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The project manager is the key communications link in a design organization. He or she must provide and receive information from all other members of the project team. They serve as the primary point of contact in their respective organizations. If the project manager position does not exist or lacks the necessary tools, then the flow of information is restricted or blocked.

Among the devices used by many to enhance communications among team members is a partnering process. This process between team members:

  • enhances decision making by making the client part of the team (a famous architect once said, “Architecture would be a wonderful profession if it weren’t for clients”);
  • anticipates the need for client decisions;
  • forces the team to spend some time before the project begins discussing how the team will work together; and
  • encourages the client to be knowledgeable and assertive.

The concept of partnering has existed for a number of years and requires early meetings to set the stage for a successful relationship between the team members. This early opening of the lines of communication is continued throughout the project and greatly improves the team’s ability to meet scope, schedule, and budget requirements. Project managers are key individuals in the partnering process by their regular participation in partnering meetings.

To control project design costs successfully, the project manager must regularly monitor and manage the project scope of services. To do this properly requires the project manager to:

  • know the scope of services;
  • communicate with the client when something appears to be beyond the contractual project scope of services;
  • watch out for “scope creep” — small items that begin to add up; and
  • develop simple forms to manage/monitor/communicate changes to the project scope.

Scope creep is a particularly challenging issue. Project managers are reluctant to say no to their clients and don’t want to risk damaging a relationship by charging for every item of service. Unfortunately, the cumulative impact of these items can be significant and can cost you your project’s profit. A balance must be achieved by informing the client when an item is considered beyond the contractual scope of services while judiciously charging for appropriate items.

Every effective project manager must recognize the need to communicate with all team members. Remember that a project team is not simply made up of the few people in your own office involved on a project. The complete project team includes many people, including architects, engineers (of many disciplines), the client, general contractors, sub and specialty contractors, suppliers, vendors, regulators, and many others. Each of these team members has their own information needs.

The most successful project managers are often those with the best and most effective communications skills. Unfortunately, little in their academic training provides the information necessary for success in this undertaking. As a result, few project managers learn this most important part of their job until pressed into service.


Howard Birnberg is executive director of the Association for Project Managers. He can be reached at 312-664-2300 or hbirnberg@gmail.com

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