Managing for success

How the National Demolition Association’s Foundations of Demolition Project Management course is designed to help project managers mitigate risk and maximize profitability.

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Successful project management during demolition is critical for staying on task and on schedule. However, managers can have difficulty planning a job without clear metrics or strategies. With this in mind, the Washington-based National Demolition Association (NDA) created its Foundations of Demolition Project Management course. This two-day course assists managers in the preplanning, on-site management and evaluation phases of the job to help mitigate risk and maximize profitability.

Michael Casbon, the technical director for Environmental Resource Management (ERM), Indianapolis, and member of NDA’s education committee, teaches the Foundations of Demolition Project Management course. He spoke with Construction & Demolition Recycling about what managers need to know to develop a strategy that lays the groundwork for a fruitful job.

Construction and Demolition Recycling (C&DR): What role does preplanning play when it comes to successful project management?

Michael Casbon (MC): The role and value of preplanning cannot be underestimated. The course design for Foundations of Demolition Project Management focuses on this premise. If your planning is well thought out, your execution of the project will be aligned with your company’s goals. Almost all project challenges and problems arise from a lack of planning and poor preparation. For example, even if your estimating team makes mistakes, proper planning and lean execution can still bring the project to a positive completion.

C&DR: What things should project managers consider prior to starting work to hit the ground running?

MC: First and foremost, project managers should understand the spec inside out. Secondly, they should understand their company’s bid and how the estimator planned the work. They also need to understand their resources when the job starts versus the way it was bid and adjust the schedule accordingly. The next important thing in my mind is the preparation of the required deliverables or paperwork. In my experience, the failure to perform these tasks can really start the job off on a bad foot and make it difficult for your field team.

C&DR: How does the scope of the job change the role of the project manager, if at all?

MC: I am not sure the scope of the job changes the role of the project manager; however, it will dictate the areas that the project manager will need to focus on to make the project successful. As I mentioned, understanding the scope and specification fully will direct the project manager to those areas of the job that need the focus. The role of the project manager will be dictated by the individual companies and the roles that they have set out for their project managers.

The Foundations of Demolition Project Management course is designed to teach basic principles of project management, but it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each individual or company will need to decide how the principles fit into their individual business model.

C&DR: How do you initiate a project setup and management process that mitigates risk while ensuring profitability?

MC: Project setup and management processes are generally proprietary, but the course gives the students methods for risk mitigation and asks questions of the students to look at different methods of mitigation that they can take back to their respective companies. One of the things we recognize at the NDA is that every company has unique things that make them successful. We encourage them to enhance those things, add some new techniques and tweak everything else.

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C&DR: What kinds of metrics should be assessed during production to stay on time and on task?

MC: There are several metrics that need to be assessed throughout the project. The project manager must evaluate labor costs versus schedule. For example, if you have used 50 percent of your labor budget and are only 25 percent done with the project, there may be a problem. We discuss how this process needs to be forecasted and evaluated in real time, or as close to real time as possible, so a project manager has time to make corrections.

Another area of concern is waste and shipments in general. Is the estimate of volumes correct, and are the trucking costs in line with the estimate? If not, the project manager needs to look a little deeper into the problem. Foundations of Demolition Job Cost Tracking is an additional NDA course that digs deeper into some of these metrics.

C&DR: How do you create a system where accountability is championed and enforced throughout the workforce?

MC: Wow, that is a big question. This class is a foundations course that provides the students with best management practices and real-world examples of their implementation. Developing workforces that champion accountability is something that we discuss frequently throughout the course. Giving insight and experience is another big part of this course. Using instructors who are from the demolition industry and are practitioners in the industry really gives the student something that they cannot get anywhere else.

C&DR: What controls are necessary to instill during production to keep things moving?

MC: The project manager needs to be keenly aware of what is going on with the project. As I mentioned, looking at your metrics in real time will help you keep things moving. Looking at your forecasts will also help the team evaluate any potential upcoming roadblocks in the project. Additionally, daily documentation and communication with field personnel will help keep things on track.

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C&DR: How can project managers best manage unexpected challenges or delays?

MC: No matter how well you plan, there are always unexpected issues that arise on a project. Having sound management best practices in place will help guide you through the unexpected. Knowing the scope of work inside out is critical. This will help the project manager determine if the unexpected delays or challenges are a change order situation, scope creep or a requirement of the contract.

C&DR: What should project managers know about evaluating production versus estimate costs on a job for future projects?

MC: Those who do not know the past are destined to repeat it. The same thing applies to estimate costs and projects. The Foundations of Demolition Project Management and The Foundations of Demolition Estimating course from NDA both emphasize the importance of conducting post mortems on all jobs. This practice has incredible value for future performance. As the saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.” We hope the reason people are taking the course is to get better at their jobs over time. This starts with looking back on past performance to see where there are areas to improve.

C&DR: What are some of the most common missteps you see project managers make, and how can continuing education and training help project managers improve?

MC: The most common misstep is failure to understand the scope, spec and contractual documents. The next most common mistake is not recognizing scope creep and how that affects your bottom line. Monitoring progress and forecasting can bring some of these issues to light while there is still time to do something about it, rather than at the end of a job, where it just becomes a losing project.

In terms of improving through continuing education and training, I think seeking out opportunities that provide that real-world insight is a must. NDA’s continuing education is the one place a demolition contractor can come and talk to others that have similar problems and understand the demolition process. The courses are taught by demolition practitioners who can “talk the talk” as well as provide examples from their experiences. We have had students with zero to 30 years of experience, and all have walked away with something that they could apply to their company.

The author is the editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be contacted at

March April 2019
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