How to Execute a Major Project in a Condo Association

Thus far, the focus of Managing a Major Project has been on finding the right people and building the right plan.  Preparing for the execution itself is half the battle.  But now that you’ve got all of your ducks in a row, it’s time to start things up.  Depending on the project, this may mean a minimally disruptive or an extremely disruptive experience for your Owners – and of course, Board and Management.  However, with a few tricks, you can successfully execute a major project in a Condo Association.  

Be Ready to Spend Extra Time

In most major projects, your technical representation and performer will be generating regular reports – they may be weekly, biweekly, monthly – it all depends on what you specced out in your contract.  First and foremost, you need to decide who is going to read those reports and what to make of them.  For example, you might delegate it entirely to your Management and only review the project at your monthly Board meetings.  You might have your Management proactively flag issues for the Board on a daily basis.  You might have the Board read the reports themselves.  Each of these options have pros and cons, but as with most things, the key is to make sure everyone understands expectations.  In general, for medium-sized projects, I recommend that the Board have Management flag major issues.  Additionally, it is helpful if you assign one or two Board members to take the lead on managing the project and help make sure there is proactive, direct Board involvement.  For very large projects, you want all hands on deck to ensure you can properly execute a major project in a Condo Association.  

Be Ready to Act Quickly

Be ready to rush and respond to a wide variety of challenges when you execute a major project in a Condo Association.
Be ready to rush and respond to a wide variety of challenges when you execute a major project in a Condo Association.

Does your Board have a plan for how to deal with emergency decisions?  If not, now is a great time for you to develop one.  If you’ve got a major project, there’s a good chance you’ll run into some issues.  Even with the best of precaution, when there’s a major project – particularly major repairs- you’re raising the chances of something happening.  It might be the discovery of other issues – i.e., you’re repairing the roof and suddenly find decayed electrical wiring, or you’re rebuilding pipes and the contractor accidentally punches through someone’s wall.  The bottom line is that accidents happen, and what people will remember most is now what happened, but how it was fixed.  It is unrealistic to expect to execute a major project in a Condo Association and have it go perfectly.  It is realistic to expect your Board and Management to be ready to respond quickly and efficiently.

Be Ready for Increased Correspondence from Owners

Whenever there’s a project that disrupts quality of life, you’ll inevitably get complaints.  Some are trivial – for example, if you’re doing demolition, people will complain about the noise.  Other times, people will try to score free stuff – for example, someone might claim the noise is so bad they need a hotel room.

In the case of complaints for complaining sake, be polite, acknowledge the issue, and reiterate why the work is being done.  When people are asking for free stuff, like hotel rooms or other accommodations, is when things get messy.  In general, you need to deny any requests unless their unit is rendered uninhabitable under law.  You must always consider the precedent you’re setting for the rest of the building.  The bottom line is that any accommodation will then be requested by everyone else, and the costs will skyrocket.  If the building is experiencing a lot of noise and one person is granted a hotel room, word will get out and EVERYONE will want a hotel room.  Unless your Association’s reserves and income are very high and your Owners expect (and collectively are willing to pay for) such accommodations – deny.   Remember, fiduciary duty is often the only codified duty of a Board.  

Now, if an Owner alleges some sort of health issue, immediately get in touch with your lawyer and technical representation. Most jurisdictions in the U.S. have extensive permitting and safety processes.  Your local government isn’t going to allow unsafe work to occur.  If an Owner needs special accommodations, they generally need to bear the cost.  Again, there can always be exceptions, so always consult with your lawyer just in case your jurisdiction has laws that may compel you to provide accommodations.

Most importantly, no matter what the reason of the email, respond quickly.  A quick note acknowledging the issue and explaining the Board will need to discuss resolution is better than no response.  And, of course, prioritize your responses.  Threats of legal action from Owners trump mild complaining.

Don’t Forget About Your Management

Don't let it get to this point for your Management - keep an eye on their stress level.  And yours.
Don’t let it get to this point for your Management – keep an eye on their stress level. And yours.

As much as a Board has to deal with Owners, Management does so even more often.  Major projects will cause everyone in the Association’s stress level to rise.  Your Management will be getting the brunt of the complaints, and they also will need to be coordinating with your project performer, as well.  Make sure to keep an eye on your Management’s stress levels.  Make sure Board members are checking in with them (a quick email or drop by the office) and be positive and encouraging.  If you have a larger staff, you might consider authorizing a pizza party or other food-based “thank you” to show them that the Board cares.  

If the workload is very high, you might also consider hiring temporary help.  This might be maintenance helpers or office staff simply to make sure your staff isn’t being overworked.  Temporary support also has the benefit of keeping overtime hours limited, which helps save money for the Association.

Conclusion

Execution is the craziest part of the process, but it also means that your project is coming to an end.  Keep focusing on the finish line.  Make sure that everyone – Management, Owners, and your fellow Board members – are focusing on what the project does for the Association long term.  A new roof that lasts 15 years is well worth the inconvenience of a few months.  Make sure you’re responsive and setting time aside, and be patient with everyone – particularly your fellow Board members.  If you can do that, you’ll be in great shape when you execute a major project in a Condo Association.   


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