Project Manage or Not? / by Graeme Fan

What things should you consider when deciding whether to take on the project management yourself?

In this series, I will expand on things to consider when making this all important decision. Hopefully you will understand the ins and outs of what's involved to help you make a more informed decision whether this is for you or not.

Project management is a multi-disciplinary skill that requires a lot of dedication and organisational ability if to be done to a high standard. It also requires a lot of self-discipline as typically the project manager drives the project and co-ordinates all the various parties involved. Without this 'glue' the project can come unstuck quite quickly and result in a poor quality result. 

A decision about whether to take on a project as the project manager or have someone do this for you, will need to be made at some point. The earlier this decision is made, the better for the outcome of the project. I have seen instances where the client has tried to project manage themselves and due to being time poor or inexperienced or both, the project has suffered unnecessarily. The client is stressed and sometimes the outcome of the project is unsalvageable or at the least, requires substantial cost to retrospectively remedy.

As the client you will perform the role of project manager (or in most cases the sponsor) to some degree. You will need to co-ordinate and appoint roles, at the very least at the outset of the project. Whether by appointment of the architect/designer, planner and/or project manager to run the project for you.

The obvious advantages of project managing yourself are as follows:

  1. Save on the outright expense of the project managers fees
  2. Direct control and visibility of the project at all times. You are at the coalface.

Consequently the disadvantages are as follows:

  1. Time commitment on your part is raised... substantially. Goodbye weekdays, nights and weekends.
  2. Need for a network of suppliers and trades who will act quickly for you and to your standards
  3. Experience in handling technical and design matters that may be outside of your scope of experience and/or comfort

If you wanted to be directly involved in every decision and have the time to invest to ensure your project is a success, then project managing yourself is certainly a real consideration. Technical and design decisions can be met head on and if you deal with them in a timely manner should not have a material impact on the outcome - so long as you deal with them quickly and efficiently.

Leaning into and on networks and contacts who are reliable and of a high quality can also be overcome through the techniques I have covered in a previous blog.

But do not underestimate the time commitment - this I find is the single biggest factor that has resulted in people coming unstuck. The novelty wears off quickly and decisions needing to be made come thick and fast. And they're not all fun ones i.e. kitchen finishes, cladding types etc. They require a lot of homework and dedication to finding the right answer. 

I have worked for many clients in the past, where they have simply dumped a pile of papers and folders onto my desk and pleaded for help, because the commitment was too much.

Depending on the size of the project, expect to spend/invest a minimum 10-20 hours per week on the project. It sounds like a lot, but you must factor in site meetings, supplier management, procurement, issue handling, accounts, health & safety, regulatory matters at the least. And if you are not familiar with the process, there is the learning curve which means that tasks are not done as efficiently as someone who does this day in day out. It also depends on how hands-on your project management is, you could obviously outsource some of these discrete tasks to someone else which would reduce the overall commitment and then focus on the tasks you like and/or wish to have direct control over. 

Soon I'll try to cover off the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing this critical function to someone else. It's not entirely advantageous in some cases and also comes down to your relationship with your project manager should you choose to outsource.

Ultimately there is no one size fits all. It just depends on what is right for you.