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Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back! In this post, we are going to be discussing the BAS Project Manager role. We're going to discuss what this role entails, the different types of project managers that you will encounter in your BAS career, and we'll talk about how you prepare for this kind of role. We’ll also touch on how to apply for this kind of role.

When it comes to building automation companies, project managers can make or break the finances of the company, depending on what kind of project manager they are. In my experience, there are three kinds of project managers.

  1. Technical Project Managers: They oversee the execution of the project, but they also execute the project. Oftentimes, you'll find this in small and large companies. In the smaller companies, this is due to them growing rapidly or just simply not having staffed properly. They need to have someone who can still do high-skilled work, but also project manage, and the thought process is that since they're really good at programming and designing and all this stuff, so we might as well make them a project manager as well. This can do quite well, but it can also end up quite badly if the appropriate financial and operational training is not provided.
  2. The Ops Manager: They oversee the operations of the projects. They're not responsible typically for billing, they do have some oversight of financials, but it's more so focused on when are certain tasks going to be executed and how are they going to be executed. So, they have more of an operational bent with the finance background as kind of an add on. This is the most common type of project manager and it's not a bad role, especially for projects a couple million dollars and smaller. You can get away with this kind of role and be just fine.
  3. Capital Project/Enterprise Project/Financial Project Manager: This person is typically on larger scale strategic projects, and they work as part of a matrix organization. So, you'll have an operations manager who oversees the actual people who are executing the project, you will have programmers and designers and everyone out there actually doing the work, and then the financial project manager, the strategic project manager, this person is going to be looking at billings and the strategic management of billings, of revenue, of scheduling, etc. Now, this is a much less common role in the building automation world. You do tend to see it on large system integration projects, but beyond that, and beyond large public private partnership, which are P3 projects, you tend to not see this type of BAS project manager.


So, if I'm sitting there, and I'm in your shoes, and I decide that I want to move into project management, what skills should I focus on? Well, it really comes down to, do you want to be that operational project manager, or do you want to be a working project manager? There's pros and cons to both.


Let's look at the working project manager first. I want to be clear, when I say working project manager, I'm not inferring that the other project managers don't do work. I'm just saying that you're actually executing the work versus just overseeing the work. So, the working project manager, or the executing project manager, is going to have to have technical skills.

Typically, what will happen is someone in the programmer or designer role will get tapped to move into this kind of quasi-working project manager role. Basically, what will happen is the company will be short-staffed, you'll start having to attend project meetings, you'll have to start working on timelines. Maybe you get a couple technicians that are matrixed or put directly under you. Next thing you know, you're a working project manager, you're still out there executing tasks, but you're also overseeing other people who are executing tasks like install, design, etc.

I will tell you; this can be the most rewarding, and also the most difficult project management role. It can be the most difficult in that if you do not have good organizational skills, you do not really understand contractual processes, you don’t know how to look at project timelines and allocate resources, then you can find yourself working 60-to-80 hour weeks.

Now, some of you are like, “I already work 60-to-80-hour weeks.” During this past summer, a lot of companies were working their people insanely hard, because they had a ton of backlog to execute. Outside of that, most roles typically will work 40-to-50 hours a week, because there's not overtime built into the projects for those to execute.

Now, that being said, this project manager role that requires a lot of operational management and contractual management skills, while also executing, it can be very, very fun at the same time. It can be very fulfilling, because you have complete control over your own little business. So, for those of you who are entrepreneurial minded, you like the idea of building stuff, and you have this entrepreneurial spirit, but you don't want to go start your own company, this kind of project management role is really cool. You get to do the techie stuff, you get to do the Op stuff, you get to learn business.

Here's what I suggest you do. There's a book called the 10-day MBA. I'll be honest, it's not necessarily the best read as far as just reading books goes. As far as learning about business, it's one of the better ones, in my opinion, because you'll learn about finance, you'll learn about operations, marketing, etc. If you’re wondering why you need to learn about marketing and things like that, I will tell you that when it comes to project management, you could buy the PMP, Project Management Study Guide, and you'd be super solid. But that's not going to teach you some of the softer stuff, some of the more strategic skills, as well as marketing skills, communication skills, etc. I feel the 10-Day MBA does a good job of covering those at a high business-minded level.

Additionally, I would suggest the PMP study guide. Now, some of you, especially if you're on my Sales team reading this, are asking, “Why is he not talking about our BAS Project Management course.” I'll get to that in just a second, but there is a PMP study guide and it's a good study guide to learn the fundamentals of project management.

Now, all that being said, if you do those two resources that I recommended, you're going to have to be able to take the concepts you learned and contort them into a BAS contracting environment. A lot of these resources that I just mentioned, are going to teach as if you are the P&L Manager, or you are the overall project manager, like the general contractor, and that's great. But as we know, BAS projects, we are a sub to a sub. Oftentimes, we are more like a service provider than we are an actual contractor. Yes, we are a contractor, and we are adhering to general conditions, but at the same time, we also have to be cognizant that we are dependent on a sub who is dependent on a GC. So, our level of influence, and our ability to implement a lot of the things you're going to learn in traditional project management training is not going to apply to us.

So, if you can keep that in mind when you study these resources, they're good resources. If not, I would highly encourage our BAS Project Management course, which takes everything that you're going to learn in those resources, but presents it in a way that is pertinent to building automation. It is one of our more popular courses, being that BAS project management is such a difficult skill to learn, and we teach that quite well.

Now, the other type of project manager is the operations project manager, also known as an operations manager. As you move to a more mid-sized company or larger, you will tend to find operations managers. Now, operations managers will typically coordinate with a project manager, but in some companies, you will find these two roles merged together.

So, the project manager will have technical talent assigned under them. Typically, a programmer and designer and a handful of technicians will be their pool, and then they will have a slew of projects. They will be responsible for the coordination, scheduling, billing and management of these resources, including their material and subcontractors. So, this is a more traditional project manager, but you're still heavily involved in operations.

So how do you get this skill set? What are the pros and cons? Well, how you get the skill set is simply learning the different roles, understanding what they do, and how long they take to do them, and understanding the conditions that tie to these roles. So, you know, there's things like, knowing you have to have power before you can do startup. You typically have to have the network before you can connect all your supervisory devices together. These things that you have to understand, and you learn them through time in the field.

Now, once you have this, then you can properly schedule. This is the skill called forecasting and scheduling of labor, where you basically look at your project costs, you forecast them out along with billings, that way you can create a profitable project that meets the timeline and meets the quality requirements of the customer.

Now, the pros and cons. I personally find this operation management role a lot of fun, because I like financials, and I like strategy. I also find it pretty frustrating at the same time, because it can become routine, and it can be high pressure. Especially, if you do not have the people directly under you, if it's more of a matrixed organization where you're a project manager, and then there's an operations manager and these people report to you or report to them. You have to basically beg, borrow and steal resources, and then you're held accountable for execution of projects, when you're not given the resources. It can be a pain. So, I will tell you, it's fun, but at the same time, it can be a pain.

Now, that being said, how do you get into this role? As I mentioned, you get a solid understanding of the previous roles, the BAS Technician, the Designer, and the Programmer, so that you can effectively manage them. I have seen people step into this more operational management role from lateral trades like fire and security, access control, lighting, etc, and do quite well. At the end of the day, every trade has technicians, designers and programmers in some way, shape, or form. When I say every trade, I'm talking about the intelligent building trades. If you learn how to manage them, you can pretty much figure out how to manage them in any other trade.

Then, as I mentioned, there is that third role, the purely financial project manager. These people tend to have worked on large capital projects. I see them recruited from several different places. One is from large capital IT projects, owner-operators. So, I've seen people for example, the Hudson Yards project. You have to have experience with large scale projects in order to become a large scale financial strategic project manager.

At the same time, you have to get experience in order to have the experience to have the role. So, you kind of see the conundrum. I see people that tend to do that operational role, then they get tapped for major projects or large capital projects, and then they gradually find themselves into that more strategic project management role. This is a very difficult role to apply for and get selected to from the outside in.

All these roles, honestly, are difficult. The operational project management role is probably the least difficult to get if you have experience with another trade and project managing or overseeing those roles. I will tell you that a lot of companies will require a degree for this role. I don't necessarily think that should be required, but I can understand requiring a degree if the person has very little experience. That degree can, in some ways, augment the experience, but this is a role where experience really is the key factor.

It's kind of funny, because you hear from folks that programmers and designers, those are the roles that require experience. I will argue that, yes, to a point, that they require some experience, but more so they're just repeatable processes, just some baseline theoretical knowledge. You should be pretty solid in those roles on most projects. Yes, there will be unique things that happen, but most projects, you should be fine with a BAS project manager, a service tech, and a salesperson. Those are roles that are more experiential and getting into those roles can be a little more difficult. The easiest way to get into BAS project management is to work up through the roles, into that role.

So, if you have any questions, I encourage you to reach out. I love answering your questions. Thanks so much for sending them in. For those of you who asked me to start this series around different roles, I appreciate that as well.

Thanks a ton and take care!

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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