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Owner Builder Lessons for the Project Management Industry

Jul 25, 2008
Owner builder residential construction projects offer a terrific point of comparison from which businesses can learn volumes about effective (or ineffective) project management strategies and techniques.

Owner builders are individuals who wish to save a lot of money by eliminating the costs of hiring a general contractor. Therefore, owner builders manage the construction of their own homes. They don't necessarily have to do any of the labor themselves to be official owner builders. But, owner builders must oversee the planning and construction.

Because owner builders are often inexperienced in many aspects of residential construction, let alone project management, it is easy to take some invaluable lessons from owner builder construction and apply them to business project management.

Owner builders make many basic mistakes. Learn from them to refresh yourself on some project management basics.

1. Owner builders often underestimate the amount of time required for their construction project. What's the lesson here? Always add an extra 15% to your project timeline to create a safety buffer.

Most owner builder construction loans provide a minimum of twelve months for owner builders to get their home built. Yet, most owner builders think they are going to be completed with construction within six to nine months.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for owner builders to blow their timeline and often use more than the typical twelve months allotted in the owner builder construction loan.

Of course, the timeline error is due to other management errors that occur during the construction project, but the lesson remains valid. Just like owner builders should overestimate the amount of time needed for a project, so should anyone professionally involved in the project management industry.

2. Owner builders constantly fail to underestimate the importance of the planning phase of a project. Similarly, anyone involved in project management should regularly remind themselves that the project planning is more often than not just as important as the actual execution of the project.

Owner builders typically fall into the trap of wanting to rush through their planning and budgeting in order to get to the physical construction of the home. Unfortunately for the owner builder, this means that they have no accurate budget numbers and no sub-contractors lined up to build their house.

It sounds basic and simple. It is basic and simple. For the owner builder who makes this mistake, he will lose precious time and money during the actual project as he scrambles to find any sub-contractor who will do the required work.

If the owner builder had taken the time during the planning phase, he would already have the sub-contractor lined up and under contract. There would be no scrambling. There would be no desperate hiring of under-qualified, over-priced sub-contractors at the last minute.

Think about how this owner builder example applies to any project. It doesn't matter if it's residential construction or any other project management field. The planning phase is as important as the execution phase. Your time is well spent during the planning. If you enter the execution phase properly prepared, you will save yourself time and money.

It's true for owner builders. It's true for you.

3. Owner builders often make the mistake of failing to thoroughly inspect the work of sub-contractors. In the project management industry, you live and die by your follow-up and inspection of the work that is being done.

One of the ways in which owner builders fail to properly inspect their sub-contractors' work is that they don't do a secondary follow up after some time has elapsed after the initial completion of labor.

For example, an owner builder may think he's doing a good job of managing his construction project by inspecting the work of his plumber once the rough plumbing has been completed. If the plumbing checks out okay, the owner builder will often make the mistake of paying the plumber in full.

However, what happens once the HVAC mechanic goes to complete his portion of the work? What happens when he finds plumbing errors that the owner builder didn't find? If the plumber is already paid in full, it is almost impossible for the owner builder to get the plumber back out on the job site.

Therefore, all owner builders would save themselves a lot of heartache if they did a secondary inspection after their initial inspection. Think of it as a double follow-up. By waiting an appropriate amount of time to perform the secondary inspection, you give yourself (and other people on the job) a chance to find any flaws that may have been initially missed.

Thus, before you mark a specific phase or evolution as complete, wait an appropriate amount of time. Perhaps you shouldn't call a particular phase complete until the subsequent phase is satisfactorily in progress, showing no ill effects from the first phase.

Overall, the mistakes that owner builders make are very simple. Thus, the project management lessons are pretty basic. Yet, they're vital. Owner builder construction is a great way to refresh yourself on the core basics of successful project management.
About the Author
Chris Esposito helps owner builders manage the construction of their homes and save money by cutting out the costs of a general contractor. Through the Owner Builder 101 program, he provides the nation's premier owner builder construction loans. Learn more at www.OwnerBuilder101.com.
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