Should I hire a superyacht project manager? The benefits and expectations of a client PM
Written by Sarah Rowland
Last updated: 21/06/2017
Building or refitting a multi-million euro superyacht is a huge undertaking regardless of previous industry experience, yet some owners may challenge the hire of a dedicated project manager (PM) as an unnecessary cost or additional chain of command to slow decisions down.
With the increasing complexities of industry regulation, and the sheer scale of these projects, even the most experienced of owners undertaking projects at the most established shipyards will need to rely on an expert team to ensure that the end result comes in as desired - looking and working as hoped, on time and budget.
What is a superyacht project manager, and what does he/she do?
An effective superyacht project manager is the lead of any new build, refit, repair or conversion project or shipyard period; there is often a project manager or management team acting on behalf the owner, the client project manager, and another acting on behalf of the shipyard.
Often described as being the owner’s eyes, a client project manager acts solely on the owner’s behalf. He or she will identify any issues that might complicate or threaten the owner's vision and guide it to the best of their means to suit their client and avoid difficulties.
The benefits of hiring a client project manager
Constructing a brand new superyacht, or refitting one, is rarely ever plain sailing right the way through, for often projects will last a number of months, if not years, and once things start to go wrong they can easily gather momentum and quickly turn a superyacht dream into a nightmare.
No doubt, most have heard of those routine superyacht refit projects that have been planned to last a few months and cost a relatively small amount, yet due to poor project management see costs doubled, along with the refit time sometimes resulting in the owner trying to sell the yacht and abandoning their dream.
The benefits of hiring an experienced client project manager or project management team are therefore countless – especially for a first-time owner.
What to look for in your PM
When embarking on any superyacht build project, a shipyard will likely have an appointed project manager. It's therefore widely recommended that a superyacht owner appoint their own client PM or management team, as this party will naturally be biased to represent the yard’s interests more than the owner’s. As such, owners should look for a project manager that has or is:
A proven background
Yacht owners should ideally look for a project manager who has been to sea, with proven boatbuilding or shipbuilding experience, and some business background. These years spent in the marine industry will have hardwired them to understand the issues on board that those outside of the industry may well overlook.
A good communicator
The ability to communicate with people at all levels is essential in this role. Project management calls for clear communication about goals, responsibilities, performance, expectations and feedback. The PM must therefore have the ability to effectively discuss and persuade in the owner’s interests when necessary to ensure the success of the team and project.
A project manager would also be expected to communicate with the captain and crew throughout the project and delegate work.
Outstanding negotiation skills
With communication in mind, a good negotiator makes for a more efficient project manager. Time wasted on disagreements are detrimental to any superyacht project, as these generally cost thousands in relation to the scale of the projects in hand. A skilled yacht project manager will reach agreements quickly, finding solutions to tough problems and keeping work moving ahead smoothly.
Cool under pressure
In a perfect world, projects would be delivered on time, under budget and with no major problems or hurdles to overcome. In reality, this is rarely the case; a project manager will therefore need to jump obstacles and take sudden changes in their stride.
Proven problem-solving skills
Excellent problem-solving skills will always be needed on such large-scale projects. An experienced project manager should be able to identify in advance any issues that might complicate the build and guide it to the best possible outcome for his or her client.
The project manager will be working closely with the owner and/or owner’s representatives for a considerable length of time, therefore trust is vital. The project manager will be speaking on behalf of the owner, so it’s imperative that they can be trusted to advocate the owner’s wishes accurately.
A great PM takes responsibility for the tasks under their remit. Furthermore, by utilising a good project manager, the owner should be able to unload some of their worries and responsibilities for a positive outcome.
A team player
The project manager will be part of a large and dynamic team that may include the owner’s representative(s), yacht captain, broker, legal expert, supervising surveyor and even a chief engineer or engineering team. Ensuring professional teamwork along with strong leadership capabilities could not be more essential for the position.
Proving experience as a client project manager
Yachting Pages has identified ten key points for identifying a project manager with proven experience and ability. An established PM should be able to:
- Define the scope of work, owners/shipyards requirements and project goals
- Identify work required to achieve yacht goals
- Prepare timelines of key construction milestones
- Identify resources required to achieve milestones
- Track and report project progress
- Plan and manage resources
- Manage client communications
- Manage superyacht quality
- Manage changes to superyacht designs and its effect on timeline and budget
- Ensure project goals are met
A five-point plan for project managing a successful superyacht build
Andrew Williamson, a project manager at Regent Yachts, told us that any successful planning project can be broken down into five stages. He said, “A successful planning process goes through five stages. Once the owner has agreed with their designer which design of yacht they want they must...":
1. Decide build specifications
The first stage is to decide on the specification(s) of the chosen yacht. A thorough General Arrangement Plan (GAP) and Build Specification review is vital before the build contract is signed to avoid expensive changes to the order later on.
2. Analyse the activities
Secondly, the yacht builder will predict and analyse the interdependencies between activities during construction to avoid costly hold ups and delays.
3. Set the budget and timeframes
Thirdly, the builder will specify the time and money required from the owner to build the yacht, based on the cost of materials, equipment, manpower and overheads.
4. Planning the schedule
Once the budget is set, the builder will schedule a plan, based on lead times to complete processes and the availability of the required equipment, contractors and space. A skilled planner knows that dirty preparation such as surface preparation cannot work in the same zone as clean trades such as electrical, and that only a certain number of contractors can fit in a cabin during a fit out.
5. Completing the plan
The final stage will be completion of the plan; at this point, the builder will advise the owner of their two prime responsibilities – when stage payments need to be made and when design decisions are due to meet planning milestones. If any elements are not accepted, the process needs to be worked through again.