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Marathon – Seeing Something Through to the Finish; The Final Step in the Process
-Dale Young, Property Manager
The Building Group
As residential property managers we wear many hats, more often than not, at the same time. One of the biggest challenges we will face in our industry is executing capital improvement projects, from the initial planning of the capital improvement, its execution and, ultimately its successful conclusion.
These projects can cover a wide variety of renovations, including cooling tower replacements, electrical modernizations, window replacements, roof replacements, boiler and riser replacements and common area refurbishments, among many others. While there is an endless list of capital improvement projects, there are several universal steps that may be taken on any project that will assist in ensuring its success.
Make Sure You Understand the Project
A complete understanding of the project is essential before embarking on the work itself. Why is the project necessary? How will the project be funded? What is the project’s estimated duration? How will the project affect residents, guests, contractors, building staff and others such as mail carriers, delivery persons, etc.? Can weather extend or disrupt the project’s timeline, and if so, how and to what degree?
Get to Know Your Contractors Before the Project Starts
It is key to get to know, in advance the team of engineers, contractors, their sub-contractors and tradesmen that will be a part of the project. It is sometimes also an advantage to work with a company or firm that you have successfully worked with in the past on a similar project. Once the project team has been selected by the Board, meetings with critical building staff members and the project team should be held. This provides yet another opportunity for everyone involved to understand the nature, scope, duration, and specific challenges the project may present. It also provides a forum for questions to be asked/answered that you and your team may not have considered.
As with most aspects of property management, a great amount of success can be achieved with frequent, detailed communication. On the other hand, a lack of recurrent and timely communication can cause unnecessary confusion and disruption to the project itself. As the manager directly responsible for overseeing any capital project, a great amount of time, effort and confusion can be avoided by communicating with the project team, Boards of Directors, commissions (when applicable), residents, building staff, and others. The failure to effectively communicate with all parties during a capital project can result in a strained relationship with the project team, disgruntled residents and a hindrance to our ability to bring the project in on time and on budget (not to mention our professional reputations).
This includes weekly (sometimes daily) project updates that provide advance schedules of where work will be performed and how it will affect residents, weather delays and unforeseen project complications. It is also important to thank building residents for their patience and understanding in these communications throughout the project as well as reminding them of the necessity for the project and the benefits that will result upon its conclusion.
Frequent, concise, precise, and timely communication will also save the property manager significant time responding to building residents’ questions regarding the project. It also reinforces the property manager’s knowledge, familiarity, and capability in leading the project.
No matter how well researched and prepared a property manager is at the onset of a capital project, an unplanned, unexpected, or unknown facet will inevitably arise. When this occurs, the property manager must respond quickly in order to keep the project on schedule as well as keeping its cost within budget. There are several things that can be done to assist in responding swiftly, knowledgeably, and appropriately to an unforeseen project issue, including:
Keep a cool head and start formulating responses and reactions to the matter at hand. By maintaining a professional and level-headed demeanor in a difficult situation you are sending a clear signal to all involved parties that you are leading the project forward in a capable and organized fashion.
Immediately speak with all the players working on the project team. The consultants, the contractor(s) and your own building staff will likely have several worthwhile suggestions and solution options to solve this unanticipated project disruption.
If necessary, reach out to your peers for their possible experience in a similar situation. This includes co-workers at your management company, past managers you have worked with or have become acquainted within the industry, former and current Board members, and tradespeople/contractors that have specific experience with the type of project you are leading. There is always someone who has been presented with a similar project scenario.
Keeping the Project Team On-Point
Throughout the project it is important to keep your assembled team updated and working in unison to achieve the successful completion of the capital improvement.
Meeting with the team both regularly (pre-scheduled project meetings are always beneficial) and when necessity prevails helps in keeping everyone up-to-date and informed. As the manager, it also presents the opportunity to gauge how team members are feeling about the way the project is going in addition to perhaps finding a time or cost savings that hadn’t been considered during the project’s pre-planning stage.
Regular team meetings throughout the project also provide a perfect opportunity to acknowledge and thank various team members for the contributions to the project, instilling a sense of appreciation for the entire team. As the team’s leader, an upbeat attitude can go a long way in inspiring everyone to perform at their best.
The Project Is Successfully Completed – Now What?
The project is over. You have brought it in on schedule and have kept it within budget. Everyone agrees it was well-managed and successful. But it doesn’t end there.
It is important to now take a step back and review all components of the project. What went well? What portions of the project could have been better managed? What experiences and insights were learned that could benefit future projects you will lead?
Thanking the members of a successful project team will go a long way in building valuable relationships with all team members as well as recognizing that this project’s success was a team effort and not the achievement of one individual.
Lastly, upon completion of the project always update your building’s Capital Plan/Reserve Study to reflect the completion of the capital improvement, including all applicable information.
Each project is unique and comes with its own set of priorities, parameters and problems, but by utilizing the experience and knowledge gained with each successive capital project it will provide a manager with the mind-set, wheelhouse and confidence to welcome the challenges that each new project will present.