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How to Hire a How to Hire a Project Management Firm
By Scott A. Swiderski, PE

It seems that almost every firm is now offering project management; however, the interpretation of project management and the services it entails greatly varies. By selecting the proper project management firm, you can help manage risks and control costs at every stage of the project from pre-construction planning and complete construction oversight to post-construction services. 

What is Their Role? 
Undertaking a construction project is a complex and challenging endeavor. Project management firms can help level the playing field between the owner and the contractor, as well as ensure that everyone is informed and understands their role, expectations and schedule for completing the project on time. 

The role of a project management firm is especially important in the public sector as many public agencies, especially smaller communities, undertake substantial construction projects only once during the course of their career. However, the construction firms that they will be working with construct many similar projects in the course of one year. This leads to a gap in knowledge and experience. By integrating a project management firm into the project, you can balance the experience level between the owner and the construction firm. 

Yet another reason a firm that specializes in project management is necessary is because project management services are often included with the architectural and engineering services as an afterthought or merely as a requirement. Unfortunately, by the time construction begins, the design team may very well see their profit margin for the project shrinking. To accommodate the shrinking budget, it is common practice to send the rookie or team member who bills the lowest to monitor the project and provide the promised project management services. This person may have had little involvement on the project before this and may not feel comfortable asserting the owner’s interest to the contractor. Further, this representative may lack the necessary experience to truly be a creative problem-solver. This approach results in construction observation rather than project management because the construction process is just being monitored rather than explored for methods to control the cost and schedule. 

When to Hire 
Contrary to popular belief, the first firm hired for a project should be the project manager. A project management firm is most effective when they can be part of the design as they can bring great value to a project before the contractor is on-site. By hiring the project management firm at project inception, they can work with the owner to develop contract documents that are owner-friendly as well as focus on pre-construction services, value engineering and cost estimating on the front end, which will help control costs and ensure adherence to the schedule. Further, since the design process often takes longer than expected, having the project management firm involved from the beginning can assist in keeping all phases of the project on schedule and ensure optimal results. 

Early involvement also allows the project manager to conduct a constructability review and examine the construction documents before they go out for review. With this approach, minor revisions can be made to increase efficiencies. Review by a project manager ensures that items are properly spelled out, which helps to avoid change orders and schedule delays that add cost to a project. This allows the contractor to provide the best possible bid cost and schedule. 

Project Services Project management Services 
· Cost and resource scheduling 
· CPM schedule development and monitoring 
· Value engineering 
· Constructability reviews 
· Design and construction schedules 
· Contract document development 
· Contract bidding, negotiation and award 
· On-site management and coordination 
· Contract administration 
· Quality control and inspection 
· Master plan implementation 
· Safety monitoring 
· Budget management 
· Change control and management 
· Audits and cost-to-complete estimates 
· Operation and maintenance manuals 
· Owner training and orientation 
· Project completion and close-out 
· Final project walk-through 
· Final billings and contract close-outs 

Documenting Success 
Another area where the project manager can offer considerable expertise is with the contract documents. Often, the contract form architectural firms use is a standard document available from the American Institute of Architects (AIA); therefore, it is ultimately serving the best interest of the architect. While these standard agreements provide a good starting point, it is in the owner’s best interest to review and alter the document to ensure they are positioned in the best place. 

A project manager’s expertise also extends to coordination with the contractor. Often on public works projects, the firm with the lowest bid secures the work. This philosophy provides contractors with the necessity of maximizing their profit on change-orders since they have already been asked to skinny-down their profit in the low bid. An “owner-friendly” contract can provide more specific language for the owner to control their project and limit their risk. A project management firm can incorporate schedule milestones into the documents to provide accountability for the contractor. When goals and requirements are clearly explained in the documents, the risk of claims and change orders is dramatically reduced. 

Selecting the Right Firm 
One of the most important elements to consider when hiring a project management firm is experience. Examine the firm’s experience in projects similar to yours and be sure that they served as the project manager for those projects, not merely as the contractor or another member of the team. Also, be sure to check references. Ask for a list of owners that they have worked with and contact them to evaluate the firm’s performance. Finally, make sure that the firm provides comprehensive management with pre-construction, construction and post-construction services. The proper firm will help level the playing field between the owner and contractor to ensure project success. 

About the author: Scott A. Swiderski, Senior Construction Manager for H.R. Gray, has more than 12 years of experience in the construction industry performing project management and engineering tasks for a variety of public and private sector clients. He has effectively managed the overall coordination of numerous multi-million dollar projects in both design-bid-build and design/build structure. Currently, he is serving as the Project Manager for the State of Texas’ Statewide Curb Ramp Program, leading several consulting companies and staff members on designing and constructing compliant ADA Curb Ramps throughout the entire state. He can be reached at sswiderski@hrgray.com. 

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