The Innovator – “The Big Picture:” Understanding all the pieces of a successful project (Allison Mason)

The Innovator – “The Big Picture:” Understanding all the pieces of a successful project (Allison Mason)

As a project manager at IKM I am responsible for managing all aspects of multiple projects. This includes coordination of project efforts both administrative and technical, to assure the most efficient and cost-effective execution of assigned projects.

Okay, that sounds great, but what does that really mean? It means that I am responsible for executing the vision of each project.

Every project, no matter the scale, has a high number of moving parts and pieces such as multiple stakeholders, industry partners, contractors, existing conditions, and ultimate goals. So how is it possible to coordinate all that effort? By preparing a strategic plan for project success and understanding “The Big Picture.”

For the past five years at IKM I have worked on the design and phased construction of a high school renovation and addition. This was a large job—the largest of my career at that point—and presented many opportunities and challenges that I had never encountered on this scale. I began the project as the project architect but the opportunity to advance at IKM was offered to me and I transitioned into the project manager role as the project moved into construction. It was at the transition point that I really began to understand all the different moving pieces and the careful choreography that would need to be implemented based on the role each part had to play. I felt very confident taking my place as the director of that project’s ballet, but as many of you know, you don’t only manage one project, so with the addition of an elementary school project, I would have to make a Big Picture Plan for this new opportunity and begin to craft a different dance with the moving pieces of this project.


Similar to the previous high school project, this project was an existing building that would be renovated, as well as adding an addition with specialized classrooms for science, music, art etc. However, the scale and budget of the project was about one quarter the size of the previous project, there was no construction manager, and everything would need to be phased so that they kids could still be in the school during construction.

So, I had to look at the moving parts of this project and determine what will the Big Picture look like this time? What are the important guiding principles for this school? What are the ultimate goals that decisions need to be weighed against?

This project is a change maker for the neighborhood and the students it serves. Bringing 21st century learning spaces to an existing building fosters new learning opportunities and gives teachers a more modern teaching environment. Collaborative project-based learning can happen much easier in the new addition which would house a STEM lab, science classroom, and music and art spaces. Understanding that this addition was not just tacking on 4 new classrooms, but what these classrooms would do to change the overall learning environment of the school was paramount.

The renovation of the interior of the existing school building has certainly brought its challenges. Much of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems phasing had to be adjusted due to existing conditions. Things that were originally slated to be done during phase 1 were now being pushed to phase 3—and the dance changes. This is a great example of why the big picture is not only important during design but during construction as well. As we work through the construction administration phase of this project it is paramount to understand decisions around phasing, what will cause a change order or schedule delay, and ultimately how to balance the moving pieces in order to keep everyone on task and in-line with the overall vision of providing a great new school for these kids, helps to get the job done right.

No matter the scale or scope of the project, understanding the goal, and the big picture objectives is a great way to coordinate the team, reach the objectives of the owner, and execute a successful strategic project plan.

Allison Mason

Associate, Project Manager, AIA