Project management is not a small job. A project manager should provide overall team leadership and coordination. Project managers are accountable for the success of their projects, and to that end, they plan the work, organize the team, get ahead of issues, and serve as the primary contact for clients. At any time, the project manager should know the status of the project, the scope, the budget, the timeline, the team, what everyone on the team is working on, and what the next steps are. To more fully explore the impact of project management on a design or build, as well as dive into what makes project management at BWBR unique, we assembled a team of in-house pros for an informal conversation about their work and what makes great project management so rewarding.
Helping the Hero Shine
“Our goal is to allow our client to be the hero in their own story,” says Andrea Cecelia, a BWBR architect who recently participated in a project manager roundtable with colleagues Jarett Anderson, Anna Pratt, and Charles Orton to discuss the critical importance of project management in architecture and design. “I love bringing in all the different roles, the engineers, architects, and letting them shine where they shine.”
That’s a lot to handle. And yet, at BWBR, success in project management doesn’t necessarily stem from specific experience as much as simply having really sound judgment. Sound judgment builds on that expertise, asking the right questions, pairing strengths, noticing opportunities, and being alert for downstream impacts. Good project managers seek to learn from others – not simply run the show. BWBR’s project managers share information with each other and are highly collaborative in order to amplify their individual expertise. Project Manager Jarett Anderson adds, “I think we have a culture of lifelong learners here, where people want to keep learning and are curious. One thing that I like about project management is the people. And the longer I’m in this career, the more I believe that people are really the secret sauce.”
This isn’t to say that architects and designers aren’t capable of project management – after all, project management is integral to their work. Yet having someone who is tasked with managing the project overall makes a huge difference. It means having visibility to all the moving parts, making sure that communication is effective and timely, and that all parties have what they need to do their best work. The result: The client is the hero of their story. And ideally, all the professionals who worked on the job are heroes to the client.
Beyond Being the Boss
“You shouldn’t become a project manager because you want to be the boss,” says Charles Orton. “At BWBR, everyone approaches the work of project management with humility and respect and a desire to see everyone be at their best.” And sometimes, being at your best means being flexible. “I’ve described control-oriented project management as like trying to drive a car from the backseat. You cannot micromanage people; instead, you have to give them the freedom and latitude to accomplish the work within the given parameters.”
In addition to his role as architect, Charles is the Head of Project Management at BWBR, and he loves sharing a quote attributed to Dwight Eisenhower: “Plans are useless. But planning is indispensable.” Excellent project managers invest in planning so they can pivot and keep things on track even when things change. Because of course, if every role followed a planned script verbatim, we wouldn’t need project managers along the way. (And we’d also be living in a very boring world with no spontaneity or creativity or flexibility.) The team agrees that it’s imperative that they adhere to the soul of the project and what truly matters in that project, even if maintaining the integrity of that soul means adapting and shifting as you go.
Communication is Key
While no one will be surprised to hear that communication is crucial to successful project management, thinking more deeply about what that can look like is a differentiator for the firm. Charles explains, “I think that the trick is figuring out how to communicate. There’s a lot of creativity in finding new and different ways to communicate things that people may think they know (but don’t really), or to find new ways to communicate with broad teams that include contractors, consultants, owners, and staff at all different levels of development and authority. Each of them has a different lens that they see the world through, and the same message may land so differently across all of those groups if you’re not aware of how it’s being interpreted.”
Project Manager Anna Pratt adds, “One of the things that I find really rewarding and exciting is the visioning session that we do at the beginning of a project, when we hear from a wide spectrum of folks who are going to be occupying the building or are part of the broader community.” So later, when it’s time to build consensus or make tough decisions, there is an existing baseline of collaboration for the project manager to work from, rather than resorting to dictating decisions unilaterally.
At the end of the day, underpinning all of this communication and collaboration is trust, which only comes by practicing empathy and allowing everyone to bring their expertise and voice to the conversation. A great project manager is, above all, a great relationship builder and that human element is key to making sure the many, many moving parts of a build all come together in the end to create an exceptional environment.