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Wondering what differentiates an exceptional real estate project manager from the average project manager? Superstar project managers have the ability to move the needle and unlock value on complex projects in a way that makes them 10x more valuable than an average project manager. So, how can you tell the difference? And, better yet, how can you be one?
The Average Real Estate Project Manager
Whether their title is development manager, project manager, or director, here are some key characteristics to help identify an average project lead:
Minimal prioritization of high-impact work. Some project managers spend their time on the easiest or most visible tasks first, not the tasks that are most important or vital to the project’s schedule or overall outcome. They often appear very busy (which they are!) but, for some reason, critical deadlines are constantly missed, schedules are extended and costs continually escalate.
Takes a passive approach to managing the project schedule. An average project manager’s passive mentality towards managing the project schedule can often lead to gradual schedule slippage. They tend to think primarily about the schedule in terms of months and years, instead of days and weeks, where they could make a greater impact on moving the critical path forward. With such a distant view of the project timeline, it doesn’t seem too bad losing 1-3 days per month during pre-development or construction. However, the reality is that those 1-3 days of slippage add up gradually and, over the course of a few years, could add 2-6 months to your project schedule - all because of a short-sighted outlook.
Avoids professional responsibility. If a project is delayed, over budget, or the quality of work is poor, it’s critical to ask difficult questions so future projects don’t meet the same fate. Average project managers solely point to vendors or field issues as the cause of problems and never see it as a management, oversight or planning problem. This makes professional growth difficult.
Reactive mindset. Average project managers put their mental energy into explaining what happened in the past or dealing only with whatever is happening right in front of them, instead of planning in advance and taking proactive actions.
Does not learn from mistakes or ignores learnings. Average project managers may see the same types of change orders or schedule obstacles on every project, yet they simply follow the same processes that led to delays and overruns, expecting different results. Afterwards, they are often unable to articulate what went wrong and cannot effectively assess risks based on past learnings.
Not detail oriented. Not all project managers are conscientious when entering data into their spreadsheets or systems. It is incredibly time-consuming to manually enter data into project management systems and sometimes average project managers will skip double-checking their work. This can lead to inputting incorrect data and numbers. Project leads then make critical decisions based off of this inaccurate information, which negatively impacts their project and sets them back.
Lack of innovation. The average project manager follows the status quo without taking the time to innovate or search for better or more efficient solutions. These project managers are satisfied with the current, tedious process whether that be creating cost reports manually, negotiating change orders on the fly, or continuing to spend at least a third of his/her time doing mindless, repetitive administrative work instead of focusing on the strategic direction of the project.
The Superstar Real Estate Project Manager
On the flip side, here’s how superstar project managers set themselves apart from the rest. They are a rare find and you should be sure to do everything you can to keep them on your real estate project team.
Prioritization of high-impact work. Superstar project managers prioritize tasks that impact the critical path of the project - and they do so mindfully, using data, analyses and relevant information - even if they don't enjoy completing that given task. When making decisions, they always consider the effect on the project schedule, potential risk to major project milestones and the budget.
Takes an extremely active approach to managing the project schedule. Superstar project managers are always thinking ahead - measuring and tracking how each decision will affect the project schedule down the line. They are conscientious of this from pre-development onward, which can be a year before construction starts. They always complete tasks with laser-focus to make sure things are moving forward. They consider every single day and even every hour to be crucial and feel the pain of slippage even if they’re just one day behind.
Strong work ethic. These project managers are willing to do anything and fight hard. Whether it’s managing vendors or getting paperwork filed or completed, they do everything they can to ensure they never lose a day in the project timeline.
Proactive mindset. Superstar project managers plan for what might happen instead of explaining what already happened. Their focus is on keeping the project on-schedule and under budget, and are always anticipating potential future costs and proactively catching unexpected obstacles. In short, using the tools at their disposal, they are constantly working through tens if not hundreds of potential future scenarios, what-ifs, and Plan Bs to keep a project on-track and on-budget.
Always learns from mistakes and implements past learnings quickly. They can effectively identify and articulate problems and issues they learned from their past projects and apply those learnings to future projects. These superstar project managers almost never make the same or similar mistakes twice. They are often keen on establishing a recording system for keeping track of learnings, whether it is related to buyouts or cost benchmarking.
Always innovating. These project managers are always willing to take creative action to overcome obstacles. They are unsatisfied with inefficient processes or suboptimal outcomes, and they are constantly looking for better solutions. These are the pioneers in the industry and the project managers that will stand out from the pack very quickly. They have the ability not just to be successful on individual projects, but also to keep your development firm ahead of the competition and the rest of the industry. In short, superstar project managers are thought-leaders and innovators.
Strong interpersonal skills to get things done. These project managers are collaborative, show leadership, and push stakeholders to make timely decisions. They have the ability to inspire team members, vendors and stakeholders to do more than just fulfill the basic terms of their contract or role. These superstars inspire in a way that makes others want to help with requests, not just feel required to do so.
Being a superstar real estate project manager is definitely not an easy task and not everyone has the ability. But, with the right tools and the right mindset, average project managers can reach superstar status - or get closer to it. By cultivating a team of superstars and following best practices, real estate project management can be easier and more predictable, which will set your team on a path to build iconic buildings that change cities and gain widespread recognition.
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