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  • Lisa Gardener

21 essential tips for managing your own project

Project management can be a daunting responsibility to take on, but it's one of those jobs that lends itself to being broken down into small, achievable chunks

1. Know your own strengths and weaknesses

An obvious but overlooked point - when building you should try to use the best resources to realise your scheme. That includes choosing where to make your own contribution. If you are not the best person to manage other people, perhaps consider using a third party (a main contractor or professional project manager). If you tend to avoid conflict, maybe project management is not for you. if you relish conflict...maybe the same applies! Either way, it's good to assess your appetite for and ability to undertake the role before taking the plunge.

2. Focus on budget

Your budget is not something to be put in a drawer and be forgotten - for nearly every project, the budget is the only thing that cannot increase, and as such it is vital that every time you spend money or make a saving you refer back to the budget and assess the impact of your choices.

3. Beware of third party issues

The planning of any scheme tends to be inward-looking, focusing on the build and the items within your control. However, ignoring the outside is dangerous. Party wall awards, parking restrictions, logistics, access routes - all these things and many more can restrict your progress and potentially cost you money.

4. Build a brilliant supply chain

Time spent up front building a resource base will serve you well. Finding, meeting and getting to know the tradespeople, merchants and suppliers who you want to use will stand you in good stead. When dealing with people, a phone call or face-to-face contact will often get you a better service than emails and texts would.

5. Pay attention to planning conditions

We focus so much on getting planning permission that we often end up ignoring the conditions attached to it. These can include restrictions on working hours, requirements to have external materials approved, the need to provide surveys and perhaps a host of other strictures you will have to comply with.

6. Manage "scope creep"

A project is an exciting endeavour, but be careful not to get carried away upgrading to more costly specifications or adding additional features to your scheme. If you do this without accounting for it in the budget, you will struggle to complete your project without needing extra funds.

7. Stand by your programme

Checking how things are going against the build programme, on a daily basis, gives a frame of reference to manage and tweak activities to keep things on track, as well as intimate understanding of what is involved in every task.

8. Base the design around off-the-shelf products

Regardless of your design's intent, try to ensure that its major components are as off-the-shelf as possible. This reduces lead-in times, increase competition and enables alternatives to be sought if a supplier falls through.

9. Consider long-term running costs

Saving money when building is important, but do not lose sight of what will happen once everything's finished. The likely costs of running a building, as well as the potential cost to replace anything that breaks or wears out, should be in your mind from the start of the design process.

10. Remember your supply chain is human

While being hard-nosed wins the immediate bargain, being reasonable earns long-term support and help.

11. Declare war on waste

We all understand in theory that physical waste is to be avoided, but if you want to turn that understanding into action then a plan for reducing and recycling waste should be in place before work starts on site. Consider also wasted time, and the cost of doubling up on jobs.

12. Ensure you obtain a warranty

A new build warranty takes time and money to secure, but knowing you can sell up and recoup most of your investment offers peace of mind, as the scheme will be in a saleable position if the worst case lands.

13. Finish the hard landscaping before the interiors

Once the superstructure is finished, it's hard to focus on anything other than the interior, but try to make sure the apron around the house and the access routes are finished, clean and safe. Dirt and damage cost money and time, and key elements such as the driveway are usually best done along with the rest of the structural work.

14. Budget for logistics

Don't underestimate the need for scaffolding, temporary electrics and water, site toilets, and anything else you will need to run the site.

15. Be safety conscious from the start

Under the Construction Regulations 2015, you can expect your contractors to take responsibility for themselves, but you'll need to ensure they have a safe working environment, that the Health and Safety executive is notified if necessary, and that a Construction Phase Plan has been drawn up.

16. Cashflow is king

Paying trades on time is key to maintaining successful relationships during a building project. Ensuring materials and big-ticket items are on site when they need to be is also vital to keeping things on track. As such, cashflow really will be king during your project.

17. Pay on time, but only for real results

Paying promptly for work done is vital, but where possible only pay in arrears. Things like kitchens and windows require advance payments, so use vesting and insurance provisions to protect your interests. If your supply chain can get credit from builder's merchants, pay in arrears for the items this covers but consider advance payment for bespoke items.

18. Consider the practical side of ordering materials

Materials may require a lead-in time before they can turn up on site, and getting them onto site may be challenging, especially in refurb projects, or extension projects with limited access. Always research delivery timescales, delivery sizes, component sizes and minimum delivery quantities before placing orders or finalising your programme.

19. Consider your neighbours

Your neighbours will still be your neighbours when you go back to being a private citizen! It's natural for them to have concerns about building works going on next door to them. It's a good idea to keep them informed as work progresses.

20. Take advantage of bulk buy discounts

Self-builders are less ideal customers than, for example, large contractors who will provide repeat business, but we can still take advantage of bulk discounts and free delivery by getting a single merchant to quote for all the materials needed at once.

21. Ensure you have a contingency

The level of contingency is affected by the amount of planning that you put in. The more homework you do the less likely it is unknown issues will arise. Even after planning for every possible eventuality, it's sensible to keep cash on hand for unforeseen issues.


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