Beginner’s Guide to Project Management

Build It Live is the perfect place to come to find the answers to your questions, speak to industry experts and gain the knowledge and inspiration you need to make your project a success. Before you come along, gain some top tips below – put together by the experts at Build It magazine.

Project Management Basics

Many self builders decide to take on the task of managing their self build or renovation project, however the job requires high organisation and focus. There are many different jobs to undertake and juggle, so it’s important to fully understand what’s expected of you, and the different routes you can take, before you decide how to manage your scheme.

What is project management?

Project management encompasses the skills needed to produce a new house, within the constraints of a budget and timeline. In fact, we often encounter project management in our day-to-day lives. For example, while planning a wedding or organising a family holiday.

Building a house is no different. When focusing on the typical self build house, the sequence of events is based on common sense. The real art is finding the perfect materials and the right team for the job.

Taking on project management is a juggling act of objectives. Think of it as a self build triangle, with the three points being time, money and quality – which all affect each other.

Time: A tight build schedule will mean you need to pay a premium to get the work done quickly and to the standard you expect. If you push your trades to work too quickly, the quality will suffer.

Money: Using cheap materials or choosing the lowest quote for labour will save you money, but may be detrimental to the quality of the work. Physically doing work or project managing yourself will also save money, but both have big time implications.

Quality: Paying for experienced labourers and good quality materials will result in a better finish. A longer schedule will also allow you to embark on time-consuming but high-quality work, for added finesse.

Who can project manage?

Those not wanting to take on the task themselves can hire a professional project manager, who will be able to take day-to-day control of the build. However, they don’t come cheap and most self builders have a finite budget that needs to be allocated to materials and labour.

This prompts many self builders to either undertake the role themselves, or to entrust the role to their contractor. For those undertaking a straightforward new build, the latter is a sensible idea, as long as you hire the right builder.

Remember though – the best builder isn’t necessarily the cheapest. While the person you hire needs to be affordable, it’s equally important that they are capable of doing a good job. Do your homework by asking them for references and following them up. A quality builder will want to do a good job – after all, you’ll be providing a reference to their next client.

Alternatively, you can ask your architect to undertake the project management role. For complex designs or builds where there is identifiable risk, this is a sensible route. Architects often calculate their management fees as a percentage of the build costs, typically around 10%.

Those opting to go with a design and build company won’t have to worry about the project management side of things, because the task can be undertaken as part of the package. However, an extra fee might be required.

If you’re planning on doing the job yourself then you need to consider the following. These will be important parts of the task at hand.


Proper budgeting is essential. Specifically, setting and sticking to one, as well as ensuring there’s a positive cash flow so that your bills can be paid on time.

It’s imperative that you set a contingency fund for any unforeseen extras or issues. You should also set up a trade account, like the one offered by BuildStore.

Are you a good negotiator? This will have a big impact on your budget and how far it stretches. You’ll be dealing with planners, building control, tradesmen, service suppliers and more, brokering good deals with each of them.

Planning permission

The planning process will be a big part of your job. This phase shouldn’t be rushed and should be planned extensively. The more changes you make after the building works have started, the greater the time and cost implications. Self building always throws up unexpected challenges, so there will inevitably be changes along the way.

We recommend spending as much time on planning as you intend to spend building the house. This will allow you to get to grips with what’s happening and when. Think about who will be doing each part of the build, what each part of the work will achieve and when it will occur.

Also, consider if there will be any seasonal factors to consider and what trades must precede and succeed each task. Be aware of the constraints of your project and site, and be realistic about what you can achieve.

Managing a building site

As project manager, you’ll be responsible for ensuring that the work is delivered on time and on budget. The buck stops with you, so proper management of the building site is vital.

You need to be aware of what has already happened, what jobs are currently under way and what trades are booked to come on site next. A good project manager will need to visit the site on a daily basis and should hold a site meeting once a week, to assess progress and decide what needs to be achieved in the coming days.

If you’re undertaking the work while also continuing with your main job, then ensure you visit the site after work so you can stay on top of what’s been going on and ensure you’re happy with the work. Assess the quality of the work and check everything against the plans. You’ll also be in charge of site housekeeping, checking tools are locked away and the site is secure.

If you find the work is not up to standard, materials are missing, or any tradesmen are absent, then you’ll need to act quickly to prevent delays and cost implications.


Being a good communicator is also essential when it comes to good project management. It will make a huge difference to how smoothly your build goes. You need to ensure that the instructions you give are clear, that everyone understands them and you’re all working to a shared goal.

Plans: Everyone should be working to the same plans. Keep a laminated master (and a few dry pens) in the site office and number and date any updates that are made, before destroying any old copies to avoid confusion.

Listen: You’ll be working with lots of different professionals, from site inspectors to tradesmen. You don’t always have to follow their advice but on the whole most professionals will want to help you and will know what they’re talking about.

Ask: If don’t understand something, ask questions. Tradespeople who reciprocate with questions of their own likely hold a genuine interest in the build.

Instruct: Out of everyone involved, you’ll have the best picture of the project. Make sure instructions are clear and understood by everyone concerned. Confirm them in writing, too, either in a site diary, on a printed sheet or in an email.

Communication methods: Work out which communication route is best for your team. For some, a weekly site meeting will be invaluable, while others may prefer an email report.


Managing people involves a delicate balance of getting on with them while maintaining a professional relationship. You may need to question the quality of work, or even dismiss a trade if they fail to address any issues that arise. Plus, as project management, you’ll be the main decision-maker, so you’ll need to make quick and informed decisions on a day-to-day basis.

For started, you’ll need to make it clear who is doing what and when. Let the trades know if you plan to do something yourself so they can adjust their costs. You won’t always be available, either, so give someone on-site permission to make decisions and order materials in your absence. You’ll need to ensure they know what they are, and are not, allowed to spend and change.

You’ll also need to set clear expectations about working hours, quality, safety equipment and how you expect the site to be left and secured. Finally, motivate your team. You could consider using rewards for targets met, such as offering a monetary bonus or a crate of beer to sweeten a deal.

How Build It Live Can Help

So, how can you benefit from a visit to Build It Live? Well, at the show, we’ll have experts on hand all weekend, providing advice on everything from project management to design – and much more.

Ask Our Experts

Don’t miss the chance to book a one-to-one appointment with one of our experts, at the Ask Out Experts lounge. Bring your plans, if you have some, and don’t forget your list of questions. They’ll be able to provide you with personalised advice and give you all the information you need – on project management and more.

Seminars & Workshops

We’ll also have dedicated seminars on each day, covering a variety of essential self build and renovation topics, including the different routes to managing your project. A range of industry experts and suppliers will also be taking to the Workshop Theatre stage, to host a range of talks. These workshops cover all kinds of important topics and vary at each show, so keep an eye on the schedule.

Self Build Training sessions

At the show, you can take part in a free taster session of Build It’s Self Build Virtual Training academy, an interactive series of online courses that’s run in partnership with Potton’s Self Build Academy. Each session is presented by Build It’s expert contributors and Potton’s highly experienced self build team.

Come along to a taster session to discover what you can expect from a full training session with the academy. Build It Live features short, 20-minute taster sessions of the courses. These cover topics such as Project Management Routes & Steps to Success – and much more!


At every Build It Live show you’ll be able to meet hundreds of suppliers and companies, browse thousands of products and gain the advice and inspiration you need. Explore our full list of Exhibitors here and make a list of all the companies you’d like to meet during your trip.

Explore our full show line-up today and start planning your visit.