Biggest Myths About Construction Management
By: Laura Dugan ’03
“I always ask the people we work with what business are we in,” says Michael Wilber, construction manager. “They say the sheet metal business or electrical business or construction business. I say no, we’re in the moving business. Whenever we finish what we do, somebody is moving.”
Wilber has over thirty years’ experience in construction management. Over the years, he has gathered a comprehensive list of myths that he has encountered, as he’s worked on projects from single house renovations to a million-square-foot high-rise in a large city. His unique perspective provides insight into areas of construction and project management that may not be apparent from the outside.
Myth: The job only involves the final product.
Whether a construction project or a massive infrastructure overhaul, jobs involve much more than just the final product itself. Managing a large project involves many factors, some that can be controlled and some that cannot. You have to think globally.
“For example, if you’re building a 30-story high-rise building in the middle of downtown, the logistics are amazing,” says Wilber. “Many items need to be considered, including weather, geography, contracts, and owner expectations. “Building the building is the easy part. Getting everything in a position where you can move forward with completing the project is what is hard.”
Myth: Following the schedule will give the best results.
Schedules are very important and can help keep projects on target, but they cannot be the only driver behind a project.
“Projects go according to conditions, and it’s managing those conditions that will get you the best results,” says Wilber. To manage conditions, Wilber encourages a focus on strong supervision and service. “You need to have training and understanding of the materials, environment, infrastructure, and labor force to be able to adapt to changing situations,” says Wilber.
Myth: The job is about the building, not the people.
“There’s an old saying that if you’re in real estate, you’re in politics,” says Wilber. “The buildings don’t talk back to you, but the occupants do.”
Wilber cautions that there are a lot of project managers who don’t realize you are dealing with people’s expectations in addition to completing the task at hand. While planning, if you remove the people from the equation, your project will never achieve its goals.
You may design office space to maximize the number of occupants per floor, pull together design documentation, and then have to redo it all when the client decides everyone should have standing desks.
In other words, says Wilber, “Drywall doesn’t care how it’s hung, paint doesn’t care what color it is, but I guarantee someone does.”
Myth: When you’re done, you’re done.
This myth applies to both phases of the project management process – ongoing tasks and completion.
Wilber says you can never rely on assumptions. “Everyone has the same understanding of what quality means and what ‘done’ means. We have a thing in the business if an item is ‘done’ or ‘done done’.” His general rule is, if you haven’t verified it, it isn’t done. “Saying it looks like something is being wrapped up is not the same thing as confirming that the task has actually been completed.”
Once the job is complete and handed over to the new occupants or manager, the work is still not done.
“There may be issues further down the line – latent defects, new security concerns, changes in management – all of these may require information long after the job is complete. That information will need to come from the construction management team. This is why it’s important to keep track of everything while the job is in progress.”
Myth: The construction/project manager has to know everything.
Wilber simply says, you don’t. “It’s important to surround yourself with people who do and hold them accountable.”
Construction and project oversight are complex processes that require a strong project manager to be successful. “The project manager is the fulcrum to balance all of the entities involved so that you can end up with a project that meets or exceeds the expectations,” Wilber concludes.
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