5 top tips for project managing your building works

PUBLISHED: 15:07 21 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:23 19 May 2015

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Will Woodward, director of WPM in Guildford, gives his top five tips for managing your builders

If you’re like most of the people I know, you will at some point during your climb up the property ladder be taking on a building project at home. And why not? It’s the best way to realise the full potential of the property you have bought. But if like me, you’re not brave enough to turn your hand to brick laying, plumbing, or any other skilled trade for that matter, then you will employ an experienced building contractor.

Most people will feel confident enough to project manage the build themselves. They all seem to scrape by on Grand Designs, and that’s with Kevin McCloud scaremongering at every turn, so why shouldn’t you be able to oversee a small project? The answer is, there’s no reason at all, and here are my 5 top tips for managing your builder properly and making your project successful:

1. Be clear about what you want

One of the most important parts of the project manager’s role is to provide the builder with a watertight brief, detailing exactly what it is you want from them. This will consist largely of the architect’s/structural engineer’s drawings and specification, but it shouldn’t stop there. You should think of what’s most important to you. However weird or wonderful, get it down in writing, even if it’s just in an email. A good way to approach it would be to think of anything you want that could make your builder’s life more difficult; what will constrain him? If you introduce any “new” requirements once your builder has started then you run the risk of the costs going up, and his pricing will be higher once he’s won the job and you’re a captive market.

2. Get a programme

The most powerful weapon in your arsenal will be a detailed programme from your builder – every one worth their salt should be capable of producing a simple one-pager. Don’t just accept “we’ll start in late May and should be done by Christmas”; it’s not good enough. You need a bar chart programme (gantt chart), which is a simple graph listing the builders’ activities on the left and time on the top. Using this, you will clearly be able to see if your builder is doing what he expected to do, at the right time. A programme is the best way for you to spot a delay, and it gives you a basis for your concerns rather than it just being your opinion.

3. Use a contract

This will probably be the most overlooked of all the tools available but is the simplest to implement. Construction contracts can be bought online for under £30 and are relatively straight forward to draw up. The most commonly used is the JCT Minor Works Building Contract, which can be found at www.jctltd.co.uk/home.aspx. Signing a contract may seem slightly over the top, but it will protect you and your builder should there be a dispute during the course of your project. You can also find advice on alternative forms of contract from the RICS at www.rics.org/uk.

4. Put instructions in writing

Once your works are under way, there will inevitably be small problems your builder will encounter and things that you need/want to change. While it’s proactive to discuss things on site, you must ensure any verbal agreements are confirmed in writing. If you do not, you leave yourself open to an unexpected bill once the work is complete. All you have to do is ask your builder to e-mail you a brief description of the issue, how it arose and his suggested solutions along with a proposed price; you then respond instructing him how to proceed.

5. Try to keep your builder happy

I have saved the most obvious point to last, but having a happy builder is extremely important. By this, I don’t mean keep a constant flow of tea going (although it always helps), what I mean is keep in mind why your builder has taken on your project, and that is to make a profit. It may sound odd, but you want to make sure your project is profitable to your builder. If you turn the screw at every opportunity, refuse to pay for this, or only 50% for that, then he will lose all incentive to make your project successful. Now I don’t mean be a push-over, but I guarantee you that if your builder is unhappy then progress on site will drop off, quality of workmanship will diminish and your costs will go up.


Hopefully following these simple rules you will enjoy the process and get what you want, when you want, and for the right price; and if you’re lucky you might even keep Kevin McCloud’s doomsday narration at bay!

For more advice on project managing residential building works you can visit www.woodwardpm.com to get in touch with WPM.

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