In the installment of our Focus Feature series, we sat down with Project Manager II, Paul Walker to discuss his years of experience and the words of advice he’d give to those interested in a career in construction. Paul joined Focus in 2021 and is an integral part of the construction staff. Before joining the firm, Paul owned his own construction firm which give him a unique, owner’s perspective which he applies when managing the construction projects for Focus and third-party clients alike. Our conversation below –
As a Project Manager II, you’re responsible for making sure the project runs smoothly. What would you tell someone interested in joining the industry is the most important part of successfully managing any construction project?
Understanding people. To make a project run smoothly, you must understand your team and know what your team can do. Then you will apply your team’s skills and your skills to meet the customers’ expectations. If you love being part of a team, building incredible projects, and most of all, being able to see the finished product, construction is for you.
Before becoming a PM II at Focus, you owned your own construction business. How does that experience shape your approach to construction management today?
My business taught me the importance of client relationships. Past experiences have taught me that setting clear expectations is key, for both team members and clients alike. I've learned that it is best to educate your clients to help them clearly understand the projects, their requests and how that impacts costs and schedule. Setting a solid foundation of understanding creates a baseline where you can all agree and then be proactive when issues arise. Have solutions ready so that you can explain how to fix the issue. Most important let the client know we are on the same team and working towards the same goal, a great finished product which realizes the clients financial expectations.
You are a skilled value engineer. Talk about why you think VE is such an important aspect of your role and how you effectively manage cost and quality.
Rarely will a new project meet or be under a proposed budget. Budgets are created in the design phase, before completed plans are finished and ready for permit, not to mention the escalatory market we are in currently where material and labor prices change daily. As a Project Manager, it is my job, to offer ideas on how we will cut costs to meet the proposed budget for a project without sacrificing quality. Often value engineering is simply replacing one product for another. The type of VE that I pride myself on is more creative and exploratory than that, and takes time and effort to achieve. For example, I was managing a 3-story, 50-unit supportive living project where we needed to pick up time in our schedule and find savings due to price increases on materials. We thought a change to the exterior sprinkler system would allow us pick up several days on the schedule while also saving on materials. The original plans required the carport structure to be made of tube steel trimmed with stained cedar throughout. The system also needed to include fire sprinklers for every carport. I began exploring the use all non-combustible cement board instead of steel. I would like to say it sounded simple, but it wasn’t. I had to convince the Village to accept the revision quickly. The decision came down to the fire marshal. I set a meeting with him and the sprinkler contractor where we discussed the difficulty of maintaining an underground vault per the original plan, and that our revisions still used noncombustible materials. Ultimately, he agreed to our positions and approve the change. This change saved the project approximately $180K, and cut 1 full week of the exterior schedule.
What was your favorite or most rewarding experience on a jobsite? What made it unique?
I had the opportunity to complete a 105,000 SF new Extra Space in Avalon Park, Chicago with my own company. We completed a full “gut” interior demolition and renovation. Total contract value of $7.3 million. Included all new MEPs, site utilities, fire alarm, sprinklers, two elevators (1 full modernization), over 800 lockers, new dock, and office addition. The project was completed in less than 9 months. It was a big project with a lot of complexities and I was proud of my team for delivery on the design and doing so on a tight timeline.
Your work at Focus is only a portion of what you spend your time on, what do you enjoy outside of work?
In the past I've spent time coaching my son’s football team and my daughter’s soccer team. Today my kids have graduated college and live out of state and now I have 3 dogs and my son’s cat, all from a shelter who take up my time. I have been told that I am not allowed to visit the shelter because I always bring someone home. I also run marathons. I am currently training for another race and through I thought they would get easier each year, it is still hard to train along with all my other commitments. Still, I just can’t give up the Chicago marathon... yet.
To learn more about Paul’s work or the experience of our team of construction professionals, please reach out today.