While project management is important in many occupations, for some it is especially crucial and can be a determining factor for success. Brad Wellstead, professor from Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, has over thirty years of experience in architecture and project management and has seen first-hand the importance successful project management means for planners and developers. He sat down with eCornell’s Chris Wofford to discuss the importance of leadership and management abilities in hospitality today.
What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.
Wofford: If you’re getting started in this field, what are the particular skills and ability that would benefit one most?
Wellstead: Good project management skills include understanding and getting your hand around scope of a project and being able to schedule and budget and build teams and so on. But then that works into the characteristics where you, as the leader of a project, it’s about team building and significantly excellent communication skills. You have to be a motivator and you have to be a coacher.
Wofford: Budget creation seems like it would be a particular challenge. Any advice on how to deal with that?
Wellstead: Real estate development is interesting because there’s usually one team that comes up with how much money we have to spend on a project. Then, it’s handed over to the group that has to actually execute the project. They say, “Okay. Here’s your budget and your scope, and, oh, by the way, a schedule and make sure it happens in all those conditions.” That handover, that nexus right there, is always a challenging one, particularly if there were any last-minute changes based on feasibility or needs of the project or so on. That gets smoothed over by having the involvement of a project manager who is running it throughout the entire project so, when in fact you are creating budgets, they are able to contribute and add-in the necessary factors of contingency, both time and money to incorporate those so that they’re in as part of it from the very beginning.
Wofford: When you’re involving stakeholders, what are the expectations as far as presenting the state of the project?
Wellstead: When you’re in the implementation stage, when you’re spending 60, 70% of your overall budget, design fees, and construction, that’s when the real money is getting spent. There should be often weekly meetings between the owner and the architect during the design phase and the project manager, of course.
That keeps them up to date and/or the project manager keeps the owner up to date on a weekly basis that way. As you move into construction, typically weekly, sometimes biweekly, meetings of the owner, architect, and contractor. Again, with the project manager representing the owner. That keeps everybody up to date with what’s going on.
Wofford: Tell me what somebody might get out of your course as it relates to what we have been discussing today?
Wellstead: It starts with the understanding of the project and getting your arms around it, the skills of creating a schedule and a budget and running through the whole impact management point of view with some … I don’t want to call them detours, but we talk about creating RFPs and team building and such.
And quality schedule and budget. I’ve never had an owner say, “You know what? Scope and schedule are critical thing. I don’t care about quality. Give me a bad project. It’s fine.” No, that never happens. It’s always come more down to schedule and budget.
Then, there’s this whole other part of that culture that we talk about in the course where it analyzes who the leaderships are and some of the things we talked about when we’re talking about contingency because it leads to understanding how you address contingencies. Is it white hot construction? Is it crazy municipality? Is it a community that’s going to be anti or for development? Is it a difficult site to work in and a whole lot of internal things that are happening as well as external things that could be happening so it gives you this really comprehensive, holistic view of the project that once having done that, you have a sense of how you’re going to move forward.
All of that pulls all that together. Those are the main things: the culture, schedule, budget and the team building and then the impact management aspects.
Want to hear more? Watch the recorded live eCornell WebSeries event, Order Out of Chaos: A How-To for Hospitality Planners and Developers, and subscribe to future events.