Managing construction projects is no small feat. With 1000s of action items to handle, timelines to be met and projects to be delivered, the question many project managers face is, “is my team working as effectively as possible?”
In efforts to help you answer that question, we asked over 30 experienced project managers in the construction industry about how they spend their time on the job, their best advice for managing their team, and how they know when their team is performing to its full potential.
How do Project Managers Spend Their Time?
Many in the workforce agree that email occupies a significant amount of time spent during the workday. This article from Huffington Post found that workers spend 3.2 hours on average on work emails per day.
The construction project managers we interviewed fell in line with this finding.
Of the 17 project managers who responded to the question “How many hours per day do you spend on emails to and from your team?”, the average response was 3.02 hours. The median response was 3 hours flat. Talking numbers, this adds up to an average of 72 emails per day, with a median of 50.
So, if you find yourself spending significantly more than three hours clearing out your inbox on a daily basis, you may want to explore methods to cut back on the number of emails you’re sending to your team.
Project managers also dedicate a significant amount of time to meetings, an average of just under 1.4 hours per day.
If emails and meetings count as “managing”, this adds up almost perfectly to an 8-hour workday, with about half of the hours spent on emails and meetings, and the rest spent working on other activities that move the metrics they care about most.
Impressively enough, when asked how they split their time between “managing” and “working” most common answer we received was an even 50/50 split. This not only means that these managers balance their time well, but that their perception of how they spend their time is accurate down to the hour.
Finally, the median number of construction projects the project managers we surveyed reported is between 3 and 4. While respondents told us that things change depending on the phase of projects, most of the project managers we talked to reported splitting their time 75:25 between the office and the field.
Construction Project Management Advice and Best Practices
So, how do these project managers keep everything running smoothly to make sure their teams deliver projects on time and within budget?
We asked the project management experts to tell us the most important thing they’ve learned in their role in the construction industry, and here’s what we heard in response.
- “Make sure that [you] are looking ahead and understand the risks involved in the project and are able to mitigate those risks prior to them becoming problems.” – Derick Hofstetter, South Bay Construction
- “You must keep up with technology and new construction practices and materials.” – Frank Narciso, South Bay Construction
- “Meetings are a necessary evil for large, complicated projects.” – Anonymous
- “Stay positive, do your best to catch every detail and make sure the cash flow river flows…” – Mark Vandersea, Ciarra Construction
- “Keep an open environment that fosters trust and communication. People should feel comfortable to ask questions all the time. Take the time to know about subordinates’ lives, even if the relationship is short.” – Anthony Garcia, Operation Nova
- “The importance of relationships. If you can develop a friendly rapport with people you manage, you will always be able to work together to help solve problems (whether it be financial or something physical in the field)” – Haydon Osborne, Sevan Multi Site Construction
- “How to be successfully persuasive.” – Cloy Coats, DEB Construction
- “Patience” – Mitch Rhodes, Blach Construction
- “Never stop learning. If you aren’t learning new means, methods, practices, then you are stagnant and not growing. Teach others around you so they can learn.” – Curtis Stavinoha, Metropolitan Contracting Company, LLC
- “No action is an action.” – Evan Butler, Bear Construction
- “Good relationships with the owners of projects is vital to success.” – Michael Candelaria, MGC Contractors
- “Communication is most important. Whether it’s with the client or with subs, it needs to be constant.” – Zach Cannon, The Burt Group
- “Learning never ceases” – Jim Larsen, GSI, LLC
- “People skills are more valuable than technical construction skills.” – Gregory Cashen, Wood Partners
- “You are only as good as the people you work with.” – Michael Williams, T Morales Company
- “Communication is key, as well as accountability.” – Jeff Ewing, Byrne Construction
- “Deliver bad new as soon as its identified with multiple solutions” – James, Company Not Provided
- “Communication is one of the most important tools to have in this industry, and possibly one of the most challenging. I’d have to say outside of communication, bonding and rapport is very important in customer relationships.” – Rusty Reynolds, Contractors, Inc.
- “Be firm, but fair. Look ahead. Try not to get too far into the weeds.”- Josh Lowe, Streetlights Residential
- “Every day matters.” – Nathan Fellows, MAPP
What Makes for a Great Team?
We also wanted to find out how construction PMs know their team is performing well.
Out of the 20 project managers who responded to the question, two answers swept the majority of the responses.
The first, to be expected: deliver projects on time and under budget.
The second? Understanding the “big picture” or “intent” of the project, so the team can act proactively to keep things moving in the right direction.
This was described well by Anthony Garcia, of Operation Nova, who explained that when there is an issue, his team doesn’t just notify their superiors, but rather, they line up potential solutions, so that superiors can simply give approval. Garcia explained further used the example of an on-site issue. When a problem occurs, rather than raising the issue to the next level of command and asking for direction, his team explores the potential best solutions and presents them to a manager for approval.
In order for this to work, though, the team must have understanding of the general direction of the project. In order to achieve this, Garcia says he strives to keep lines of communication open, whether via text, emails, or updates on the Google Spreadsheets they share to manage operations. Project management tools can also help increase project visibility to ensure that your team knows where the project is headed.
Haydon Osborne from Sevan Multi Site explains how to implement this practice simply: “Look ahead, and go beyond the bare minimum.”
Finally, a number of project managers pointed out that when their team focuses on building strong relationships, communication flows more smoothly, which is reflected in more effective collaboration. As Tony Stock of Koontz Construction put it, “construction is a as much a function of creating and maintaining relationships with people, as it is actually building a building.”
At the end of the day, when the hard hats come off and the spreadsheets are put away, how do construction management teams celebrate project success? One anonymous respondent tells us, “100 beers”.