Choosing an Owner’s Project Manager: Four Qualities that Determine Success

The intricacies that make up any large design and construction project are countless. From planning, design, permitting, and construction, any one of a thousand details can delay a project, and delays can be costly. Important project approvals related to contracts, design documents, payments, change orders, etc. fall on the owner, who may not have the capacity or specific experience to keep things moving efficiently. Hiring an outside Owners Project Manager (OPM) to work as an extension of the owner’s staff is a solution many are employing to facilitate communication, coordination, and decision-making. With Massachusetts law requiring public building construction projects over $1.5 million to have a qualified OPM, and other municipalities across the country soliciting these services, this practice shows signs of becoming a standard.

An OPM provides independent advice on project scope, design, value engineering, scheduling, contractual matters, and more. With allegiance to neither the designer nor the contractor, an OPM acts in the owner’s best interest and at their direction to manage projects from beginning to end. And a good OPM can save a lot of time and money.

Selecting the right OPM can seem daunting, but it does not have to be. There are four key qualities to look for in an OPM that help ensure a successful project:

Ability to understand project vision.

Good decision-making can only be executed by someone who understands the owner’s vision. A good OPM will understand the project deeply and quickly. For instance, how a building will be staffed and operated in the immediate and more distant future will drive decision making on everything from programming through design and construction. Assess an OPM’s ability to understand project goals and be comfortable that it will lead to good decision making.

Proficiency in the public procurement processes

Public procurement laws are complex, vary with the type and size of project and the services procured, and the requirements are continually changing. To avoid missteps that can lead to bid protests, delays, or other problems, an OPM must show it can navigate the public procurement process by demonstrating certification and experience.

Excellent communication skills

Communication skills are essential to effective contract administration on multiple levels, whether communicating with design professionals or contractors. A competent OPM can collaboratively negotiate with all parties and is capable of dealing with an adversarial relationship if need be. A good OPM also understands how communications, whether written or verbal, can alter a contract.

An effective documentation system

Accurately recording communications and being able to easily retrieve documentation helps keep a project on course and minimizes disputes. A standard procedure for project communications and a system for receiving, storing, and retrieving documents is an essential component of an effective document management system. Any OPM must have a documentation management system in place and will use it on every project.


Jan Greenwood

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