Project Profitability: Training project managers — A case study and course

    By Howard Birnberg

    There are many methods to determining, preparing, and delivering project manager training. In a recent consulting assignment, we developed the following methodology using a three-step approach to enhancing the skills of the targeted project managers.

    As the managing principal of the firm put it, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” It was our job to find out and consider how best to meet their needs. (Note: This was a large, international multidiscipline design firm.)

    Step 1: Determine content

    Determined the content of (a) subsequent training session(s) by assessing current skills, training needs, and project managers’ interests.

    The assessment included:

    • examining the information project managers were currently receiving;
    • reviewing how the information is used;
    • considering additional data they may require;
    • evaluating the training needs of current project managers;
    • reviewing the current authority/responsibilities of project managers;
    • understanding how the firm structures the role of project managers;
    • interviewing current and potential project managers; and
    • examining a variety of other items such as office operations, project work flows, existing communications channels, project managers’ support staff, and many related topics.

    We began with an initial visit to the client’s offices. However, before this visit, we received relevant project management-related materials early enough to allow sufficient time for a preliminary review and discussion.

    Step 2: Prepare (a) targeted course(s)

    Early in the process, we offered the material in Exhibit 1 (below) taken from my University of California Berkeley Extension course as a starting point for selecting training topics. These were reviewed by the client to initiate discussion of potential topics. The details of the course content for their project managers were determined once we had the opportunity to visit the client’s office and meet with their project managers. Subsequently, we prepared the course materials and discussed these with the client. After fine-tuning, PowerPoint slides and other materials (including handouts and other resources) were prepared.

    Step 3: Deliver the educational content

    With completion of the assessment process and preparation of materials, decisions were made regarding an appropriate length for delivery of the material and a schedule was set. As a strong believer in the use of real life case studies, I selected several for use in the training process.

    Exhibit 1: Example of content for training project managers

    University of California Berkeley Project Management Course

    Purpose of the Course/Course Description:

    Managing the project team and process is an extremely broad subject ranging from detailed technical areas to intuitive people skills. Project team managers must be effective in dozens of subjects if they are to lead a project successfully from conception to occupancy and beyond. These skills are vital in achieving a project that meets the goals of the end user within the desired budget and schedule.

    In a single word, the project team manager’s job is to communicate. Without effective communication, the performance of every member of the project team will suffer. This often leads to a problem project and confrontation, not cooperation.

    Learning Objectives (Goals/Takeaways):

    When students have completed this course, they will:

    • Learn how project managers can better control design costs by an improved understanding of design firm operations.
    • More effectively manage the project team through improved communication skills.
    • Have a better overview of the role of the project team manager.
    • Learn how to train and mentor project team members.
    • Obtain important tools to manage and control project change orders.
    • Learn how other team managers deal with problem projects.

    Course Content Outline

    Case Study: A Showpiece Turned Sour

    Module 1: Project Team and Process Management Concepts

    Introduction/Primary Role of Team Managers

    Management Concepts

    • Importance of the System/Process
    • Use of Technology
    • Effective Communications
    • Team Approach
    • Cross Training
    • Authority = Responsibility
    • Decision Making to the Lowest Effective Level

    Problems Traced to a Weak or Ineffective Project Management System

    Organization Life Cycle Curve

    Project Delivery Systems

    • System Types

    – Pyramid Approach

    – Departmental Organization

    – Matrix Management

    • Other Concepts

    – Account Managers

    – Studios

    Impact on Construction Costs

    Client Selection of Design Consultants

    Project Delivery Methods

    • Traditional Straight-Line Method
    • Fast-Track Method
    • Design/ Build Method

    Specialized Consultants

    • Project Management Consultants
    • Program Management Consultants
    • Design/Build Firms
    • Construction Managers

    – At Risk

    – Not At Risk

    Owner/Client Concerns

    • Respect
    • Communication
    • Service
    • Satisfaction
    • Loyalty/Commitment

    Owner/Client Needs

    • Want to Be Kept Informed
    • Good Cost Control
    • Technical Competence
    • Regular Invoicing

    Owner/Client Role

    Module 2:  Planning and Management Concepts for Project Managers

    Long-Range Planning Process-Elements

    • Strategies
    • Implementation Plans
    • Initial Objectives
    • Tactical Plans

    Goal Setting

    • Bottom-Up
    • Pragmatic Compromise
    • Continual

    Decision-Making Management Concepts

    Strategic Project Management Plan

    • Elements of a Strategic Project Management Plan

    Items to Consider Under the Plan

    Case Study: Ohio Operating Power System

    Module 3: The Project Team Manager

    Characteristics of Team Managers

    • Strong Organizational Ability
    • Generalist
    • Insight
    • Ability to Monitor the Project
    • Communicative
    • Experience
    • Leadership Ability
    • Ability to Make Decisions

    Team Manager Responsibilities

    Specific Responsibilities

    • Marketing and Continued Contact
    • RFP/RFQ Preparation/Fee Determination and Negotiation
    • Staff Planning and Assembly of the Project Team
    • Managing the Project
    • Quality Management
    • Team Relations
    • Project Status Reporting
    • Billing and Collection

    Role of Design Firm Project Managers in The Marketing Process

    • What Facilities Managers Should Expect of Designers During Marketing

    How Many Team Managers Do You Need?

    Finding Team Managers

    • Outside Your Firm
    • Train Your Own
    • Recruit an Experienced Manager

    Leveling Workload

    Contract Staffing

    • Advantages/Disadvantages
    • Contract Staff

    Responsibility and Authority

    • Steps

    Delegation Techniques

    • Steps

    Training Goals

    • How to Perform a New/Unfamiliar Task Within Current Job
    • Improve Performance on Present Job
    • Prepare to Handle a New Job

    Facilities and Project Manager Training Topics

    Developing Your Training Program

    • Staff/Management Training
    • Determining If Training Is Needed

    Staff Development Officer

    Cross Training

    • Benefits

    Training Methods

    • Lecture Method
    • Classroom Training
    • Program Learning
    • Group Discussion/Case Studies
    • On-the-Job Training
    • Mentoring

    Mentoring Programs

    • Formal
    • Informal

    Sources and Providers (see Bibliography)

    Case Study: AB&C Telecommunications

    Module 4: Soft Skills

    Time Management

    • Meeting Management
    • Other Ideas

    Preparing and Editing Written Materials

    Public Speaking

    Listening Skills

    Successful Negotiating

    Module 5: Working With Design Firms

    Owner/Client Criteria for Selecting A/E Consultants

    • Experience
    • Pricing Justification
    • Project Delivery System
    • Specific Team Members
    • Fee for Services
    • Project Management Manual

    Factors Impacting Traditional A/E Consultants

    • Why They Limit Their Services

    External Constraints on A/E Designers

    Project Phases and Personnel Responsibilities

    • Design/Bid/Build Projects

    Project Development Steps

    Understanding Design Firm Costs

    Basic Financial Model for Design Firms

    Profit Planning for Design Firms

    • Labor
    • Non labor Costs
    • Ratios/Multipliers

    Scope Determination

    Scope Management

    • Scope of Services Planning Format

    Managing Scope Creep and Project Design Change Orders

    • Work Authorization Form
    • Consultant Work Authorization Form

    Project Budgeting Resources

    • Methods to Budget Design Projects

    A/E Contract Types

    • Dividing Contracts
    • Value Pricing

    Project Cost Plan/Project Budgeting

    • Direct Personnel Expense (DPE)
    • Reimbursable Markup

    Monitoring Design Costs

    • Status Reports — Labor, Expenses, Summary
    • Software Considerations

    Billing Checklist

    • Beneficial to Both Clients and Designers

    Prompt Payment of Design Consultants By the Prime Consultant

    Controlling Project Design Costs (Summary)

    • Design Firm Organization
    • Before Signing a Design Services Contract
    • Effective Communications
    • Monitoring Project Progress
    • Why Projects Run Over Their Design Budget

    Case Study: Federal Design Work

    Module 6: Project Notebooks and Project Management Manuals

    Project Administration

    • Project Notebooks

    Project Manager Manuals

    • Development
    • Content

    Case Study: International Potato Corporation

    Module 7: Project Quality/Risk Management/Other Topics

    Concepts: Quality and Risk Management

    • Red Flag Words

    Quality Assurance Programs

    • Developing
    • Organization Plan
    • Project Manager System
    • Quality Assurance Development
    • Insurance and Legal Professionals

    Peer Review Programs

    • Background
    • Components

    Value Engineering

    • Overview


    • Background


    • History
    • Uses and Cautions

    Project Closeout

    • Client Satisfaction/Feedback — Report Card Form
    • Building Historic Databases — Completed Projects File
    • Continued Contact

    Computers In The Construction Industry

    • History of Construction Industry Computer Use
    • Building Information Modeling (BIM)

    Case Study: Building Information Modeling (from ENR)

    Module 8: Scheduling

    Project Scheduling

    • Issues in Planning and Scheduling — Defining a Successful Project

    Responsibilities of a Project Manager in Preparing a Plan

    Benefits and Limitations of Project Schedule Networks

    Introduction to Planning and Scheduling

    • Defining Project Success — On-time, Within budget, Meets the owner’s needs
    • Purpose of Planning
    • Why Schedule
    • Major Planning Goals
    • What Makes for a Good Schedule?
    • Products of a Schedule
    • Responsibilities of a Team Manager Regarding Schedules

    Howard Birnberg is executive director of the Association for Project Managers ( and lead consultant for the APM subsidiary, Project Management Consultants. He may be reached at 312-664-2300 or