Project management that’s on the client’s side

The benefits and the role of project management within the construction phase by contractors is long recognised and well established. However, clients employ project management to a much lesser extent in the pre-construction phase and this is a mistake.

Over the years, many of the recommendations and practices advocated by influential construction-related reports have been adopted and implemented. Much of the emphasis has been on improving the communication, collaboration and relationship building at the design/construction interface and further along the sub-contractor/supply chain and upon the clearer identification and allocation of risk in the evolving contract forms.

This is commendable, but we have not witnessed the same degree of emphasis on the pre-construction phase – with the exception of health and safety. Despite the improving outlook for construction and on-going advances in construction technology, engineering, design and construction management techniques and software, the instances of construction litigation continue to rise. This indicates that, on many projects, clients still do not have a satisfactory experience or outcome.

Generally, all parties to the development process are suitably experienced and assessed. However, many clients may be inexperienced and only ever undertake one development project. Their project may not be significant in scale or monetary value, within the construction sector, but one thing is certain, it is significant to them.

Client needs, be they developer, end user, landlord, tenant or funder, can be difficult to identify, define and prioritise.

The ever-increasing burden of statutory, legal and environmental obligations and quite complex sector specific processes and licencing requirements, due diligence issues, appointment of consultants, managing relationships and gaining consensus with stakeholders and appropriate allocation of risk throughout the procurement process is a significant task.

Client expectations can be better managed by identifying the key components, risk factors, features and issues that should be considered. The nature, type and characteristics of a client and the project will dictate the points of focus and help define the scope, nature and level of any external professional project management assistance required throughout the pre-construction phase.

The setting and prioritising of realistic, achievable objectives with measureable targets are essential requirements in the attainment of successful project outcomes.

The project manager must ensure that client requirements take precedence and that a thorough adequately resourced project investigation, evaluation and analysis is undertaken. The process will improve client decision-making, communication, motivation and productivity across the project team and reduce the likelihood of significant unforeseen impediments, delays and cost overruns. It will also encourage intuitive problem solving, innovative collaborative design practices, transparency and high ethical standards. The client can expect significant hard and soft benefits including cost avoidance and cost savings and the selection of the ‘best solution’. Note ‘best solution’, not the perfect solution.

Whatever the project, it is clear that appropriate pre-construction client side project management is important and plays an essential role in the pursuit of overall project success. Whether this role is undertaken by the client internally or externally is of lesser importance than ensuring that it is undertaken. What is critical is that the appointed person is capable, experienced and acts with integrity, transparency and independently.

Yet all too often, this very important aspect of project development is not allocated sufficient time or other resources and key elements of this phase are either not considered at all or only receive superficial attention. It is the author’s contention that in the overall development of a project, this is the most critical and economically beneficial stage for the allocation of time, expertise, finance and other appropriate resources to ensure the most cost effective and positive project outcome for the client.

CIOB Frank Mug ShotNB27-2About the author
Francis Farrell, BSc Dip Prop Inv MSc FCIOB FRICS is a Fellow of the CIOB and a consultant working across many sectors of the industry, specialising in project management and development surveying. Francis, may be contacted at

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