The vendor that I most often bring in to meet clients initially for sizeable projects is a project manager. A project manager is someone who specializes in running the day to day operations of a project on an hourly basis or flat fee basis. The purpose here is to have an experienced professional act in the best interest of the company if the company does not have someone in their organization that has the working hours available or if the company does not have someone with enough experience to complete the project.
On the one hand, most executives have competent team members that want to take ownership and can execute. On the other hand, most team members already have a full plate of projects. Having team members take on a large real estate project in addition to their current duties sometimes can stretch them past their capacity. What a project manager lacks are a history of working in the company, which can be an opportunity for the executive to gain an unbiased opinion and create new potential.
What does a project manager do? The short answer is, whatever is needed. Project manager’s contribution ranges from creating the project budget to assessing the needs of the company to finding and managing outside vendors, managing general contractor, managing the furniture vendors, and assisting with IT, orders and delivery, managing the move, orienting new employees in the new facility, and more. Some will help with order of magnitude budgets while others will build 300+ line-item budgets using their proprietary checklist system. The level of detail can differ from project manager to project manager. Moving to a 2,000 SF warehouse in a neighborhood business park is going to require less detail than moving to a 220,000 SF distribution center where 400 employees are going to be working multiple shifts. Many of my clients have been in business decades, moved several times, and have a good idea of what relocating costs are at any given moment. Most clients have moved enough that they know that they don’t want to have to do it any more than they have to. Some of my older clients jokingly claim that they will retire before they have to move again. My sixth sense is in ball-parking relocation expenses based on my experience. Still, there are times in large organizations on large projects where extra help budgeting for multiple scenarios is needed, and a project manager can provide the heavy lifting here.
One significant way to make an informed decision is to budget for different scenarios to provide different timelines and budgets that will help you establish different value judgments. In a 100,000 SF relocation, you will be looking at multiple different buildings and competitively bidding on real estate economics, yet all three buildings have different physical characteristics and different budgets. No two industrial buildings are the same.
In office leasing, you might get the perception that office space is a commodity with few differentiating factors such that you make your choice based primarily on price. That might have been the case years ago, but it isn’t now with the newest modern creative office environments. The same holds for industrial buildings but in a different way. Each vintage of industrial building was built during a different when different warehouse configurations were in vogue. Each piece of land has a different shape, dimension, and orientation. Zoning density and regulations have changed over the years as have parking requirements. Comparing each property based on its operational efficiencies, financial impacts, real estate economics, and total cost of occupancy is imperative. For example, if the column spacing in one building is 40′ versus 52′ in another, your ability to rack efficiently and move product throughout the warehouse changes dramatically. Compare your ability to use a 26′ clear warehouse versus a 28′ clear warehouse. Simulate how a truck court depth of 110′ versus 175′ affects your ability to maneuver trucks in a safe and timely manner. Your internal team, your broker, and your project manager will be able to work through each of these to build the right budget for each scenario so that you can make the most informed decision possible.
Is it possible to do all this without hiring a project manager? Absolutely. Most companies do not hire one. But why? What I have come to figure out though over the last 16 years is that most companies don’t hire project managers not because they don’t see the value in having them on the team, but because most companies don’t know that such a vendor exists in the first place. Once a company becomes aware of the role of a project manager, it can often be hard to change the perception that an outside vendor can run a project like an internal team member. Additionally, some company’s just like handling matters internally and enjoy real estate the real estate process so much that they will make the time to execute their projects with their broker.
The larger the project, and the more sophisticated the parties, the higher the probability is that you will find a project manager doing the heavy lifting. If you do not hire an outside project manager, the project champion and the broker are the project managers. Just like the adage, if you don’t have an assistant, you are the assistant. Working without an external project manager is acceptable and can yield great results. I want to make you aware that external project managers exist, and they are capable of producing excellent results. You can always bring one in if you feel overly burdened or underprepared. It is worth interviewing one with each project to understand their value and make an informed decision. Chances are they will bring up different considerations that haven’t registered on your radar yet.
An excerpt from an interview I had with CMPG’s Christie Fischetti:
“At CMPG, what we call move management covers seven categories: IT, AV, security, signage, furniture, equipment and the actual move. We can manage all of these categories for a client. For the client to manage it directly, they need an in-house resource who has both a) the relevant experience and b) the available time. It is rare that a client has an employee with both. In all cases, the coordination with the landlord, contractor and tenant is critical, and best managed by CMPG as the project manager.
For cabling and AV, we work with the client’s in-house IT team to prepare their technical specifications and we manage the RFP process, vendor selection and oversight of the work.
Security. The client may have a combination of surveillance (security cameras), access control (card readers) and intrusion (motion sensors, etc.). We would assist in developing the scope, identifying qualified bidders, managing the RFP and overseeing completion of the work.
Signage. This includes interior (reception, office) signage, but also exterior signage if the lease provides the tenant with signage rights. Exterior signage is the most complex, requiring compliance with the tenant’s branding requirements, property signage program and city planning codes. The City approval process for new signage can be lengthy, so we want to start this process early in the project.
Furniture. This area can be one of the most complex, with the longest lead times, high cost and huge impact on design. In CMPG’s standard scope, our services include managing the tenant selected furniture vendor. As the project commences, however, we provide the client with options on furniture vendor bid and actual furniture selection. Whether we are involved in the bid process or not, there are critical coordination items that CMPG must oversee: electrical details and locations, delivery dates, coordination with cabling, coordination with architectural details and impact on final inspections.
Equipment. Tenants with heavy technical or manufacturing equipment require very detailed coordination. We work with the tenant to minimize disruption to their operations by managing installation requirements (electrical, HVAC, plumbing) and carefully planning the relocation logistics to reduce downtime of production and operations.
Relocation. The move is a big piece. We identify qualified vendors, develop the scope, bid and select the mover, lead move planning/training meetings, schedule the move and oversee the actual relocation. The relocation can be done all at once or in phases, depending on the number of employees and operational needs. For the move, we’ll be on site the Friday of the move weekend, starting in the afternoon. We’re there to answer questions and provide direction for the movers and client. Depending on the size and the timing of the move, we may need one project manager at the source building and one at the destination building to fully coordinate.
For the first day of business, we often suggest having a cabler and an electrician on stand-by at the site in order to immediately respond to miscellaneous issues that inevitably come up the first day of business. We also have a simple work order system where employees can log requests, so that the receptionist or office manager isn’t getting all of the requests. We track the requests and then we triage the items – which go to IT, which go to the mover, etc.– and help manage the post move. Like anything, it’s about managing expectations ahead of time so that people are aware of what to expect.”