Hiring a construction project manager

In the coming months, we expect a construction boom to address the current housing backlogs, and sustained spending on public infrastructure, estimated at five to six percent of gross domestic product (GDP). All these development projects require the engagement of multi-disciplinary professionals to ensure that the projects will be implemented based on the approved specifications, within the allocated cost and completed on schedule.

These projects, regardless of size and complexity, require the assistance and services of construction project managers whose pivotal role involves monitoring the work and facilitating the interaction with varied shareholders and stakeholders, to ensure all issues, concerns and or obstacles are addressed, so the project can be completed.

Who is a construction project manager?

A construction project manager or CPM is in charge of developing the plan and guides the team to achieve its construction objectives.

While this involvement will vary correspondingly to the project’s scope and requirement, it will commonly center around project planning, including but not limited to, identification of resources needed, harmonizing the implementation of plentiful sub-activities, estimating the project cost and accomplishments, and working out a viable and manageable schedule.

Unfortunately, not all construction project managers are created equal. Choosing the right CPM is essential to the project’s success, otherwise, a wrong choice can negatively impact the project’s completion.

In an interview, Engr. Jose Ramon “Ping” Aliling, former president and CEO of Jose Aliling Construction Management Inc., a 2015 Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) honoree in civil engineering, past president of Construction Project Management Association of the Philippines (CPMAP), and recently named Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) undersecretary for special concerns, engineering and technical support, shared some tips in selecting the right CPM.

Individual or a company?

A construction project manager may be an individual, group of individuals or a company. 

A proponent is basically relying on the skills, talents and experience of a person or persons when selecting an individual or group of individuals. For a small project with one to two years duration, working with an individual or group is less worrisome since the CPM can oversee the project from start to its completion. If something happens to him or one of them however, the project may encounter delays, especially if that person has limited or no support staff to continue his work.

Conversely, if the construction entails a 50-storey structure that takes several years to finish, it may be more logical to choose a firm, so the project will not be affected by personnel resignation since it has sufficient and experienced staff for the long haul, not to mention the “system” to be used in the project.

Research CPM’s background

Some preliminary work has to be done before deciding on which CPM to hire. A background check is necessary, like visiting the individual’s or firm’s website, or examining the company’s profile, project portfolio, and areas of specialization.

Hiring a CPM with strong leadership, problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills is critical to the success of any project. Although their portfolio may say a lot about them, there is a need to interview previous clients, and verify the information provided, in order to catch any negative feedback or reviews. Even though the project may have been completed on time, if the process was riddled with difficulties, selecting such a project manager may not be advisable.

Engr. Aliling emphasizes the need to select a CPM, with emphasis on quality and integrity, as “the success of a project is also a function of the ‘level’ of completeness and comprehensiveness.” To him, “less changes will result with lesser problems, thus reducing delays to a minimum, and minimal cost overruns.”

Choose one with a system

The management of the construction project may be affected if a CPM does not have a system in place. “When clients or developers interviewed me for new project involvements, I candidly state that one of our advantages is that we had witnessed a lot of mistakes previously. And from those mistakes, we’ve gained knowledge and have incorporated those learnings as well as best practices into our system. Thus, new clients will benefit from those mistakes and learn.” Aliling says.

Importantly, learnings from previous project undertakings should be “transferred” to and incorporated into the company’s regularly updated system, and should not remain with the institutional memory of the individual. As such, it is paramount to select project CPMs who have worked on a consistent portfolio of similar projects, as they are likely to have encountered many issues and are well-prepared to resolve repeated problems quickly. 

Don’t get caught up in the cost  

Before deciding on which CPM to choose, do not scrimp on the budget for the right professionals. Do not decide on the basis of the cheapest fees, as it may eventually cost more in the long run.

In addition to the expected expenses to be incurred in the project, a big part of the “fee” is to cover the years of professional experience that the CPM brings to the project. Consequently, if the construction project manager can ensure that he has the full cooperation of all team members, be able to organize all activities properly and prioritize them accordingly, maximize productivity and manage the time properly, then it is worth the cost.

Additional references used include: 8 Qualities to Look for in a Construction Project Manager by Evan McDowell (austintec.com); How to Choose a Construction Manager (deugen.com); How to Select the Right Construction Management Firm (menottienterprise.com)

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Henry Yap is an architect, fellow in environmental planning, fellow in real estate management, and one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.