Why Traditional Project Management Fails Multifamily Housing


Let's be honest: project management is rarely fun. Guiding a property management project from early planning to the final touches can be stressful and time-consuming.

You’re risking more than a headache, however; project management is often the main reason that multifamily properties lose money. Without an effective approach, projects are prone to costly delays, miscommunications, and incorrect resource allocations. It's enough to make any multifamily housing (MFH) team hesitant to pull the trigger, but the upside is that there are methods and tools that can ease the burden.

Project Management 101

Project management (PM) describes how teams design, conduct, monitor, and assess an initiative within an organization. In property management, these initiatives can range from small-scale renos and restorations to unit-turnovers and property-wide upgrades. 

The PM process can assume many forms. The traditional "waterfall" approach, for example, follows a step-by-step methodology in which teams plot out every phase of their journey and tackle them in sequential order. "Agile" methodology, on the other hand, involves breaking a project down into time-sensitive phases (aka "sprints") and assigning them to different teams who tackle them in unison. In so doing, teams can adapt and pivot in response to changes in real-time.

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Lastly, there's the critical path method (CPM). This is a more systematic (and, in some ways, mathematical) approach wherein project managers chart all the critical activities that are required to complete a project, and then define their order, estimate the least amount of time it will take to complete each task, and identify the interdependencies between them. The theory behind CPM is that by identifying and mapping the most important elements of a project, project managers have the information they need upfront to plan and budget accordingly.

Familiar Project Management Pitfalls

No matter the PM methodology or the team, projects are prone to any number of issues. While far from a complete list, the main culprits include:

  • Ineffective teams, resulting from internal conflicts, poor communication, lack of skills, or being stretched too thin by other tasks.
  • Inadequate resources, arising from the use of the wrong tools and systems, poor resource allocation methods, and delays associated with pen-and-paper processes.
  • A weak foundation, stemming from a lack of upfront planning, vague directions, and inadequate directions for goals, budgets, or timelines. 
  • Scope creep, which occurs as new or expanded goals are added to a project midstream, creating more work than initially intended.
  • Murky workflow visibility, rising from ineffective project management systems, a reliance on manual tracking, and lack of communication between teams.
  • Competing standards, resulting from a lack of standardized processes, clear expectations, and "siloed" teams.

The Multifamily Disconnect

MFH projects are prone to all of the pitfalls mentioned above. What's more, while waterfall, agile, and CPM approaches have a place in other industries, they can fall short in property management. The main problem? These traditional PM methods are often used to manage teams within the same discipline, whereas multifamily projects are often conducted by multiple teams with staff members equipped with varying skill levels and knowledge. For this reason, MFH projects require an "ecosystem" mindset that goes beyond standard project management.  

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to project management. There are, however, technologies like cloud-based project management platforms, mobile apps, automation, and other digital tools that can cater to MFH teams' specific requirements. 

Managing a project can make any leader lose sleep. But with a more in-depth view of the pros and cons of various methodologies and tools, property teams can find a game plan that fits.  

Successful Project Management For Multifamily Operations

In this industry, successful project management requires three key elements:

  • The flexibility and discipline from dynamic project management approaches like agile
  • Tools and technologies built specifically for the unique attributes of multifamily
  • Strong business process design and management to ensure alignment and performance

With a strong approach to project and business process management, operators can reduce workloads, lower costs, and generate greater performance without stressing out their teams.

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