they will help you create a comprehensive brief for your project. They'll then appoint one or more designers or design & build companies to complete concept designs and initial costings. The project manager will then work with you and the design team to refine the design packages. Following this, they will assess the options, and advise you which design & build company or contractor to appoint for your project.


Once the project has begun, they'll take care of most of the day-to-day running of your project. This involves resolving issues, reviewing cost changes, and ensuring the project is running on schedule. Once the project is complete, they will carry out a snagging check with the contractor, and sign off on project completion.


Do You Need a Project Manager?

Now you know what a project manager is, your next question is probably "Do we need a project manager for our project?" While project managers can be very helpful in some projects, they have several drawbacks and are not always suitable. Here, we'll go through the key benefits and drawbacks of using a project manager for your workspace design & build project.


Benefits of a Project Manager

The key benefit that a project manager or cost consultant can bring is their experience. They are qualified and knowledgeable, so they will give you the confidence that your project is being managed competently. Their experience also means they can avoid common mistakes and capitalise on opportunities you may not know about.


During your project, a project manager can save you a lot of time. They will take care of the day-to-day management, such as site liaison, reviewing reports, and signing off variations. This means that you and your team have to spend fewer hours per week on the project while it is in progress.


A professional project manager can also provide negotiating expertise. They will understand industry cost benchmarks and specifications. This means they will help ensure you are getting good value and the appropriate specifications.


Drawbacks of a Project Manager

While a project manager may save you time during the time during the project, they are also likely to make the project take longer to deliver. Inserting another layer into the structure means decisions will take longer, and a lot of communication duplication will occur. This can add up throughout your project, making it take longer, especially during the planning and design phases.


Appointing a project manager is a significant cost. Usually, it will cost 2.5-5% of the total project value, though it can be up to 10%. It's not guaranteed that a project manager will pay for themselves by saving you at least this amount on your project. They often request specification improvements, independent audits, and other features, all of which come at a cost. In our experience, working with a 3rd party project manager usually increases costs by at least 10%.


Using a project manager to run your project may also mean you get less input into the design and control over decision-making. While they may make some decisions on your behalf, these decisions may not be what you want. A project manager also makes your relationship with contractors less collaborative and more contractual.


Making Your Project Management Choice

So how do you know if you should appoint a project manager, or work directly with your design & build company or contractor? In our experience, 4 key factors affect what is best for you: project model, trust, size, and process. Here, we'll explain each one in turn.


The first factor to consider is your project model - whether you plan to use one design & build company, or multiple specialist contractors. To learn about the different modes and which is best for you, read this article. If you plan to use contractors, then a project manager will coordinate trades and provide accountability. However, if you're using a design and build company, a project manager will probably be unnecessary. You would only be duplicating capabilities.


If you have already begun the process with a design & build company but don’t fully trust them, you may want to appoint a project manager to hold them accountable. They will be able to use their structure and expertise to ensure you get value for money and an appropriate specification. However, if you don’t trust your design and build company, you should consider if you want them to deliver the project anyway.


If your project is very large (over 100,000 sq/ft) you should probably appoint a project manager. This size of project is beyond the capability of most design & build companies, so you will likely be using separate contractors. Even if you do use a design & build company, a project manager will be able to provide extra structure and accountability, which is valuable for this size project.


Another consideration is your project process. If you intend to run a tender process, then a project manager will help prepare documentation, vet subcontractors, and review submissions. However, if you choose a design and build process, then a project manager will be less beneficial because they will cause delays and reduce flexibility. To learn more about which you should choose, read Tender vs Design & Build: Which is Best for Me?


Appointing a project manager can be very helpful for the overall success of your project. By applying their expertise and experience to your needs, they can give you confidence and save you time. However, they can also make your project more expensive, slower, and more adversarial. It depends on your current situation and priorities as to whether you should appoint an independent project manager or not.


Managing Your Office Fit Out

Now that you know what a project manager does and how to decide if you need a project manager, you're able to make that decision for your own company. This decision is crucial for the overall success of your project, so it's crucial that you get it right.


Not appointing a project manager when you need one could result in a very time-consuming expensive project that is very difficult to run and suffers major schedule and budget overruns. However, appointing a project manager unnecessarily could result in needless time and cost increases, as well as less control over the final design. It depends on your situation and priorities - only you can make the best decision for your company.


To learn how to manage your office fit out company and work effectively with them, read this article. To find out who to involve in your office fit out (both internally and externally), read this article.



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