Completing condo projects on time and on budget

Project planning for condo boards isn't easy. But by following the four steps we discuss in this blog post, your condo board can get more projects completed, on time and on budget.
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Written By Salim Dharssi

December 23, 2021

Condominium board members have their work cut out for them

As volunteer owners, they are tasked with maintaining and improving their buildings with limited budgets and differing opinions and desires among other owners.

Running a condo building involves three types of responsibilities:

  • Overseeing building staff, services and communicating with residents
  • Carrying out day-to-day or routine annual activities and maintenance, and
  • Implementing large, one-off projects to replace, repair or improve parts of their building or the equipment that services it

The third responsibility – the projects – are what keep condo board members up at night and where much of their time is spent.  

Projects can span several months, if not years, from planning to completion. During this time, new board members are elected to replace those whose terms have expired, property management staff turnover, and building priorities can change.  This never-ending change, coupled with stretched budgets and pressures from owners with different interests, makes projects the number one challenge for condo boards.

A building with a condo board that can successfully complete projects will stand out from the rest. Owners will be happy, board members will have a sense of accomplishment and will be more at ease, and money will be saved.

The best practice for successfully carrying out projects in a condo will have these four key features:

  1. A written project plan
  2. Clearly defined scope, objectives, target timelines for key activities, and a budget estimate
  3. A status and priority tracking method, and
  4. A record of the documents relating to the project including engineering reports, vendor quotes, and invoices for work completed

The written project plan

A written project plan can be the most overlooked aspect of managing projects in a condominium.

When discussing projects in a board meeting, it is easy to assume the relevant details are being captured in the meeting minutes or in the property manager’s notes. Or given many boards are small and agile teams, it is easy to assume that the knowledge will remain fresh in everyone’s heads, and that this will not be forgotten because the project will be discussed at most board meetings going forward. But is the project plan readily available or accessible when kept this way?

The reality is that project plan information is rarely recorded or easily retrievable later. Often, board meeting minutes are not sufficiently detailed – they only need to capture the decisions and reasons for the decisions, not the project details. Property managers may do a good jo b at taking notes, but they are pressed for time and may not digest that information for the board.  Also, board members change frequently – there are typically one or two new members on a board each year.  So key project plans and details are actually hard to come by.

Having a written project plan is a corner stone of being able to successfully and reliably complete projects on time and on budget.

Professional project managers would never forget having a written plan for a project, so why should condo board members require anything less?

Defining the project’s scope, objectives, timeline of activities, and budget

There are four key categories of information every condo project plan should include:

  • Scope
  • Objective
  • Timelines for key activities, and
  • Budget estimate

The scope

The scope of a project should be captured from the project owner’s perspective – this is the condo board and their property manager, if they have one.

For example, for a carpet replacement project, identifying whether the carpets on all floors will be replaced or just some floors, or whether carpets in other common areas such as the meeting or party room will also be replaced.  Or if windows need to be replaced, which windows, on what floors, and whether the window frames also need to be replaced.  

The scope will impact everything about the project including the vendors solicited to provide quotes, the quotes themselves, the instructions provided to the vendor selected for the project and the budget.  

By defining the scope, the board and management will more easily be able to spot project overruns before they happen, because they will be able to identify when the scope of a project has changed from what was originally planned and budgeted.

The objective

The objective of a project is related to, but differs from the scope. The objective is where the board can identify why they are taking on the project. For example, is it to replace aging equipment that may soon fail, or to upgrade the equipment to make the building more energy efficient?  

Knowing what the objective is will help guide future decision making on the project, such as how to evaluate and select vendors who have submitted quotes, what activities are worth tracking, and what an appropriate budget might be for a project with that objective.  

An objective helps keep everyone aligned during the course of a project.

Timeline for key activities

By documenting the timelines for key activities that are required to complete a project, a condo board will be able to keep tabs on the status of the project. It will also not lose sight of the steps that need to be taken to successfully complete a project.

In a condo’s project plan, the key activities should be listed from the perspective of a project owner, which in a condo is the condo board and property manager.  So, the activities will be high level milestones, rather than a detailed checklist of everything that needs to be done to complete the project. The detailed checklist of activities is something the main vendor who is selected to oversee or complete the project should keep in their own project plan.  

For instance, in a carpet replacement project, the key activities may be: issue the request for quotes by February 1st, get quotes by March 1st, select a vendor by April 1st, start work by April 15th, finish work by May 30th, and check and sign-off on the project by June 7th.

By having a timeline with key activities, a condo board can track the progress and easily identify when there will be delays.  

These dates can also be more easily communicated to residents as needed.  The timeline will also help for budgeting purposes because payment for the work is often tied to specific activities in a project.  By having an estimate of when the activities will take place, a board can more accurately manage its financials.

Budget estimates

It is common to have an estimate of what a maintenance or improvement project in a condo might cost. This is something that may be captured in a few places, such as in an engineer’s report (including a reserve fund or capital spend report), the board’s general reserve or capital expense plan, or in board meeting minutes.  But more often than not, these figures are rough, will differ from one another because their underlying scope differ, and importantly, it can be very difficult to find this information later.

By documenting the estimated budget in a project plan, it will be easy to identify potential cost overruns early, thereby increasing the chance of keeping the project on budget.  This also makes it easier to review invoices later.

A project’s budget will often include a variety of different cost categories. Preliminary reports may be required for which there are consulting fees. There may be multiple vendors working on the project each with their own fees. There may be equipment rental costs and material costs that need to be budgeted for.  Plus the timing of each expense will differ.  

By tracking each cost item along with the estimated cost, a board will have the ability to have a more accurate forecast of its finances during the course of a project, which will allow it to know whether other building work can be performed in parallel.

Tracking project status and priority

A key benefit of having a project plan is that this gives a condo board and their property manager (if they have one) the ability to track a project’s status.  

During or in between board meetings, directors on a board should be able to check on the status of their projects to see what is taking longer than expected and what is on time. This makes sure nothing slips through the cracks or is forgotten. If projects aren’t completed in a timely fashion, this can lead to extra costs if the problem the project was meant to address worsens during the time the project languished.  The building itself can begin to age prematurely if updates or improvement projects take too long to complete or never get off the ground.  

Unspent condo fees would be more valuable back in the pockets of the unit owners, rather than sitting for long periods of time in the condo corporation’s bank account, earmarked for a project that is taking too long to implement.

Being able to assign a priority to a project is also key to completing it in a timely fashion. High priority projects should be focused on first, while low priority projects may not be worth spending as much time on.  These can even be put on hold, if necessary, to free up resources for other work.

If priorities aren’t assigned or tracked, then resources including budget funds can remain tied up for too long.

This could also end up become quite costly.  A condo’s finances are always stretched, so it is in nobody’s interest to tie up funds unnecessarily.

Project documents

A condo will often have documents relating to projects saved somewhere – in board members’ emails, in an online file folder system like Google Drive or Dropbox, or in the files of their property manager.  But the documents relating to a project can be hard to find because they aren’t saved together or linked to a project plan.

By saving documents with a project plan, board members can more easily find the important information they need for decision making later.  This speeds up decision making, and also frees up their property manager's time from having to field email requests for information relating to a project.

Time savings are numerous. For example, when reviewing invoices relating to a project, how quickly can the board check its records to approve the invoice? The project budget, quotes, and other invoices should be readily accessible so that the board member can verify whether the invoice is appropriate and there was no duplication. It is immensely helpful if boards are able to find project documents quickly, such as warranty information for new equipment that may have failed after the project was completed.

By following the four project planning principles we describe above, condo boards can get more projects completed, on time and on budget.

About the author

Salim Dharssi is a condo owner, resident and former condo board member.  He is the founder and CEO of managemate, which is online collaboration software for condo boards. In November 2020, Salim completed a Project Management Bootcamp certified by the Project Management Institute.

For more information about managemate and how it can help your condo board plan and carry out projects effectively, please visit our product page or contact us for more information.

Test it for 45 Days

Fully functional. No credit card.

November 1, 2021

Condominium board members have their work cut out for them

As volunteer owners, they are tasked with maintaining and improving their buildings with limited budgets and differing opinions and desires among other owners.

Running a condo building involves three types of responsibilities:

  • Overseeing building staff, services and communicating with residents
  • Carrying out day-to-day or routine annual activities and maintenance, and
  • Implementing large, one-off projects to replace, repair or improve parts of their building or the equipment that services it

The third responsibility – the projects – are what keep condo board members up at night and where much of their time is spent.  

Projects can span several months, if not years, from planning to completion. During this time, new board members are elected to replace those whose terms have expired, property management staff turnover, and building priorities can change.  This never-ending change, coupled with stretched budgets and pressures from owners with different interests, makes projects the number one challenge for condo boards.

A building with a condo board that can successfully complete projects will stand out from the rest. Owners will be happy, board members will have a sense of accomplishment and will be more at ease, and money will be saved.

The best practice for successfully carrying out projects in a condo will have these four key features:

  1. A written project plan
  2. Clearly defined scope, objectives, target timelines for key activities, and a budget estimate
  3. A status and priority tracking method, and
  4. A record of the documents relating to the project including engineering reports, vendor quotes, and invoices for work completed

The written project plan

A written project plan can be the most overlooked aspect of managing projects in a condominium.

When discussing projects in a board meeting, it is easy to assume the relevant details are being captured in the meeting minutes or in the property manager’s notes. Or given many boards are small and agile teams, it is easy to assume that the knowledge will remain fresh in everyone’s heads, and that this will not be forgotten because the project will be discussed at most board meetings going forward. But is the project plan readily available or accessible when kept this way?

The reality is that project plan information is rarely recorded or easily retrievable later. Often, board meeting minutes are not sufficiently detailed – they only need to capture the decisions and reasons for the decisions, not the project details. Property managers may do a good jo b at taking notes, but they are pressed for time and may not digest that information for the board.  Also, board members change frequently – there are typically one or two new members on a board each year.  So key project plans and details are actually hard to come by.

Having a written project plan is a corner stone of being able to successfully and reliably complete projects on time and on budget.

Professional project managers would never forget having a written plan for a project, so why should condo board members require anything less?

Defining the project’s scope, objectives, timeline of activities, and budget

There are four key categories of information every condo project plan should include:

  • Scope
  • Objective
  • Timelines for key activities, and
  • Budget estimate

The scope

The scope of a project should be captured from the project owner’s perspective – this is the condo board and their property manager, if they have one.

For example, for a carpet replacement project, identifying whether the carpets on all floors will be replaced or just some floors, or whether carpets in other common areas such as the meeting or party room will also be replaced.  Or if windows need to be replaced, which windows, on what floors, and whether the window frames also need to be replaced.  

The scope will impact everything about the project including the vendors solicited to provide quotes, the quotes themselves, the instructions provided to the vendor selected for the project and the budget.  

By defining the scope, the board and management will more easily be able to spot project overruns before they happen, because they will be able to identify when the scope of a project has changed from what was originally planned and budgeted.

The objective

The objective of a project is related to, but differs from the scope. The objective is where the board can identify why they are taking on the project. For example, is it to replace aging equipment that may soon fail, or to upgrade the equipment to make the building more energy efficient?  

Knowing what the objective is will help guide future decision making on the project, such as how to evaluate and select vendors who have submitted quotes, what activities are worth tracking, and what an appropriate budget might be for a project with that objective.  

An objective helps keep everyone aligned during the course of a project.

Timeline for key activities

By documenting the timelines for key activities that are required to complete a project, a condo board will be able to keep tabs on the status of the project. It will also not lose sight of the steps that need to be taken to successfully complete a project.

In a condo’s project plan, the key activities should be listed from the perspective of a project owner, which in a condo is the condo board and property manager.  So, the activities will be high level milestones, rather than a detailed checklist of everything that needs to be done to complete the project. The detailed checklist of activities is something the main vendor who is selected to oversee or complete the project should keep in their own project plan.  

For instance, in a carpet replacement project, the key activities may be: issue the request for quotes by February 1st, get quotes by March 1st, select a vendor by April 1st, start work by April 15th, finish work by May 30th, and check and sign-off on the project by June 7th.

By having a timeline with key activities, a condo board can track the progress and easily identify when there will be delays.  

These dates can also be more easily communicated to residents as needed.  The timeline will also help for budgeting purposes because payment for the work is often tied to specific activities in a project.  By having an estimate of when the activities will take place, a board can more accurately manage its financials.

Budget estimates

It is common to have an estimate of what a maintenance or improvement project in a condo might cost. This is something that may be captured in a few places, such as in an engineer’s report (including a reserve fund or capital spend report), the board’s general reserve or capital expense plan, or in board meeting minutes.  But more often than not, these figures are rough, will differ from one another because their underlying scope differ, and importantly, it can be very difficult to find this information later.

By documenting the estimated budget in a project plan, it will be easy to identify potential cost overruns early, thereby increasing the chance of keeping the project on budget.  This also makes it easier to review invoices later.

A project’s budget will often include a variety of different cost categories. Preliminary reports may be required for which there are consulting fees. There may be multiple vendors working on the project each with their own fees. There may be equipment rental costs and material costs that need to be budgeted for.  Plus the timing of each expense will differ.  

By tracking each cost item along with the estimated cost, a board will have the ability to have a more accurate forecast of its finances during the course of a project, which will allow it to know whether other building work can be performed in parallel.

Tracking project status and priority

A key benefit of having a project plan is that this gives a condo board and their property manager (if they have one) the ability to track a project’s status.  

During or in between board meetings, directors on a board should be able to check on the status of their projects to see what is taking longer than expected and what is on time. This makes sure nothing slips through the cracks or is forgotten. If projects aren’t completed in a timely fashion, this can lead to extra costs if the problem the project was meant to address worsens during the time the project languished.  The building itself can begin to age prematurely if updates or improvement projects take too long to complete or never get off the ground.  

Unspent condo fees would be more valuable back in the pockets of the unit owners, rather than sitting for long periods of time in the condo corporation’s bank account, earmarked for a project that is taking too long to implement.

Being able to assign a priority to a project is also key to completing it in a timely fashion. High priority projects should be focused on first, while low priority projects may not be worth spending as much time on.  These can even be put on hold, if necessary, to free up resources for other work.

If priorities aren’t assigned or tracked, then resources including budget funds can remain tied up for too long.

This could also end up become quite costly.  A condo’s finances are always stretched, so it is in nobody’s interest to tie up funds unnecessarily.

Project documents

A condo will often have documents relating to projects saved somewhere – in board members’ emails, in an online file folder system like Google Drive or Dropbox, or in the files of their property manager.  But the documents relating to a project can be hard to find because they aren’t saved together or linked to a project plan.

By saving documents with a project plan, board members can more easily find the important information they need for decision making later.  This speeds up decision making, and also frees up their property manager's time from having to field email requests for information relating to a project.

Time savings are numerous. For example, when reviewing invoices relating to a project, how quickly can the board check its records to approve the invoice? The project budget, quotes, and other invoices should be readily accessible so that the board member can verify whether the invoice is appropriate and there was no duplication. It is immensely helpful if boards are able to find project documents quickly, such as warranty information for new equipment that may have failed after the project was completed.

By following the four project planning principles we describe above, condo boards can get more projects completed, on time and on budget.

About the author

Salim Dharssi is a condo owner, resident and former condo board member.  He is the founder and CEO of managemate, which is online collaboration software for condo boards. In November 2020, Salim completed a Project Management Bootcamp certified by the Project Management Institute.

For more information about managemate and how it can help your condo board plan and carry out projects effectively, please visit our product page or contact us for more information.

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