New Definition of a Project Manager

Today’s definition of a Project Manager is ever changing…..a new definition of “Project Manager” exists that requires the role to be nimble and flexible in its project approach to office construction.   Oftentimes, a Project Manager is also referred to as a PM, Owner’s Representative, Construction Manager or Process Manager. While varying definitions and unique identifiers come into play, one thing remains the same: a Project Manager, when scoped correctly, is the grounding point and conduit for an office project…and progressive adaptation of the Project Management role is underway.

While there are changing and varying titles to the role itself, the differentiating factor in a Project Manager’s profile is the scope of services that Project Manager is asked to orchestrate in any given project’s lifecycle.  The resultant changing workload of a Project Manager affords the opportunity for clients to custom tailor their needs and ensure not only no duplication of efforts within their project team, but also to strategically source what they need from a Project Manager.   Determining that scope is critical to a project’s realization and ultimate success…as is fully acknowledging and understanding that construction and non-construction workstreams all play an equal role in the project.  From architecture/engineering to general contracting and strategic partners encompassing sustainability, audio visual, low voltage cabling, security, furniture, soundmasking, artwork and move management – all play a mission critical role in the success of the project.  In addition, all have Project Managers within their teams leading the efforts for their specific workstream.  While the industry has many definitions of “Project Manager” and many strategic partners within any given project have Project Manager titles, the definition is clearly defined depending on their role within the project team.

When onboarding a Project Manager, step back and assess the distribution of workload internally and externally within your organization.  Are there deliverables that can be managed in-house or does a current job description not support the time and dedication needed to focus on a one-time real estate effort?  Does trying to allocate internal resources to a project distract that internal team from their day-to-day role or efforts that would adversely impact your operations or business?  Can an external Project Manager augment or support in a hybrid role in partnership with an internal team member or team?  Or does an internal team not exist for this one-time project effort and full outsourcing is required?  The ability to strategically structure YOUR specific need is key.

The value of a Project Manager can be realized at varying stages of a project.  While typically hired early on, Project Managers can join the team at varying intervals depending on the scope of services needed.   Changes to the current Project Management profile are underway – while oftentimes clients on-board a Project Manager for full project support, variations occur.  There are times where a client may just need Move Management support to help orchestrate the client’s relocation from point A to point B.   Likewise, there may be instances where a client only needs Construction Management support and can internally handle the logistics of a move on their own.  In addition, a ground-up or build-to-suit project  requires a different Project Management scope of services and has differing scope complexities than a Tenant Improvement project.

Knowing the nuances of a turn-key versus tenant improvement project is also important when scoping a Project Manager’s role.  Understanding the variance of a Landlord managed Tenant Improvement project as a Tenant-based Project Manager is also important – while the Landlord may be managing the construction aspects of the project, a Tenant-based Project Manager can be the link between Landlord and Tenant, while maintaining over sight of the non-construction work-streams on behalf of their client.  In addition, when a client is taking a subleased space – varying degrees of Project Management are needed from oversight of furniture reconfiguration to low voltage cabling & security adaptations for the space, with move coordination to follow.

Regardless of the scope being managed by a Project Manager and whether contracted for full service or a la carte, menu based selections – Project Managers are being asked to take on a more consultative based approach versus a task based approach.  Checking the boxes is easy for any Project Manager, but fully engaging in a project as the Project Manager requires creativity, strategy, problem solving and people skills.  The art is in the ability to understand the clients’ needs and expertly be exactly what they need, when they need it.

—– Written by Megan Walsh for Colorado Real Estate Journal, April 2015

Megan Walsh, LEED® AP BD+C, is a Principal of Catalyst Planning Group – a Denver based project services company specializing in project, construction and move management services.  The Catalyst Team has worked in 35 states and 9 countries and continues to assist Clients with their project needs on a national and international basis.  The Catalyst Team has more than 75 years of combined Project Management experience in multi-disciplined industries.


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