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  • Writer's pictureAdewole Ademolake

How to keep the plates spinning/ managing multiple property development projects at once

Property Development management is no small feat. It involves keeping many plates spinning that could have catastrophic impacts if not appropriately managed. The potential to lose significant sums of money is continually looming, especially if you miss a deadline to submit your Community Infrastructure Level ("CIL") forms or you do not give the instruction to demolish homes on time which delays you by 6-9 months due to protected species. What happens then?

For many, property development is fun, exotic, and the epitome of success, but in reality, it is stressful

For many, property development is fun, exotic, and the epitome of success, but in reality, it is stressful, keeps you awake at night and requires you always to stay switched on whilst constantly searching over the horizons to mitigate risks. A development manager's life reminds me of living on a warship, continually waiting for the alarm to sound for action against a known or unknown risk.


I will seek to give you a snapshot of a development manager's ("DM") balancing life and why focusing on what is important is vital.


I categorise the spinning plates into legal, financial, planning, stakeholder management, relationship management and project management.


The latest I have worked as DM was 4 am, and I had to wake up 5 hours later to attend a project meeting. Unhealthy, yes, is it all the time? No. As a Development Manager, you sometimes have to focus on the objective, which sometimes means working late. Part of my love for what I do is that each day is not the same, and there is always something to do.


The life of a DM and the competing priorities


DM's must write board reports to get funding to delivery housing schemes. These reports cover town planning, risk/ mitigations, market conditions, funding, viability, legal implications and sensitivity analysis.


On the report you draft, your Manager says you need to add more information and consider other options. Outside of drafting this report, you have site visits, a long list of pending actions, legal issues, contractors requesting clarifications on specification, unpaid invoices that need to be paid urgently and development appraisals to carry out on schemes. You look in your diary and have back to back meetings with architects, solicitors, surveyors and internal teams for the whole week. You are stressed, but this isn't even the tip of the iceberg. You then receive a draft s.106 agreement that needs reviewing today, and your cost consultant sends you a cost plan which makes your project unviable.


To top it all off, you have 300 unread emails, have building completions coming up soon and need to complete your project updates and present this to senior managers. When you finally get a handle on things, you are then pulled into a meeting where you come out with 10 urgent action points. In my opinion, DM's are the additive in the property development process. We are involved in everything, some things in detail, others not so much. This is the life of the Development Manager.



During the project


Development managers are paid to make decisions and are, at times, the central part of any project. We are the custodian of the development appraisal, which ultimately dictates the Profit. DM's have to keep an eye on the money. I generally attend many meetings, and rarely do I leave a meeting without a critical action. Heavy is the head that has many actions to complete.



Town Planning


Town Planning is a very complex world with very complex implications if not managed properly. A DM must be on top of overseeing large scale planning applications and ensuring that planning conditions are discharged ahead of time.


Most schemes going through planning are managed by planning consultants who are experts in town planning. However, it is critical for DMs to understand the planning implications of design, planning conditions and planning obligations (s.106).


Failing to discharge critical conditions, i.e. not occupying the homes until the parking strategy, can have real financial implications for a developer. It is the difference between getting money this financial year and not. The DM must be active in ensuring that planning conditions are discharged.


Financial


"Slow motion, nothing moves but the money"

Development appraisals must be looked at at least once a week from a development management perspective. This is effectively your primary measure of how a scheme is performing financially. Build costs, professional fees, sales/ rental values, build duration all feed into a development appraisal which spits out whether a scheme is profitable or not.


The financial plate cannot be ignored as it is simple for a scheme to fail due to neglect of running development appraisals. If costs rise or an unexpected risk occurs that wipes out your contingency, these matters have to be assessed, ultimately impacting the Profit. If your Profit eroded, how do you think that looks for you as a DM? You have to keep an eye on anything that impacts costs and ensure you make monthly adjustments to your development appraisal when changes arise. As my favourite artist says, "slow motion, nothing moves but the money". DM's have to keep their eyes on the money


Project management



At present, I manage five large projects at various stages. Due to the sheer volume of work I have to manage, I have split my days to cover each project. The hardest part is that each of these projects has its challenges, and it is sometimes difficult to balance competing deadlines. To manage these projects, I set up a Microsoft notebook labelled action and place actions relating to each project and frequently review them. To keep track of time, I have a Gantt chart to track progress on critical dates and milestones.


Legal


Law and property development are interchangeable, and DM's have to keep an eye on this constantly. From a planning perspective, the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is the primary legislation. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 dictates how leases are drafted, and the Land Registration Act 2002 is central to registering new title plans and titles. Other legal actions are registering titles, land sale agreements, options, instructing rights of light surveys (easement), appropriating land for planning purposes and arranging build/ consultancy contracts. This is a small snapshot of the legal considerations that have to be factored into developments.

Stakeholder management


"To go fast, go alone, to go far, you must go together"

Under the Localism Act 2011, any proposed large development must involve consultation with the residents. All DM's will have to lead the engagement process in consultation with the Architect to inform a statement of community involvement which is submitted at the planning application stage. Outside of planning, DM's must consult internal stakeholders and ward members on schemes. The success of a DM can sometimes hinge on their ability to consult with key stakeholders. As hard as this can be, consultation must be part of a DM's life as, without it, failure looms. The famous saying says, "to go fast, go alone, to go far, you must go together". Togetherness is always my best policy.



Relationship management – Who am I without you



Who are we without our teams? Relationship management is a vital part of development management, from having tough conversations about poor performance with project teams to managing morale and praising good work where it is due. Maintaining good relationships is central to a DM's success, and thought should be given to this vital plate.



Key lessons


"You have to make something happen, or everything stays still"

To keep the plates spinning, you must be able to take a step back and see the whole picture. How can you truly appreciate the game of property development and what is essential when you are continually running on the field. Having a vantage position gives you a perspective that ultimately gives you greater clarity.




Set time aside at the beginning of the week to identify key actions and put these actions into your diary. My action list is so long at present that it is laughable, but I will say that I keep on top of what is essential. If you do not write your actions down, how will you remember to do it?


Collaboration with team members also helps ensure your plates are continually spinning as others can carry them for you or let you know when one is about to fall. Make sure you keep good relationships with internal and external team members.


As my previous Development Director said, "you have to make something happen, or nothing happens". Development Managers continuously have to make things happen to move project forward.

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