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4 strategies to get the most from your project manager or owner’s representative

May 23, 2017

Take it from a Fortune 500 company, when it comes to outsourcing project management to a consulting firm, there's a right way and a wrong way to go about it

I’ve managed quite a few projects as an owner’s representative during my 16-year career. It’s always an exciting time when you help a client achieve their goals and act as negotiator/liaison on multi-million dollar projects. However, like most professions, there’s a right way and wrong way to engage a project manager’s professional expertise. Fortunately for me, I’ve worked on many projects under the “what to do right” category. One project that comes to mind as a top case study in successful project management is Sealed Air’s new global headquarters. In 2015, our team was selected as the owner’s representative, project manager, and relocation manager for the company’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. The project has turned out to be one of my most enjoyable assignments.

Sealed Air Corporate Headquarters.  Architect: TVS, Atlanta (Core & Shell) and HOK, Atlanta (Interior).

Sealed Air is a Fortune 500 company that creates package and hygiene solutions, like bubble wrap cushioning and Cryovac food packaging. The company wanted to relocate its national headquarters to Charlotte, and in doing so, it would bring 1,400 employees to the area by the end of 2017—no small feat. Sealed Air is the largest company to relocate to Charlotte in the city’s history. The company has approximately 23,000 employees nationwide, who serve customers in 175 countries. This was an important project to my community, and when our team was selected, there was added pressure to perform and to perform well.   

From the beginning, Sealed Air’s leadership was engaged and had a clear vision of what goals they wanted their new campus to achieve. They came to us sure of one thing—they wanted a campus. But, they were unsure of site, developers and brokers, and how to proceed from there. We helped onboard a cohesive team and established an organized, streamlined process. Sealed Air understood best practices in managing a project this large, despite having never done so in the firm’s history. Throughout the course of the project, Sealed Air played a key role in setting a solid foundation for us to serve them as their owner’s representative and project manager. The following four strategies are how Sealed Air ensured that our role would position their project for success:

1.  They had a clearly-defined vision.

Sealed Air wanted their new campus to promote their corporate culture. They also wanted to decide up-front how staff would functionally use the space and how they could impact operations. What an insightful decision! We often find that clients wait to move into a facility to then discover that they have no clue how to use it effectively to manage their business. We can’t stress enough the importance of predetermining how you intend to function within the space before your staff arrives.

2.  They offered engagement from the firm’s highest levels of leadership.

It’s somewhat unusual to see an organization’s CEO, and other c-suite executives, actively engaged in managing a construction or relocation project. One member of their executive committee was appointed lead manager of the project—meaning they had the power and authority to make real-time decisions. The benefit of making decisions right away led to streamlined consensus-building and accelerated milestones. There was no “let me get back to you” or “great idea but we need to run this up the chain of command.” Sealed Air’s decision to have management involved ensured that their corporate values were incorporated into every aspect of the campus, and because of this early engagement, they achieved that goal. 

Sealed Air Corporate Headquarters.  Architect: TVS, Atlanta (Core & Shell) and HOK, Atlanta (Interior).

3.  Willingness to listen to suggestions. Sealed Air’s leadership didn’t just hire us and then micromanage everything we did. 

They valued our expertise and heeded our words of caution and advice. They were also receptive when we brought in other professionals and consultants to advise on the project. For example, we brought in experts to speak about benchmarking information and best-practices. They had open minds. It really showed in the overall success of the project. Because Sealed Air had a willingness to listen, it created a collaborative environment for the project team, which led to us working harder to find innovative solutions that helped further the project goals. We were personally invested—and it’s all thanks to Sealed Air’s commitment and openness to our expertise. 

4.  A commitment to aligning culture with not only operations but physical location.

Sealed Air is comprised of three different business lines—product care, food care, and diversey care. It’s really three different businesses that have come together over the course of time. They previously operated separately and were located across five regions within the U.S. This campus was a real milestone for them. Sealed Air’s new headquarters brings their top decision makers together under one roof from both a functional perspective and geographic perspective. They wanted to encourage synergy and collaboration, and even though they had initially anticipated that only half of their staff would move to Charlotte, they saw nearly 90 percent relocation. Why? Because leadership communicated the message of collaboration and cohesiveness very well—another testament to the client doing what’s right. Based on the timing, they had a temporary office in Charlotte and used it as a training ground for many of the changes that were coming in the new headquarters. It was another way they could get employees familiarized with future layout and become comfortable with the environment and space. And, it made a big difference.

If our clients come to the table keeping in mind these four key points like Sealed Air, our team of project and program managers will do the rest—and that sets everyone up for success!

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