Designing Success: Project Management at IKM

Designing Success: Project Management at IKM

 

Architectural project managers are so much more than the primary point-of-contact for a building project nor the timekeeper for a laundry list of tasks. At IKM, each of our Project Managers has a proven depth of skill in project delivery that compliments their passion for engaging and innovative design in specific design sectors. Our PMs are effective, empathetic leaders who ensure that projects are not only completed successfully but more importantly know the best way to facilitate a process of consensus building with the client.

IKM PMs are celebrated for the diverse personalities & skillsets that make them such assets to our firm and clients. In the midst of their effortless juggling, a few PMs offered their thoughts on what succeeding in this elusive role means to them:

 

The Initiator:
Melanie Como Harris, Associate, AIA, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C

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Focus: Workplace, Civic & Cultural, Historic Preservation

Years at IKM: 11

How does working at IKM allow you to apply your unique interests and/or suit the type of designer/leader you are?

A while back, the whole office individually took a personality test. My resultant personality description was “Initiator.” That title completely fit me considering I have been managing architecture projects for most of the last 15 years. The leadership at IKM has given me the opportunity to develop my own style of team management and trusted me to run a successful project without micromanaging me. At the same time, they are available to provide support when necessary. I always feel my opinion is respected and that leadership really wants to know me as a person. The projects are interesting and challenging, but it is the support of my principals that motivates me to do my best work for the firm.

Describe a favorite project that allowed you to grow in your role and/or taught you a valuable lesson:

Two experiences spring to mind that are equally important and very different from each other. The first was The Rehabilitation Center of Excellence at UPMC Mercy. This was a multi-phase renovation project of about 90,000 SF spread over 5 inpatient units on 2 floors of the fully operational hospital. The programmatic goals could have easily occupied double the size of what we had to work with. The building infrastructure was at least 40 years old. Adding to the challenge is the fact that this was my first healthcare project as a project manager. I had to take control of the design process and develop techniques for user group meetings. Rather than overlaying his process onto the project, the principal in charge gave me the space to grow these skills. The most gratifying aspect was walking through the completed project with the department director and hearing her appreciation for all of the little details in the work that demonstrated we listened during design.

The second project that really pushed me to the next level was the Annex for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. During this project, I figured out what my role is in the design of the project. As the project manager, my role is to cultivate the design amongst my teammates. Good design requires a consistent ethos from all team members. The approved conceptual design may not originate from my ideas, but I ensure that the established principles guide decision-making at every level and phase. I also learned that it takes a great team to make magic happen on a tight budget and construction schedule. It turns out that learning how best to work with all of the team partners from the engineers to the client to contractor is a talent that served me well on this project. The end result was not only an award-winning building (not so humble brag), but also a healthy ongoing relationship with the client and contractor.

In your opinion, what is the future of architectural project management? How are you playing a role in getting the firm there?

The traditional role of the project manager has very little to do with design. Not to get too corny, but, scope, budget, and schedule are the three legs of the PM tripod. I believe that good architectural project management requires the ability to inspire the team and facilitate good design in addition to tracking scope, budget, and schedule. It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, but there is great personal and professional satisfaction to be had from a well-designed project completed on time and within budget.

I wholeheartedly believe that IKM is working to raise the bar on good design. As a project manager, I have focused my recent professional development in defining what it means to be a design facilitator. I’ve had the honor of participating in both fundamental and advanced facilitator training through LUMA Institute and went all the way to becoming a Certified LUMA practitioner. I have further honed my skills through practice, both within the firm and within client and user groups. Through these exercises, I have gained a reputation as the go-to in my office when another group is looking for guidance on facilitating their own workshops or engagements.

 

The Visionary:
Allison Mason, Associate, AIA

Focus: Education, K-12

Years at IKM: 4

How does working at IKM allow you to apply your unique interests and/or suit the type of designer/leader you are?

I’ve always been interested in educational design and have done a lot of volunteering with children’s educational programs in the past, so being a leader in the k-12 studio really suits me.  I like the idea of creating buildings and spaces that have an impact on the learning environment of kids and directly affects the next generation.

Describe a favorite project that allowed you to grow in your role and/or taught you a valuable lesson:

Working on the West Liberty Elementary school (a part of Pittsburgh Public Schools) has really taught me that there is major value in every project no matter the scale.  It isn’t a huge project but has the potential to make a huge impact on the kids who attend this school.  We were able to rearrange the classrooms in the existing part of the school so that a new addition could house a place for a STEM lab, science room, and music and art rooms.  These are spaces the kids at this school have never had before and it will be a change maker for this neighborhood.

In your opinion, what is the future of architectural project management? How are you playing a role in getting the firm there?

I see the project management of architecture firms becoming less of a siloed role and more about collaboration with the contractor, subs, owner, etc.  I always try to work together with the contractor as early as possible so that we can team up to create the best way to put the building together that meets all the owner’s needs.

 

The Optimizer:
Bob Bailey, Associate, AIA, CSI, CCS, LEEP AP

Focus: All Design Sectors

Years at IKM: 7 in my second stint here, 16 total

How does working at IKM allow you to apply your unique interests and/or suit the type of designer/leader you are? 

As construction specifications consultant to all the project managers, my expertise is needed on most projects in the office.  It also gives me an opportunity to educate the project manager as well as the project team on those aspects of the written construction documents they haven’t dealt with before or need clarifying on. I also review and advise on constructability issues. In this way, my corporate focus of continuing education is to some degree always a factor. I enjoy working on a variety of projects with a variety of individuals, and my role affords the opportunity to do this on a continual basis.

Describe a favorite project that allowed you to grow in your role and/or taught you a valuable lesson: 

I’ve been involved in hundreds of projects during my career, so it’s not easy to pinpoint one. A project in the past which I think was a watershed moment for me as a specifications manager was the Hillman Cancer Center. At that time, 20 years ago, it was by far the largest project IKM had been commissioned for in terms of scale and cost. The additional challenge was that the project delivery method was fast-track. What this meant for IKM is that we were producing bid packages of documents every couple of weeks, sometimes in consecutive weeks. Roger Hartung and I worked very closely together to coordinate these packages and meet the schedule demands. It proved that IKM could produce a large project with quality construction documents on a very demanding project schedule.

In your opinion, what is the future of architectural project management? How are you playing a role in getting the firm there?

In the construction specifications world, there has been an ongoing discussion for several years now about the role of the specifications specialist as an information manager. I feel that responsibility is also true for the project manager, albeit I would say ‘information coordinator’ is also apropos. Applications that were not available or in a primitive state 10-20 years ago are now commonplace and being utilized regularly by experienced facility owners who use construction services regularly. Architectural project managers have to stay on top of these programs and be conversant with them not only to work effectively with the contractors and owners who use them but also to bring them to the table as suggestions for those who are unfamiliar.

At IKM, I have begun a transition to intelligent specifications software that will save time and enable project staff to produce more accurate specifications documents under my supervision. The ultimate goal of using this software is to link the specifications to the BIM model so that each will inform the other.

 

The Risk Taker:
Mindy Coblentz, Associate, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Focus: Healthcare

Years at IKM: 10

How does working at IKM allow you to apply your unique interests and/or suit the type of designer/leader you are?

IKM values what each individual can bring to a project. It is encouraged to be creative in how you approach your work from design to communication. This attitude makes working here fun and I feel like I learn something new every day from different members on my teams.  While creativity is encouraged, we still have support systems within the office so that when you are stuck or are looking for ideas there are resources available.

Describe a favorite project that allowed you to grow in your role and/or taught you a valuable lesson:

My favorite completed project is the Chartiers Valley Middle School.  This was a new type of building program for me with new team members and a new way of client engagement. A lot of new, which can be good or bad scary.  It was the good kind of scary, the exciting kind where you are being inspired by all of the new things you learn. The whole experience has really shaped how I now manage projects and interact with clients. I think the biggest lesson I learned was not to shyly step into new roles or experiences, but rather jump in. Working with new people, both in and out of the office, and really listening to their input and ideas resulted in a building that I am so proud of along with the school district.

In your opinion, what is the future of architectural project management? How are you playing a role in getting the firm there?

I think clients more than ever want to be meaningfully engaged in the development of their projects. One of the ways that IKM is trying to meet this challenge is by having many of our Project Managers become LUMA Institute certified, myself included.  The LUMA program teaches different techniques for engaging with a team or a client to promote innovation and design. They want to “empower people to innovate everywhere, by transforming how they work.” There are many different activities to choose from within their tool kit that help IKM to communicate more effectively with our clients about their needs, ideas, and goals for their projects. When we have the right tools to ask the right questions with clients, I feel like magic happens in those meetings. In the end, everyone is excited about the ideas that we came up with as a group and eager to continue to develop them as the design moves forward. The ideas might be different from where we started or what we each had in our head beforehand, but the process is much more rewarding when we move forward as a team.

 

IKM is currently seeking experienced Project Managers to join our team. If you or someone you know is seeking new opportunities, please contact our Office Manager, Marcella Mastay at mmastay@ikminc.com.


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