Applying Project Management Methods

Applying Project Management Methods

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I am studying Project Management at BCIT toward applying to take the Project Management Professional certification examination. My goal is to apply project management best practices to residential renovations, including my own.

Our Phase 2 renovation is serving as my case study prototype for implementing this goal in practice. To that end, I have been developing my project management database system to manage project management-related and project-related data.

Project management-related data is information arising from implementing project management planning methods to manage conceptualizing, initializing, planning, implementing, and finally, successfully closing this Phase 2 renovation.

Our Phase 1 renovation experience was apparently a typical homeowner nightmare. We came within one week of having to sell our house unfinished because we had lost control of the project. It was only through sheer will and determination that we were able to find people who could help us keep our house, find new financing, and get onto a new solid footing. It is this experience that informs my approach to residential renovation and project management.

At present I have been building the database I will use to manage all project data. I am building it in Filemaker and making satellite apps that can be used to collect real-time renovation data on our iPhones and iPads. I have mapped out the initial table relationships to reflect project management processes:

  1. Portfolio development
  2. Strategic Planning
  3. Business Case
  4. Project Charter
  5. Project Management Plan
  6. Scope Development, including Requirements, Constraints and Resource Identification
  7. Schedule Development
  8. Cost Estimates
  9. Quality Parameters
  10. Human Resources – Project Team and Ancillary Contributors
  11. Communication – Means and Methods including Document Protocols
  12. Risk – Identification, Assessment, Mitigation
  13. Procurement – Terms, Agreements, Contracts
  14. Stakeholder – Organizational Layout, Authority, Decision-making

It wasn’t that anyone was out to take advantage of us homeowners during Phase 1. We had a good team of people to help us get the project done. However, there wasn’t one person on that team – Architect, Engineer, General Contractor, Electrician, Plumber, etc. that was actually good at project management. It was the absence of adequate project management that proved our weakness.

Since that first project I have embarked on working professionally as a carpenter, and now, as a Project Manager. My experience in carpentry has revealed to me a significant gap in the industry of residential renovations – the absence of project management protocols based on known project management best practices.

I can now tell the story of our first renovation in light of this new understanding and commitment to contribute to changing the way this industry manages residential renovations.


renovation phase 2 getting underway

We are embarking on Renovation Phase 2. Renovation Phase 1 put a new basement under the house. This included new plumbing below the midband, and new electrical panels for the basement and the house above the midband.

Renovation Phase 2 tackles issues on the main and second floor of the house. These include completing repairs to the front porch, moving the laundry upstairs and renovating the bathroom on the second floor, and removing the old kitchen and numerous additions at the back of the house to build a new kitchen, bathroom, mudroom, and deck.

Husband and I are going to act as our own General Contractors on this project as we now have five years experience working in renovations and are pursuing our red seal qualification as carpenters. We will use our original general contractor as a consultant and hire him at mission critical moments when our technical expertise needs a boost. The architect and engineer have submitted drawings to the City for approval. When the permit is issued we will use these drawings to guide our installation. We will consult with the architect and engineer as needed to clarify terminology and resolve any discrepancies between their drawings.

We have electrical and plumbing/gas contractors that are familiar with the house. They will pull the permits for the project and oversee the work. We will work them to map routes for electrical, plumbing and gas lines. We will provide them with semi-skilled labor to complete bulk tasks for electrical and plumbing/gas installation, they will complete mission critical installations of circuits, fittings, and panels. All our work in these areas will be under the oversight of these ticketed professionals.

The fact of the matter is that this house needs a lot of renovation and repair. We do not have the funds to simply hire a General Contractor to complete the work on our behalf. Our mission is complete the work using our own labor as much as possible. We will accomplish this by working evenings and weekends while we continue to work full time as carpenters. In this way we hope to draw down the renovation funds as slowly as possible, while maximizing the amount we can accomplish toward fixing this old house.

I am going to serve as the Project Manager. I have taken the introductory course to project management at BCIT, and I have both of the industry standard references for structuring project management methods and practices. In addition, after taking the course, I realized I have decades of project management experience, going all the way back to my days as a tree planter, when I worked my way up to Contractor Assistant. In those days I worked as Quality Checker and Trainer, as well as organizing deployment of workers and trees across numerous sites.

We are excited to begin this phase of the renovations. At the outset of Phase 1 we did not have the experience or knowledge to know when or where our renovation funds were being squandered due to contractor inefficiencies. Since then, after working on fourteen different properties, and observing several styles of management, we are confident we can do a good job with both the project-related aspects of the various construction tasks, and also the project-management related tasks of stewardship over the renovation funds.

At present we are wrapping up pre-permit tasks in preparation of beginning Renovation Phase 2. A key task for this phase has been de-commissioning and removing the storage shed that was built for Phase 1. This shed had become a clutter catch-all of both useful and useless equipment, tools and materials. The process of de-commissioning has forced us to examine our inventory and make some hard decisions about what is worth keeping and what needs to be removed from the property. The process of removal has resulted in harvesting lumber that will be used to build 300 lineal feet of tree barrier fences required by the City. It feels good to re-use these materials and move the project along rather than leave the shed standing and deal with the irritation and inefficiency of not having our resources properly organized.

For project management software I am using the Omni Suite of applications: OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, OmniPlanner, and OmniFocus. I am also using Filemaker to develop my own management apps for tracking planned vs actual costs.

I admit I have fallen behind in the tracking app development because I have done so much of that and I am very interested in learning the planning software. However, it is simply a matter of devoting time to what is needed.

Post-#renovation Recovery

For the first time since we started the renovation project in October 2011, and before that, we have a fully functioning filing system set up. All the papers that have drifted around the house in amorphous piles have been sorted, sifted, and put into labeled hanging folders. All the documents pertaining to the renovation have been collected and organized in their own two file drawers, including finalized permits, architectural drawings, product information and renovation notes.

In the process of setting up the filing system I also took down every book from the bookshelves and removed the renovation dust from each one.

Knowing what we know today, there are many, many things we would have done differently if we were to start over from scratch. This is knowledge that can only be accumulated through experience. What surprises me is that there is no way that homeowners can actually share their hard-won experience with other homeowners preparing for their first renovation journey. Yes, there are plenty of how-to sites, books, and videos available to get some idea of how to do certain tasks or procedures. There are also plenty of renovation nightmare television shows that purport to prepare the homeowner for renovating their home, but actually do not prepare them for the realities of planning, destruction, construction and recovery.

There is a dearth of writing or information about the psychological experience of undergoing a renovation: individually, in a marriage partnership, on families, pets, etc.

And another part of the renovation experience is planning for the aftermath: what were you able to afford to accomplish at this time? What are you planning to do in the next phase? What can you do now, while walls, floors or ceilings are opened up, that will prepare for that next phase, that will add very little to costs today but would be very expensive to re-open later on?

This is why I have conceived of a course for homeowners, called, “Homeowner 101”. To provide a social learning experience for homeowners contemplating renovating their houses.

Passing Final Inspection #Renovations

Yesterday morning Wallace, our awesome contractor, called to make sure I was going to be home today. He wasn’t sure, but it was possible the building inspector was going to arrive for final inspection. Knowing how anxious I feel about inspections, he gave me instructions to call him the minute the inspector arrived and he would come over to be available to answer questions.

In the middle of the afternoon the inspector arrived and I unlocked the suite to let him in. With shaking fingers I texted Wallace, “He’s here.”

Throughout the duration of the renovation there has been a package of drawings, maps, and permits we kept in a large plastic bag. In the depths of winter, with rain pouring and mud filling the excavation, the contractor and foreman would pull out the plans and survey information to make sure the foundation walls were built the correct distance from the property lines. When the house was lowered onto its new foundation walls the elevation of the midband matched the architect’s drawings of the slope and height of the grounds. When it was time to build the steps into the entryways the plans came out and discrepancies between the architectural drawings and the reality on the ground were identified and had to be resolved. When we realized the mechanical room was not going to fit where the architect had planned, and we moved it upstairs, the drawings had to travel back to the City building permits department for revisions and notations. When we moved the electrical panel from the basement to the main floor, and disconnected all the old knob and tube wiring, we had to actually open a new electrical permit for the main floor and upstairs of the house, so we could get final acceptance of the wiring in the basement.

The copies of the architectural drawings that guided our renovation also served as the official record of successive inspections and approvals. On the back of the drawings are periodic notations from the building inspector, signalling approval to move to the next level of renovation: from forms to foundation pour, from foundation pour to slab pour, from slab pour to framing, from framing to insulation, from insulation to drywall, and to finish. From unfinished windowless exterior walls to lock up, from lock up to finish.

Over the life of the renovation, this plastic bag of drawings and permits grows, with engineering reports and confirmations and successful rounds of electrical, plumbing and gas inspections.

At the beginning of the renovation, I knew these documents were important because I was told to keep them organized and handy on the jobsite. Yesterday, I finally realized how much those documents were worth. When the building inspector arrived for final inspection yesterday, he walked through the suite and admired our handiwork. He checked to make sure the overhead fan for the gas range was connected properly. He checked to make sure the french doors were installed properly. And then he asked for the collection of documents.

I pulled them out the package of papers just as Wallace arrived. As the inspector perused the history of notations Wallace confirmed the changes and the status of permits on the property. The inspector reviewed the drawings, page by page, with their highlights of changes approved by the City. He checked the collection of inspection sheets from the gas, plumbing, and electrical inspections. And he signed off on our renovation.

At that moment I realized that collection of papers not only documented the history of our renovation, they were worth more than every penny we had spent so far to accomplish this job. These documents were priceless, with their traces of the struggle marked in mud, multiple foldings, and crumpled corners.

We have our final inspection. We are cleared to apply for a permit to rent the basement suite as a secondary suite. I know there are people who can undertake property improvements under the radar and avoid getting permits because the risk of doing unpermitted work causes them less anxiety than having to go through the rigours of following City protocols. I am not one of those people. However, I am also not one of those people who feel comfortable with the random authority of City inspectors to cause undue difficulties, simply because they have the power to use their judgement for good or ill. This is where having a trustworthy contractor on your side makes all the difference in the world. I can safely say this job would not have been possible without Wallace. He shepherded us through discrepancies between architectural drawings and on the ground realities. He stick handled the entire environmental situation when the house was held hostage up in the air on cribs with a stop work order. He supported us when our financing feel apart and it seemed the entire project would be lost. He stood by us as we finished the suite, two neophyte finishers completing our first renovation. He answered his phone to answer our endless stream of questions. In essence, he trained Matt to the point where Matt is now working full time on his new job as a carpenter’s apprentice, working toward his red seal.

It is no small feat to accomplish a project of this scale, complexity, and difficulty. Especially when we did not have a well-endowed renovation money chest to begin with. But we have arrived, and we have passed final. It truly feels like a miracle of spirit, community, and the values of helping each other get things done that we could not do alone.

It took us months to figure out how to finish the kitchen around these posts.

It took us months to figure out how to finish the kitchen around these posts.


Getting to Final

With every job on a renovation there is a surprise. Even the simplest task can present unimagined complexity. We are in the final stages of completing the renovation on our basement. Honestly, this ending cannot come soon enough.

For months we have had the doorknobs sitting in their boxes, awaiting installation. There are two bedroom doors and one bathroom door, so three doorknobs in all. The doors came prehung in their own frames, so we assumed installing the doorknobs would be a quick job.

The door handles went in easily enough, everything fit and worked fine. The faceplates, however, were not to be so easy. First, the faceplate hardware and the pre-cut faceplate on the door frame did not match. Okay, that is to be expected, we can modify the door frame. But then we realized the door trim was set too close to the edge of the door frame and the lip of the faceplate was not going to seat properly into the door frame.

Matt was doing the install, and he just sat there, puzzling over what to do. It was enough of a head scratcher to delay the doorknob install overnight. Next day, he called Wallace and consulted on the problem. Between the two of them, they came up with an elegant solution, to use the router to carve away a section of the trim so the faceplate would sit properly. The following day Matt performed the router operation and informed me that the routed sections would need to be painted. The next day I pulled out the oil-based wood primer paint and got the first coat onto these little sections of bare wood. Today I will apply the coat of high gloss trim paint. Tomorrow Matt should be able to screw on the face plates and the door knobs will be installed.

Let’s look at the timeline differential. The first estimate for the job was approximately 15 minutes per doorknob for a total job time of 45 minutes. The reality was more like 10 minutes to install each door knob. At least 1 hour or problem solving. Another 1 hour for routing out these little sections (including set up and clean up). Another 1/2 hour for oil-based wood sealer (including set up and clean up). Another 1/2 hour for high gloss trim paint (I think one coat should suffice in this case). Another 15 minutes to screw on the face plates. Remember, each of these steps has an overnight in between them – so tack on 5 days for all these small jobs to be accomplished. And that is how we started to install the doorknobs on Sunday and finished the job on Thursday (tomorrow).

In the meantime, as long as I had the oil-based wood sealer out, I touched up all the bare wood for the closet trim and door trim repair (from getting the washer/dryer tucked into its nook). So today I am ready to paint the trim with its first coat of gloss white as well as coat the closet edges with gloss white.

We have the last cabinet on the operating table, the first long strips of cladding were glued on overnight. This evening we will glue on the shelf cladding pieces and then I will have two full cabinets to sand and seal before we glue the units together and install them in the closets.

I have borrowed by step-brother’s oscillating floor sander and I am very excited to do a final sanding of the floors and finishing coats of Pentraguard.

When I look back at our pictures from earlier stages in the renovation, I can remember very well the feeling of, “Yay! We have gotten this far!” Little did I know how much further we had to go. And yet, I got that oil-based wood sealer paint on the trim so the faceplates can be screwed down and the door knobs finally installed and I say to myself, “Yay! We have gotten this far!”

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The devil is in the details #renovations

Last night Matt and I realized we have been working on finishing this renovation as long as it took to lift the house, pour a new foundation, and set it back down again on newly framed walls. Little did we know, when you put so much into the structure and engineering, that the finish carpentry would take so long! However, throughout our decision making on whether we should go the extra mile to do something really nice, or skimp and get done sooner, it was that investment in structure and engineering that drove us to choose quality over speed.

We realize we are going to be living with the consequences of our decisions for many years to come. Probably for the rest of our lives. After giving the house a new lease on life with a brand new foundation, we just could not bring ourselves to cheapen the beauty of this old house with modern expediency. It was almost as if we were making a statement about what it means to be living in the modern age.

Many, many years from now, after we are long gone, and after many houses have fallen, this house will still stand. The tiling, the cabinets, the floors, the walls, the plumbing and the electrical will remain in good working condition. The finishes will be dented, they will be bruised, but, rather than simply turning shabby, as the Ikea products will do within months of installation, our choices of oak plywood, oak wood, concrete and stone will acquire a history of life, evidence of time and bodies passing, a lovely, priceless patina of age.

Yes, we have used some Ikea cabinets. If we had known then what we know now, we would have probably used the Ikea cabinet dimensions and hardware, and built our own plywood boxes instead of using Ikea particle board. But, that is the way it is. We have done the best we could with what we have. And that means something. Especially in this day and age when every living processes and entity has been reduced to a quantifiable object on a corporate budget sheet.

Yes, we have been irrationally persistent. Yes, we have been in over our heads for longer than anyone should, with no days off for over two years. Yes, we are exhausted, wiped out physically, emotionally, and financially. But, what does our life amount to, if it isn’t to leave a legacy of some kind for our efforts.There are others in the world who are struggling with far worse conditions and threats to their personal and family security. Perhaps our efforts can make a difference, a sense of what is important, what we value, what we believe in.

Real oak for cladding the kitchen and bathroom cabinets

Real oak for cladding the kitchen and bathroom cabinets

Seismic upgrade #renovation

We are in the process of renewing our house insurance to reflect the work we have done on this house for the renovation. The insurance agent asked me to provide documentation to prove the seismic upgrade was done.

If you could see my livingroom right now you would see two years of documents sorted into piles, covering the dining table and the grand piano. You would see tubs of documents stacked on the floor, and a collection of hanging folders loosely flopped on the piano bench. The plastic bag of permits and architectural plans are stowed on a bookshelf. There are receipts, invoices, letters of engagement, product information pamphlets, contracts, bank statements, cheque registers, hand drawn notes and plans, and loan agreements.

What I cannot find is the invoice I paid to the engineer for the seismic upgrade. I have noted the cheques paid to the engineer in my cheque register, and I have records of the funds being paid on those cheques in my bank statements. In total, the engineer invoiced us three times. I can only find one, the last, for the smallest amount, in my papers.

I do have the letter of engagement. I do have the letter authorizing the engineer to access information about our property from the City of Vancouver. I do have a large sheet of paper covered in tiny print, called “General Notes” and I do have the actual engineering plans specifying the actual structures that comprise the seismic upgrade. I also have the sequence of engineering inspection sheets, signed off by the engineer, as we completed each stage and were approved to move forward. I also have, in my collections of thousands of photographs of the renovation, pictures of the seismic engineering as it was completed: sistered floor joists, rebar specifications in the foundation walls, hold downs between the stud walls and the foundations, plywood sheathing, etc.

Sigh. I guess I will have to send this portfolio of digital files to the insurance agent and hope they suffice. I think one of the most tiring aspects of living in a renovation is constantly feeling like my life is about to slide into complete chaos. Last night I had two dreams, first, that my 95 lb. reactive gorgeous golden dog was now the size of a grizzly bear and I was riding around with him in the back of an open pickup truck hoping he wouldn’t jump out when we stopped and attack passerby. The other dream was that I had a giant abscess in my gum, above my front tooth and I had to go to the dentist to have the tooth removed. I didn’t want to go, and in the dream I kept hoping the abscess would go down and I would be able to keep the tooth.

Today I am going to leave the renovation alone and focus on writing and cleaning up my place.

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