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The Project Manager’s Guide to Navigating Construction Projects

Micke Paqvalén
28 November, 2023

The construction industry is a tough place. With constantly shifting goals and circumstances, even the smallest construction projects can be difficult.

According to the talent gap report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), the world will require 25 million new project managers by 2030 to meet the growing demand. The construction industry is no exception to the need for this profession.

Businesses need professionals managing construction projects with the challenges they present, whether they are complex or straightforward. However, for projects with lots of moving parts, you’ll need a robust and well-thought-out plan in place. 

With lots of moving parts, diverse teams, and various parties involved, navigating through the intricacies of larger construction projects requires a well-defined approach and the ability to overcome numerous challenges.

Whether you’re a construction project manager looking to get started, or looking to see if anything is missing from your current approach, here is the ultimate project manager construction guide, helping you to navigate complex projects as a construction project manager.

What Counts As a Complex Construction Project?

Across the industry, construction projects are not for the faint-hearted, and this is especially true for larger projects.

Complex construction projects can encompass many different sizes of projects with a complicated web of technical, budgetary, regulatory, and logistical challenges. They will often involve multiple people, detailed designs, unique materials, and stringent environmental requirements. 

This can include the construction of housing estates, schools, and hospitals, and projects focused on sustainability and energy efficiency.

The Key Challenges of Complex Construction Projects

A construction project manager’s job description is vast, overseeing essentially an entire project. With this wide job scope, there are a lot of different challenges construction project managers need to keep an eye on.

Scope management 

Managing the scope of a construction project is often challenging, especially when changes and additions are frequent. 

Project managers must establish a clear scope, ensure all participants understand it, and have mechanisms in place to handle change requests efficiently. Failure to do so can lead to scope creep, delays, and increased costs, which is why the preconstruction phase is so important.

Resource allocation

Effective resource allocation is essential for complex projects. Project managers must balance human resources, materials, equipment, and time to optimize efficiency and ensure everything runs smoothly. 

Without proper resource management, projects may face delays, budget overruns, and quality issues, but with good resource management projects can be completed in record time and sometimes even under budget.

Communication and collaboration

Complex projects involve numerous stakeholders, including architects, engineers, subcontractors, and clients. 

Ensuring clear and efficient communication between these parties is crucial.

With so many different people involved, being the central hub of communication can be tough, especially as miscommunications can lead to misunderstandings, disputes, and delays, causing profits to shrink.

Risk management

Construction projects inherently involve risks, ranging from weather-related disruptions to unexpected site conditions. Project managers must identify potential risks, develop mitigation plans, and have strategies in place to address issues as they arise. 

Construction risk management can be tough with many unforeseen dangers, and failing to manage risks can lead to project delays and financial losses.

Quality control

Ensuring the quality of work at every stage of a construction project is vital. Project managers must implement rigorous quality control processes to maintain high standards, and neglecting quality control can result in reworks, costly defects, and damage to the contractor’s reputation.

Scheduling

Complex projects often have tight schedules with multiple interdependent tasks. Every project manager, construction or otherwise needs to create detailed schedules, monitor progress, and be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

Having the right tools such as Buildbite, with in-built task management and contractor monitoring features really helps ease this process.

Regulatory compliance

Construction projects must adhere to numerous local, state, and federal regulations, no matter what country you’re in. 

Staying compliant with these rules and obtaining permits is a critical task for project managers to avoid any legal issues or costly delays.

Cost management

Controlling costs is a central challenge in construction. Project managers must keep a close eye on budgeting and expenditures, making adjustments as needed. 

Whether it’s keeping track of estimated time vs actual time spent on jobs, fluctuating resource prices, or unexpected changes, project managers must always aim to avoid overspending, and the financial difficulties that come with it.

How Project Managers Combat These Challenges

Being a project manager in construction is all about good preparation, and being able to put out fires on the fly as safely and as efficiently as possible. Luckily with the right guidance, planning, and a few of the best tools, this is easily achievable.

Thorough planning

If you want things to run smoothly, you have to start with a good plan. Successful project managers always start with comprehensive planning, defining project scope, setting clear objectives, and creating a detailed project plan that accounts for resources, schedules, and budgets. 

This plan serves as a roadmap for the entire project, helping to inform everything from the construction cost estimate to any responses to RFIs

Effective communication

Project managers must establish open lines of communication with all stakeholders. Regular meetings, progress reports, and project updates are essential to keep everyone informed and aligned with project goals. 

Clear communication not only prevents misunderstandings and disputes but also enhances productivity. It facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise among various project members, including subcontractors.

Using tools for risk assessment and mitigation

Identifying potential risks early on and developing mitigation strategies is crucial. By creating a risk management plan, project managers can anticipate and address issues before they escalate, helping to keep the project on track.

To help speed up risk assessments and minimize errors, many project managers use all-in-one construction software to build out essential checklists and plans.

By leveraging such tools, project managers can more efficiently compile the information they need, as well as share risk assessments quickly and effectively with relevant contractors or others involved.

Scheduling, monitoring and allocating resources

Allocating resources involves a lot of different spinning plates. From monitoring workloads to ensuring that the right personnel and equipment are available when needed, optimizing resource usage is a vital task for the success of each project. 

In addition to this, project managers will often use project management software to help with scheduling, including creating, monitoring, and adjusting schedules.

Tools such as Buildbite provide visibility into project progress and help identify potential delays, allowing managers to take corrective action as required. They also ensure the project runs smoothly, with clear task management helping keep everyone on the team informed.

Quality control, cost control, and regulatory compliance 

Project managers are responsible for compliance with regulations, obtaining necessary permits, and working with legal experts. Once again communication is key, with project managers doing research and potentially discussing with lawyers to ensure compliance. 

They also maintain quality through inspections and address issues promptly, while ensuring effective cost management, balancing budget constraints with quality and deadlines.

What Essential Skills Do You Need For Effective Project Management in Construction?

If you want to be one of the best construction project managers, you’ll need a diverse set of skills:

  1. Technical knowledge: Project managers need a deep understanding of construction and building systems. This knowledge enables them to make informed decisions and effectively communicate with construction teams.
  2. Project management: An obvious skill, but project management skills are needed. This ranges across scheduling, budgeting, and risk management, all of which are essential for project managers to ensure the successful completion of construction projects.
  3. Communication: Effective communication is crucial for collaborating with various teams, contractors, and stakeholders. Project managers must be able to convey technical information clearly and understandably.
  4. Problem-solving: The ability to identify and resolve issues quickly and efficiently is vital. Project managers should be adept at troubleshooting and finding practical solutions under pressure.
  5. Environmental awareness: Sustainability and environmental compliance are increasingly important in construction. Project managers need to stay updated on green building practices and regulations.
  6. Regulatory knowledge: Project managers must be well-versed in local building codes, safety regulations, and environmental laws to ensure compliance.
  7. Forward-thinking: Things are always changing on a construction site, but a good plan will help ensure you remain on track. By planning and having good foresight, especially in the preconstruction phase, you can anticipate problems and delays and work to prevent or overcome them from the start, putting you ahead of schedule.

Do you need a construction project management certification to be a good project manager?

While you don’t need an additional construction project management certification to be a project manager, a professional credential such as a certificate can help validate your expertise in managing construction projects, as well as improve your overall skills and knowledge.

These certificates are typically offered by recognized associations or institutions, including the PMP (covering general project management principles), CCM (focused on construction management), LEED AP (for sustainable construction), CAPM (for beginners in project management), and other education-based certificates. 

To earn these certifications, individuals must meet eligibility requirements, pass exams, and often provide relevant work experience, enhancing their career prospects and credibility in the construction project management field. 

These certifications typically require ongoing professional development to stay current with industry best practices and standards.

The Importance of Coordination with Other Teams on a Construction Site

Effective coordination between project managers and other teams on a construction site is critical to achieving project success. Here are some key aspects of this collaboration:

  1. Collaboration with project managers: Project managers work closely with clients, architects, and general contractors to align the construction process with long-term project goals. They communicate the project’s requirements and priorities to ensure that the construction work meets these objectives.
  2. Team communication: Project managers act as intermediaries between construction teams, architects, and other participants. Communication is key, which is why much of their job is to facilitate effective communication within the team. This is another place where construction project management software excels, helping project managers easily create transparent two-way lines of communication.
  3. Quality control: Collaboration with quality control and inspection teams is essential. Project managers oversee quality assurance processes, working with quality control teams to identify and address any construction issues.
  4. Resource management: Coordinating with construction teams to ensure the availability of resources such as utilities, equipment, and facilities is a key responsibility. Project managers must communicate resource requirements and schedules effectively.
  5. Environmental and sustainability initiatives: Project managers collaborate with environmental and sustainability experts to implement eco-friendly practices during construction. This includes overseeing the use of sustainable materials and reducing the environmental impact of the project.
  6. Budgeting and cost control: Given that at least 70% of construction projects go over budget in the UK alone, good cost control is the sign of an outstanding project manager. Through quick and effective communication, you can ensure all aspects of your project are running on budget and in sync with each other.

With so much to do with limited time, many construction project managers find using construction management tools to be a vital part of their job. That’s why Buildbite has constructed an easy-to-use construction task management app for streamlined project execution.

Complete with everything a project manager may need, from in-built lines of communication, task management tools, and simplified project documentation in construction, Buildbite is designed for project managers looking to boost efficiency.

Try it for yourself with our 30-day free trial.