The construction project management team is the most important part of any build, as they are responsible for coordinating every moving piece, including organizing the labourers, hiring specialist contractors that are right for the job, securing the materials needed for the construction, and maintaining the logistics network that keeps it all going.

Jeff Gould and Muhammad Ali Hassan are Bilt’s project management experts, with extensive experience both in managing construction and in related fields, giving them perspective both on the specific details of the role, and the wider industry context.

That’s why we decided to sit down with both of them to learn more about the position; what it’s like to fill, the tools involved, and how people get into it in the first place.

1 – What does construction project management entail?

Jeff Gould:

Typically, the project manager comes into the picture after the architect and the engineers have given the owner a complete design, and their job is to execute that design.

However, I should mention that Bilt also does design builds, which means we contribute to the design process. This can help keep the design grounded to meet the customer’s design and budget by involving the perspective of experienced, hands-on construction professionals.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

Generally, the difference between construction management and project management is the scope. A project goes through five phases/steps: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closeout. Construction management entails the work on-site, which includes some of the planning, but primarily the execution and monitoring.

It’s the project manager’s responsibility to provide the construction manager and everyone else on the project with the support, tools, and materials that they need to get the job done. The construction manager’s job is more limited to on-site concerns, but they serve an important role for the project manager by providing on-the-ground feedback to inform decision-making.

2 – Which aspects of project management are consistently the most difficult or the most unexpectedly difficult?

Jeff Gould:

There’s a wide range of regulations and legislation that need to be followed in construction, and people unfamiliar with the field often underestimate how tricky it can be to navigate them all and remain compliant.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

Construction projects tend to snowball quickly, so it’s important to plan everything out in detail ahead of time. Clearly defining the scope of the project, and your contingency plans for when things don’t go according to plan, are very important. Without clearly defined plans, managers and contractors can be left having to improvise solutions to unexpected problems on the fly, or the scope of the project can slowly start to creep up, making the plan more expensive while it’s being executed.

Good communication between the managers and the stakeholders is also critical, as it prevents potentially disastrous misunderstandings about risk mitigation and planning.

3 – How do the concerns of a project manager vary between smaller and larger projects?

Jeff Gould:

Larger projects always have more money on the line, more people involved, and more steps and supply lines; so, risk management and logistics get more challenging to manage the larger a project gets. Also, part of a project manager’s role is to choose the right contractors for the job, considering things like their reliability, reputation, and capacity; these also get more difficult to estimate the larger a project becomes.

One thing that’s always a hassle, though, is the weather. Poor weather conditions can put any project on hold, no matter how big or small.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

There’s a misconception that smaller projects are easier and more comfortable, and that difficulty scales up with the size of the project. In reality, the complexity of the project is what determines the scale of difficulty. Larger projects have more variables involved, which means more risk, but poor decisions made in the early stages of any project can cause problems that balloon rapidly if left unmitigated. No matter how big or small your project is, the only thing that will stop your build from becoming unnecessarily complex is good management.

4 – How can you get into construction project management as a career?

Jeff Gould:

Construction project managers can come from any part of the industry, from engineering to entry-level site labourers. However, some project management credentials are necessary before you can fill that role, and some backgrounds are better suited to project management than others. Most often, managers come from engineering backgrounds or dedicated management programs.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

There are essentially two pathways available, each with its pros and cons.

The first pathway is to go through engineering/construction management education programs at post-secondary institutions. This allows you to enter the industry as a project assistant or project coordinator, and get you fast-tracked to a leadership position. You’ll learn how to manage budgets, risks, and constraints, and how to use technology to effectively deliver for the client.

The second pathway is to climb up the ladder with on-site experience from a regular tradesman position. While you’ll come to the job with a lot of hands-on experience and a practical sense of what is possible on site, you’ll be lacking training in the administrative side of management. Things like charters, budgets, risks, and cashflows will all have to be learned on the job, and projects might suffer until you master them.

5 – What is the role of software in project management?

Jeff Gould:

Given the complexity of the logistics and regulations, software tools provide streamlined organization and coordination. Consolidating all the relevant information into one platform also helps keep people in every role accountable to their responsibilities.

Managing a construction project can be done without the software, of course, but the software helps make the whole process easier, more reliable, and makes costly mistakes less likely. Bilt is an early adopter of this kind of management software, but we expect it to be industry-standard soon enough. A few different platforms are available, but they all roughly do the same things.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

Before software was available for construction management, bundles of paper were used to organize and coordinate information. It was inefficient, and information would be missed or get lost all the time.

Now, with the various software tools available to construction managers, all that information is stored and organized in one place. You can use software for everything from communications, to budget management, job scheduling, project accounting, document management, risk mitigation, and stakeholder engagement.

By consolidating all that information in one place, management software improves efficiency and makes the project more profitable, while also making costly mistakes or miscalculations less likely.

6 – Are construction managers always on-site? Does it depend on the project’s size and scope?

Jeff Gould:

Project management is usually done by a team of people, including site supervisors, who are always on-site. The project manager themselves doesn’t necessarily have to be on-site, but it’s best if they’re on-site fairly often.

Muhammad Ali Hassan:

The scale and complexity of the project usually dictate the attendance of the project manager on-site. There’s a delicate balance you have to figure out between the amount of time you spend on or off-site to make sure you’re using your time as effectively as possible. For most projects, however, between all of a project manager’s responsibilities, I think they should be on-site at least once every other day, if not daily.