Managing Success

Clear and concise guidelines can ensure a smooth school project from start to finish.

As the scope of K-12 building programs can range from a simple addition or renovation to a sweeping, systemwide expansion, administrators continually search for management principles that result in successful projects — on time, within budget and completed with the quality standards that administrators expect.

Make no mistake, however; principles cannot be effective in a management environment absent of leadership — a single individual must be responsible for coordinating the project. Whether an administrator or project management specialist, a single individual should provide the project leadership necessary to effectively manage the time, cost and quality of a project from inception to completion.

With leadership in place, administrators and educators can expect project success when employing some basic time-proven strategies. Here's how:

  • Validate the program and budget

    Program goals and fundraising vary greatly from one school system to another. Step one on the path to success is reconciling facility needs and goals with the allotted budget. If budget dollars are insufficient to support educational specifications requirements, no amount of management will prevent ultimate failure. When figures do not match specifications, project teams need to generate consensus to establish achievable goals and project specifications.

  • Create a management plan

    With expectations established, administrators and managers should create a management plan that incorporates appropriate delivery systems and contracting strategies for all project phases. Will the project be handled in a traditional design-bid-build mode, construction management at-risk or design-build?

    At the same time, establish a preliminary master schedule that encompasses both the design and the construction phases.

    Project managers also should evaluate the local market to identify any constraints likely to affect the scheduled progress of the project. For example, are there material shortages that may affect the project? If so, plan for early lead times on purchases. If a labor shortage is expected, explore alternative sources of labor.

  • Develop a reporting system

    A formalized reporting system helps all participants track progress in terms of design and construction milestones, as well as scheduled financial expenditures. Such information is particularly critical when multiple publicly funded projects are in progress simultaneously and expense guidelines need to be followed exactly.

    The reports may be distributed weekly or monthly and may vary in the level of detail, depending on the information needs of various parties. In general, a project-management team needs an in-depth report, while boards of education need only a summarized management report.

  • Qualify designers

    Successfully launching a project depends on selecting an appropriate design firm and placing that firm under the right contract.

    For example, a firm that is appropriate for the addition of a $600,000 media center may not be the right choice for a $40 million high school. In the process of issuing an RFP and screening and interviewing respondents, administrators should qualify design firms according to factors such as size, experience and understanding of project goals, and their ability to meet design production schedules.

    Once selected, the design firm should participate in a pre-design project analysis to establish project direction, ascertain the design parameters and anticipate problems.

  • Manage the design phase

    Several in-progress design reviews help administrators and managers ensure that designs are compatible with project goals, budgets and schedules.

    Using component budgets helps administrators keep the project on track through the design phase. This involves projecting a probable cost for each of a building's major components, such as exterior walls, HVAC systems or lighting systems. Scrutinizing the budget exposes potential cost overruns early, and suggests areas of potential flexibility.

  • Put schedule in bidding documents

    Develop a preliminary provisional project schedule as part of the design phase.

    This establishes all major construction schedule milestones and a payment schedule so the project is launched with important expectations defined clearly.

    While in the design phase, administrators and managers should cultivate interest among contractors.

  • Closely manage the construction phase

    Once a winning bid is selected, the project shifts to construction mode.

Using a cost-loaded schedule as the job progresses, managers coordinate the activities of various contractors, monitoring construction progress and payments.

The reporting function continues, verifying that scheduling criteria and quality expectations are achieved.

SIDEBAR: Full Service

by Daryl Bailes and Andrea McLean

Full-service program management begins with a facilities needs assessment, which may encompass the full inventory of facilities in a given school system, the condition of those facilities and requirements to meet future needs.

A detailed and accurate assessment requires in-depth experience and may necessitate significant resources. A full-service program manager also may assist with developing the bond referendum necessary to raise funds to meet those needs.

Transition planning, the process of providing the furniture, fixtures and equipment, also should be included.

Two key ingredients in a full-service program-management firm are teamwork and communication. Teamwork is best achieved in a partnership, a trusting relationship with a client that grows over time. Communication cannot be overemphasized either. A company with vast K-12 experience, as well as the ability to communicate its expertise, is at a great advantage in managing complex school construction projects. When such a company develops a long-standing relationship with a school system, a level of cooperation can be achieved that brings full service to its highest meaning.

Gaydon is senior vice president of Heery International, Inc., a design, engineering and construction-management firm with corporate headquarters in Atlanta and 30 offices worldwide. Bailes is program director and McLean is program manager, equipment planning & logistics (EP&L), for Heery.

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