Managing the fitout process – a challenge different than others

1 September 2020

Managing the fitout process – a challenge different than others

Project management in the area of interior finishing has some specific aspects that differ significantly from managing the construction of entire buildings in the formula of general contracting. Failure to account for these differences can have a huge impact on the success of the project.

The Project Manager, who manages the construction site, deals with several important elements, a much larger budget, has a team of specialized engineers at his or her disposal and works with key project participants – the investor, designer, general contractor, construction supervision and local authorities. On the other hand, the Project Manager managing the fitout usually works individually, is responsible for many more activities and works with a long list of contractors and suppliers, and above all, has contact with the final tenant of the facility.

The sequence of actions at the construction site

Choosing the best suppliers and hiring the most experienced contractors does not necessarily guarantee success. Interior finishing is often a matter of “sequence”. The sequence of activities at the construction site should be carefully planned, especially if we are dealing with complex arrangements carried out on large areas in the building. This is quite a challenge for a Fitout Project Manager, as most contractors would prefer to enter as late as possible and at the same time be the only team at the construction site. For example, if the Project Manager orders the execution of composite glass walls too early, before the dirty and dusty works are completed, dust microparticles may get inside and settle on the inside of the glass, causing dirt that is very difficult to remove. Even the most thorough polishing of the glass will do nothing then, and the final result of the fitout will not leave a good impression. It is similar with the carpet – installed too early and inaccurately protected may become dirty during subsequent painting works. Finishing materials are much more prone to damage as a result of out-of-sequence on-site activities. Implementing and adhering to a detailed work schedule can substantially reduce this damage and shorten the rework phase at the end of the project when there is the greatest race against time.

Resource planning

Another key aspect of managing the interior finishing process is resource planning, which must be carefully agreed and incorporated into the project program. The calendar of contractors, manufacturers, suppliers and transport companies should be considered, both in terms of their dates and holidays, and even the season of the year. These arrangements will be important for the client and the customer’s designer, who must be ready at the right time with the final interior design and material specifications.

Supply logistics

Contrary to traditional construction management, in managing the fitout process, the Project Manager does not have a construction back-up facility, a site where he or she could store materials for later use, hence the importance of timely coordination of material and equipment deliveries.

Plan B

The course of arrangement works does not always follow the plan and unexpected changes occur even in the best-planned process. The Fitout Project Manager must be prepared for this and always have a plan B in mind, and at the same time be proactive enough to overcome obstacles caused by work clutter or lack of resources.

Design changes

The work of the Fitout Project Manager requires in-depth knowledge of interior design and architecture. There are often situations when the Fitout Project Manager needs to come up with an alternative solution that requires some design changes, due to the inevitable infrastructure conflicts – this is when the ability to speak the designer’s language is most useful. On the other hand, knowledge of material specifications and their prices is useful when proposing alternatives in the absence of availability, long lead times, or the need to optimize costs.

Contact with tenants

And finally, the most important thing – the Fitout Project Manager is on the first line of contacts with the final tenant of the space, therefore it is extremely important in his or her work to listen to the needs and demonstrate a proactive attitude. This aspect is absent in the case of Project Manager’s work on building a facility from the scratch. At the stage of finishing the space, when the tenant’s new premises takes more and more real shape, the number of people involved in the project increases in the tenant’s organization, new ideas and last-minute changes appear, to which the Project Manager must react quickly. Seemingly small changes from the tenant’s point of view can cause an avalanche of consequences and also have an impact on costs. In such situations, soft skills in negotiation and diplomacy are useful.

To sum up, the work of the Fitout Project Manager is fundamentally different from the work of the Project Manager on building a facility from scratch and requires completely different competences and technical knowledge. The challenges of finishing large office or retail space in the highest quality, within the most favourable budget and preferably ahead of schedule, plus the expectations of future tenants, is a difficult combination. Difficult but not impossible. As experienced Project Managers say, “We take care of impossible things right away, and you have to wait a little while for miracles.”