— Robert Burns, Scottish poet
If you are planning to invest in that special outdoor space, the landscaped paradise that you’ve always wanted—generally a pretty significant investment: $25,000 or more—you may be surprised to learn that some of the most important skills of your landscape contractor are not easy to see and even harder to evaluate. I’m talking about project management skills.
Project management skills are the skills needed to organize and coordinate the labour and materials to transfer the design drawings into a finished solution that meets key criteria such as completing on time, on budget, and at the quality specified and expected by you. In short, delivering exactly what you expected.These skills are critically important because problems always arise.
Projects are unique, and each one is different than all others that have preceded it. That uniqueness requires a unique approach that continually adapts as new characteristics of the project emerge. These characteristics can and do emerge anywhere along the project life cycle. Being ready for them and adjusting as needed means that we must be always attentive to doing what makes the most sense given the circumstances. Hence, project management is nothing more than organized common sense.*
But, you know what they say about common sense: sometimes it’s not all that common.
Landscape designers, and even some contractors, don’t always understand, or plan for, some of the complexities involved in the construction phase. Designers have designed what they’ve designed and its the contractors job to work out the complexities. Inexperienced contractors sometimes charge ahead without a careful plan or without anticipating the project’s potential challenges. No problem, except, the cost of these complexities usually get passed on to you.
Now consider an alternative situation. The designer and project manager and builder of the project are one and the same. In this scenario, the complexities are anticipated during the design phase; their impact on the project’s costs are discussed as are workarounds or alternatives to avoid any potential impact on your costs.
With over twenty-five years of experience, we know that things change during a project. In fact, we expect it. We have learned that in the process of building your landscape solution you may find that what you thought you needed or wanted is different from what you actually need or want once you see it coming together. The project management approach has to accommodate not only changes that you may make but changes caused by unforeseeable circumstances. It has to be flexible and adaptable and accommodate these changes because they may have an effect on completion dates and the scope of the project.Having the design skills and project management skills reside in the same company is beneficial for a number of reasons.
- You get to deal with one contact from start to finish so you are never in the he said, she said situation.
- There is never a problem of misinterpretation of the plans. The people interpreting the plans are the same ones that listened to your needs and presented the design plans to you in the first place.
- Not everything can be written down or easily captured by the drawings. The je ne sais quoi—that intangible quality that makes something distinctive or attractive—that is understood between you and the designer will more likely be realized.
And, you might want to query the contractor about what kinds of problems they’ve faced during the construction phase in the past and how they have handled them. If their answers don’t hit the right note, you might want to keep looking. And, too, don’t forget to check references. This is probably the only sure way to ensure that the design and build contractor that you are considering has delivered on time, on budget, at the expected level of quality, and to their client’s complete satisfaction in the past—a good indication that they will do so for you.
* Robert K. Wysocki. Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme. (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2009) p. xlvii