What is a Project Manager's Job?

Here's a list of responsibilities for the project manager at one commercial outfit. January 25, 2013

I recently made the move from a small residential cabinet shop to a large commercial architectural outfit. Even after several months I am somewhat vague on the job description of the project manager. What exactly are the main duties and intricacies of project management as it pertains to architectural woodwork? And what are the typical professional/educational requirements of the position?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor M:
What is so amazing is how much training and certification is required for an investment counselor who manages a $20,000 portfolio for you and how little we expect from someone in charge of a $200K millwork package. If you want to stand out, learn how to manage information. Microsoft Excel is for amateurs. Learn database.

From contributor W:
Actually, it doesn't take much to be a financial planner. Or a real estate agent. And if you can breathe, you can get a business license and start your own shop.

There's no difference between a PM role at an architectural millwork shop and a small residential shop. You use your breadth and depth of experience to manage a project, make smart decisions, communicate between all parties involved, put out fires, etc.

It's true that databases are much more powerful than spreadsheets. But your role as a PM is not to develop relational databases. It's to use one. If you're at a large architectural outfit, they should employ one or more database systems for project management.

From contributor R:

I have a $7.5 million/year architectural woodwork business, and about $6 million of that requires formal project management as we define it - the rest is products and small jobs that are treated differently from our main architectural woodwork contract work.

I currently have two full time project managers, supported by 8 project engineers. The project manager's job is as follows:
Take a handoff from estimating.
Become completely familiar with the scope and specifications of the job.
Handoff the job to drafting and engineering with a schedule for submittal completion.
Supervise the submittal process and review the completed submittal.
Create a schedule for production based on the most current knowledge and the customer's requirements.
Field measure the job.
Break the job down into work packages based on the schedule and Lean principles.
Participate actively in the engineering of complex items.
Order job specific materials based on the production schedule.
Review and release work packages into the shop in cooperation with the production manager.
Monitor progress of production and adjust schedule to field conditions and construction schedule.
Maintain contact with customer and customer's field personnel.
Review change order requests and submit to estimating for pricing.
Monitor progress of overall job and report to accounting for progress billings.
Negotiate installation subcontracts when subcontractor is required.
Collaborate with field superintendent when in house installation is used.
Troubleshoot installation and maintain sufficient manpower to stay on schedule.
Attend site meetings as required.
Do project closeouts and monitor punchlist.

That's a pretty complete description and it's what works at my place. It's a big job and each of my PMs is responsible for doing it over and over for dozens of projects a year. They have a really good support team and the project engineers can all fill in and overlap to pick up loose ends and deal with crises - and the PMs both can do AutoCAD drawings, CNC programming and cutlisting with Microvellum, in a pinch. I think the first comment was accurate - project managers manage information.

P.S. I teach project management for the Architectural Woodwork Institute, along with some very highly qualified colleagues, all volunteers from the industry. Keep a lookout in your area for one of our classes. They are good ones.

From contributor M:
The trick is to make sure your activities add value, now and/or in the future. You want to find ways to amortize the benefits of today's activities on tomorrow's jobs.

It's much less complicated if you consume it one bite at a time. Your customer has a limited attention span and a limited ability to synthesize information. You need to feed them questions at the rate they can assimilate them and you want, as much as possible, to be in control of the answers they give you.

This is what database does well.

It can constrain the questions to only those that are germane to previous answers. An example of this is how things are finished:
What kind of finish do you want: paint or stain?
If Paint>>>
spray or brush,
enamel or water base,
satin or semi-gloss.

If Stain>>>
aniline dye + stain,
stain + clearcoat,
pigmented stain

Each answer can be linked to a list of issues so that you can remember to talk about them, so that you can certify that you did talk about them. Database is what reminds you to check for asbestos in the flooring you are removing or how big the smallest doorway is that you have to pass through or whether or not you have to provide your own portable toilet. Database frees you up to focus on the things that are important to the customer.