Owner’s Representative vs. Construction Manager

Doug Vincent
Doug Vincent
August 4, 2022
Owner’s Representative vs. Construction Manager

During Mastt’s first funding round, we often had prospective investorsscratching their heads saying:

“Hold on, what? So general contractors are not your clients?”

We would always follow up with the same answer, that our customers are the capital projects owner and their representatives (e.g. Executive Construction Officer, Program Manager, Owner’s Reps, Client-Side Project Managers), not the general contractors who work onsite to execute the construction.

What is a Project Owner? And what is a General Contractor? 😕

I’d then proceed to outline the key organisations at play in delivering Capital Projects:

Most of these organisations have ‘Project Manager’ roles and frequently co-exist within the same capital works, so understanding each of their domains is indeed confusing. It’s not surprising, that the prospective investors would continue scratching their heads, so I’d try to explain roles of construction project management from the Project Owner’s perspective, usingan example. I’d say…

Think about….an Independent School District, responsible for a $500m in capital projects for a Bond Program upgrading school facilities"
"or...a Project Management Consultant, providing Project Controls across many Capital Projects on a High Speed Rail Program, and reporting a complete Project Portfolio to the Government Rail Authority“
Owner's Representative role requires strategic Capital Project thinking to ensure that business values of the Project Owner are achieved.
Owner's Representative role requires strategic Capital Project thinking to ensure that business values of the Project Owner are achieved.

 What is a Project Management Consultant?

Project Management Consultants all have the responsibility to deliver a Capital Project within an established time and cost management, however it is generally done in the office across a longer lifecycle from the project’s inception through to substantial completion and employs many people. Project Management Consultant teams will Shepard the Capital Projects through all phases of the lifecycle, including the construction phase – where workis done on site.

So, what is the difference between the roles onsite versus in the office? What is the difference between getting work done on site as a Construction Project Manager (working for a General Contractor) versus getting work done in the office as an Owner's Representative (working for a Project Management Consultant)?

What is an Owner’s Representative? Going beyond construction on site

Managing a Capital Projects or Capital Programs is more than getting the job done onsite. It’s also about making sure the project is executed to the right design, specifications, and quality. Representing the Project Owner requires making hundreds of high impact informed decisions about:

  • Design Requirements
  • Construction delivery methods
  • Project Budgets
  • Project Timeline & Schedule
  • which General Contractors to use

Owner’s Representative serve a broader role, by understanding the entire project planning and execution process. They act as the binding agent between Construction Project Managers and the Project Owner.

Owner’s Representative Vs Construction Project Manager

Here are some examples of the boundaries between their jobs.

Differing roles in the same project

A Construction Project Manager is hired to oversee the construction phase on the actual job site. Their number one goal is to physically construct the building, facility or infrastructure, from the first turn of soil through to handing over the keys at substantial completion.

Meanwhile, the presence of the Owner's Representative extends throughout the entire project from planning and design to construction and closeout. With capital projects, the Project Owner needs much more than a physical building.The Owner's Representative works closely with the Project Owner’s stakeholders to make sure they understand their needs and requirements. Owner's Representatives work to ensure the Project Owner’s best interests are protected throughout the entire process, delivering the required scope or capability that the end asset will deliver.

Managing and mediating a Consultant & Contractor Team

Owner's Representative mediate and negotiate between all consultants involved in a building project when issues arise. For example, imagine an issue arises with the building's design. The Architect, Engineer or Designer may spend a lot of time and creative thinking to complete a major design change, whereas the Construction Project Manager says the design is not constructable.The Owner's Representative is not directly responsible for either role yet understands the standard methods of each, providing impartial, unbiased oversight to resolve the conflict in a way that minimises costs and delay,enabling the entire construction process to move on. These types of actions accelerate the Capital Project, and ultimately lead to earlier completion and lower costs for the Project Owner.

Schedule and Budget Management

Similarly, the Construction Project Manager stays in a more micro level of cost and time management of various subcontractors and suppliers. The frequency of their reports comes down to a daily basis and typically involves submittals, changes, materials, machinery and personnel supervision.  

Take a look at a Construction Project Manager’s job description:

  • "Oversee and direct project site surveying, pegging, layout, fencing, road works and trenching activities.
  • Ensure mechanical sub-contractors meet the contractual obligations of performance as per the scope of work and timeline
  • Develop activity plan with appropriate sequencing to ensure the surveying, civil and construction aspects of the project are built and commissioned within the specified timeframe.
  • Review work progress on a daily basis and public progress reports.
  • Ensure safety standards of the site are adhered to by the civil works subcontractors when work is underway and regulations relating to health, safety and the environment (HSE) are adhered to"

The Owner's Representative, on the other hand, is involved in all phases of the process and schedule. They don’t just want the building constructed on time, they also want to see the Capital Project coordinated with others in the Project Owner’s portfolio, construction to start on time, furniture installed, and the tenants moved in according to the overall project schedule.

An Owner's Rep can push all involved parties as needed to ensure the overall project schedule is maintained and met throughout all phases.  When it comes to Budgeting and Payments, an Owner's Rep or Architect will beinvolved in certification of Payment Applications for most North American Standard Form Construction Contracts. These details or Project Controls, must be compiled into comprehensive Project Status Reports and submitted to keep the Project Owner in the loop and to ensure consistent and accurate tracking of all project costs throughout all phases.

The daily to-do list of an Assistant Project Manager (Owner's Rep) would look like this. Do you notice any differences in the timeframe and scope of their jobs, the stakeholders they deal with and the kind of expertise they are expected to have?

  • "Managing teams of staff, contractors and consultants to achieve project and individual objectives.
  • Establishing and overseeing the effective operation of sites, including arranging and coordinating site inspections and meetings.
  • Identifying and raising quality non-conformance and defects notices.
  • Managing and coordinating all planning and scheduling activities in compliance with construction programs.
  • Proactively engage stakeholders to ensure the client’s expectations are met, whilst maintaining good relationships.
  • Identifying and assessing risks to the company or its clients at different project phases.
  • Preparing meeting minutes, progress claim assessment reports and regular project reports."

Level of authority & service

What it all comes down to is the type of services provided.  

A Construction Project Manager oversees construction activities,including personnel management at the construction site and their associated contracts. They will ensure that materials are delivered on time, tools are available, and resources are properly allocated.

An Owner's Representative acts as a trusted extension of the Project Owner throughout all project phases and milestones, as well as supervising the Construction Project Manager.  

If the owner has more than one project, then chances are Owner's Representative role is extended to the level of capital program or portfolio management. This higher-level role requires more strategic thinking to ensurethat business values of the owner are achieved.

‍Wrapping up!

Construction projects have grown and become increasingly complex over the years and Owner's Representatives have to prove that they fully support the Project Owner's interests and goals through all phases of the projects. A combination of industry skills and accountability from the Owner's Representative will save the asset owner a lot of time, hassle and money. The more transparent Owner's Representative are, the more trust they build with Project Owner's and the more chance that owners will continue to hire them for their future projects.

Given the much greater scope of work that an Owner's Representative has to oversee, the owner’s space within the construction industry remains underdeveloped from a technology perspective. Almost all Owner's Representatives rely on spreadsheets, word documents for Project Status Report.That means an owner typically waits for a few months (or more) for an outdated report that can be irrelevant by the time they receive it.  

Owner’s Representative roles are unique and needs its own technology

This may no longer be the problem if Owner's Representatives adopt innovative technology in the market that enables real-timep roject visibility and automation of otherwise time-consuming administration tasks. Software solutions like Mastt provide fast, easy reports and dashboards with integrated project controls – ensuring accurate and timely reporting, quick and informed decision making and increased transparency of project costs, risks and schedule.

Owner's Representative vs. Construction Manager

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