Ten years in the making

Fortunately, we are not reporting on the progress of one of Tandem’s projects. But what we are referring to is Tandem itself. Because it is ten years since we ‘put pen to paper’. Describing it in terms of ‘writing’ might seem odd coming from a construction project management business. For Tandem it is spot-on because, from day one of our business and to this day we start with drawing a strategic plan. Often informed by interactive workshops with our client, whether we are their supplier for an individual project, or their ‘virtual’ in-house team working across all their projects. Of course we started off small, or at least the team was. Not so true of the projects, as we initially worked on a contractual basis for other larger project management practices. It wasn’t long before the phone rang and we got our first opportunity with a direct client at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry – a relationship that we still have today. Not long after we made our first appointment – and doubled the size of the business! Jason Fretter (Project Director) and Graham Black (Managing Director) had worked together for years and between them, knew the value of human interaction for managing projects successfully. A value that remains with the business and continues in our approach today. Within 18 months we had moved into The Chapel and things were motoring for Tandem Projects. Contract work continued but the direct to client work started to grow. Delivering projects for the likes of the NHS, advanced manufacturing facilities, local authorities and universities. By 2018 Tandem Projects had grown to 5 people. In fact our adeptness at project management in construction had been so recognised that we were approached to manage projects outside of the world of construction in areas such as logistics, branding, HR and business organisation. So six years in, but who’s counting? Well as it turned out Tandem Projects were. Namely in the sphere of quantity surveying (QS). We are comfortable supporting and managing all the consultants that make up a successful project team: architects, engineers, health & safety etc. It became plain that the management of costs was most tightly integrated with project management, whether we were managing all the consultants or just one of them. Developing our QS service was a natural progression and enables us to add value to every project whether we are formally commissioned to deliver QS or not. We asked Graham Black what was next for Tandem projects – “Well aside from celebrating our 10th Anniversary with some of the clients and team that have made it all possible, we are now in a position to focus on growth in a way that we haven’t been before. Rather than relying on organic growth we are going to actively market our services. Which is one of the reasons, of course, we have added QS to our armoury. Mainly, though, we are keen to take our human, agile and accountable approach to as many like-minded clients as we can.” Proof of Tandem’s staying power is that it was as the pandemic hit that the business shifted into entirely direct-to-client work, making what was already going to be a tough year into an even tougher one. Not only did Tandem survive but in year two of the pandemic began thriving and are now in a strong position to strive for growth. To have a conversation with Graham about your challenging project call: 07717 580 291 or email: gblack@tandemprojects.co.uk.

Wildlife in the city

EcoPark, Small Heath, Birmingham


Earlier this year, Tandem Projects completed a building for the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust (BBCWT) to create EcoPark in Small Heath Birmingham.

Yes, you heard right, a wildlife park in the centre of Birmingham. An oasis in a built-up area welcoming thousands of visitors a year. From trees, plants and water features to birds, frogs and newts. EcoPark is a place where the young can learn about nature, and adults can enjoy it with them.

Tandem Projects were approached by BBCWT to resolve a challenging requirement for the EcoPark. A building to accommodate teaching, training and events to increase the visitor capacity and activities offered by the Wildlife Trust.

With very limited space the priority was to protect, conserve and ultimately enhance the environment for wildlife. Although BBCWT already had ambitious plans it was apparent these might exceed the budget and overshoot the funding time scales.

Following a detailed research and auditing exercise Tandem were able to advise a clear strategy of what elements of the plan could be usefully retained and which would need to be re-worked. An ideal site was identified and Tandem were honoured to be appointed to manage and deliver all aspects of the professional team.

Fully operational within days of completion, the newly built Environment Centre nestles sympathetically in the EcoPark environs and is already adding value to the experience of visitors.  All delivered on budget and ahead of the funding deadline.

Graham Black of Tandem Projects said “This is a great initiative to be involved with. It embodies so many of the things we hold dear. To be part of the team to enhance an already remarkable wildlife centre has been truly invigorating.”

To learn more about the Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust visit bbcwildlife.org.uk and to see the great things are going on at the EcoPark in Small Heath visit bbcwildlife.org.uk/EcoPark.

Tandem Projects shortlisted for Insider Property Awards 2021

We are chuffed as punch, proud and very thankful to have been shortlisted as project management team of the year, for the Insider Property Awards, West Midlands 2021.

Our Entry for the awards focused on three projects we have the great pleasure of working on with really great clients:

Stratford Riverside – For Stratford-upon-Avon District Council

EcoPark – For Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trust

Upgrade for Coventry – City of Culture – For the Coventry Belgrade Theatre

These projects were all initiated during early stages of when the pandemic of 2020 took hold on the UK and proved to be the start of some challenging times for all.

Through the delivery of these and other projects; systems, processes and sophisticated software were all great, but at Tandem Projects we firmly believe that project management is about trust and commitment between the Client, the Project Manager and the rest of the team.tandem-projects

This teamwork and the can-do attitude shown through and we worked with teams to find some really innovative and deliverable solutions.  At Tandem Projects our team is not sector-focused; they deliver projects across a wide and varied range of needs.  With the common thread of taking a challenging situation and making it a positive reality.

The winners of this and others awards at a dinner in November 2021.  We wish every company and individual luck on the evening.  All shortlisted entries will undoubtedly be a real credit to the property and construction industry.

Great to be part of it – Together We Can…

It’s here, it’s happening – Coventry, UK City of Culture 2021

In what we hope will become a year of celebration on so many levels, the arts, culture and media in Coventry will be a focus this year.

As a key partner of the celebrations we are proud to have helped our long standing client, The Belgrade Theatre deliver their ambitions for the creation of a new Café & the Nineteen 58 Bar, together with additional theatre workshop space and a brand new production kitchen. This follows on from a number of projects we have previously and continue to deliver for the Theatre over many years.

The fantastic and exciting new areas for food and drink, span two floors of inviting space, with a stunning feature staircase between. The design has a bright and contemporary feel whilst reflecting the buildings mid-twentieth century heritage and retaining a number of heritage features.

It took determination and teamwork to deliver this ambitious scheme during a very challenging period, however completed on time and within budget…it is both a project we are proud of delivering and hope many people will enjoy both during the City of Culture year and many more to come.

Client: The Belgrade Theatre
Architect: Corstorphine and Wright
Interior Designer: Lazzeri Creative Interiors
Contractor: Interclass
PM/CA: Tandem Projects

Always play a straight bat

Tandem go back to University

We recently had the privilege of being asked to provide an afternoon of workshops and lectures to the Architectural Practice (RIBA Part 3 Exemption) – PgDip students at Birmingham City University (BCU).

The course gives the students the skills and knowledge to gain the final part of their qualification.  It forms the basis for their ongoing professional architectural development.

Within the core areas of legal requirements, practice management and construction procurement and the fundamentals of good architectural practice; we provided two sessions:

  • Understanding the client’s needs
  • The strategic management of a project.

In these type of sessions that Tandem Projects provide back to students across varied courses in higher education, at a number of Institutions, we encourage a workshop approach with engaging the students in discussion.

Big questions

In these recent sessions at BCU, amongst the core topic of the sessions, there was a general theme and line of questioning that the students wanted to get to the bottom of:

  • Should you be bold enough to give advice that might ‘do yourself out of a role’ on a project?
  • How do you practically tackle commercial issues that could be considered unethical?
  • What approach do you take with difficult client situations?

These type of questions, took me back more years than I care to admit when studying Civil Engineering at Nottingham Trent University.  As an undergraduate we had the benefit of regularly enjoying lectures from the visiting practitioner, John Pike OBE.  I can remember like yesterday the very clear advice he gave to us in a lecture – simply he said that in what he hoped would be a long and successful career for us all, that at all times, we should ‘Play a straight bat.’

So with credit to John, I used this exact same phrase in my response to the students.  It has been advice that on many occasions has served well.  In the trusted role of being a consultant supporting clients and teams deliver capital investment it is critical to be upright, honest, respectful, and morally correct manner.

Great feedback

In feedback from Ian Shepherd RIBA FHEA Med, Associate Professor and Director of Professional Studies, he commented “That the sessions went really well and a great way to finish off the lecture series. It was really good to see a worked example.  I think the students got a lot from hearing you talk through the methodology and how you approach projects”.

Challenges in Little Steps

Don’t put off challenges . . .

All week, I have had a significant project challenge to tackle.  I have been putting it off and when it got to Thursday evening, I thought, I need to sort that tomorrow!

In a similar vein when the early morning Friday wake up alarm went off; it was dark, frosty and unwelcoming outside.  However, a hilly cross country run beckoned…

Secretly wishing that the run was not on this week’s training plan, I pulled on the trail shoes and headed out over the fields…I seemed to automatically just take each field and hill, one bit at a time…before long the overall run distance became less of a challenge.  As the morning sun started to come up, it actually became a privilege to be out running and enjoying the moment.

On getting to the office, with I do not deny a large mug of coffee on desk, I thought I could take this same approach to dealing with the difficult and troublesome project issue hanging over the week.  It certainly helped and within an hour, what first seemed a big issue became deliverable when broken into small steps.

Nothing too earth shattering here, but every now and then we all need to be reminded that larger more complex tasks are overcome by breaking them down into smaller parts.

As a project manager I would also advise a good plan is an equally good place to start.  But the message is do not let the scale of the challenge or issue stop you getting started. An article I read some time back, relating this to life generally is a good read for those needing further help in this regard.

Making a project plan: why bother?

Many consider project planning a waste of time, arguing that environments, circumstances and objectives continuously change. Their experience or impression is that project delivery is all reactive anyway.

“What’s the point?”

Unfortunately, what very often happens, is that the only person who understands the plan is the author themselves.  Plans often contain disproportionate levels of undecipherable detail, which leads to misunderstanding and distrust in the plan and process. Industries have been established through software developers’ claims that their products ‘are’ project management and planning. We would disagree.

Whilst arguably an efficient tool for depicting activity against time, the Gantt chart itself, with its many little horizontal bars, in our opinion, has a great deal to answer for in fueling negative feeling towards planning. How often have we experienced a presenter advance to the next slide containing the project plan, commenting ‘…don’t worry if you cannot read it…’. We ask: ‘Then what’s the point?’

The benefits of project planning

So if you’re in agreement that it seems to be a waste of time, why bother with the  project plan?

We would ask a different question: What project would not be improved by establishing the following?

  • A common and agreed delivery strategy focused on project objectives;
  • A clear judgement as to whether the project can actually be delivered;
  • A real engagement of project stakeholders; and, importantly,
  • A baseline that is measurable and permits project control mechanisms.

Assuming the above sounds like a worthy list of outcomes, how can a project plan achieve them?

What does a good project plan look like?

Well it certainly shouldn’t be a blow by blow activity schedule through the entire project lifecycle. There are other plans that need such detail. The project plan, however, has a different purpose and will not help with realising the above.

Ideally, the plan fits onto a single piece of paper. In fact, if it can’t, then the author has somewhat missed the point. It certainly doesn’t need to be a Gantt chart, in fact it’s often better it isn’t. There is nothing wrong with it being hand-drawn – indeed, we are yet to find software that improves upon paper, pen and an experienced brain to develop the plan. There can often also be great benefit if the plan is collaboratively generated as a team.

The most important attribute for the plan is it being legible and understood by all.  It must be uncluttered, without need of explanation and instantly recognisable as something deliverable. Yet not all project managers have the experience or skills to develop a good project plan.

Creating a solid platform

At Tandem Projects, we call the plan a ‘strategic plan of work’. We promote that it establishes a solid platform through which the project is delivered. We guarantee that the strategic plan will deliver:

  • Strategic alignment
  • Objective focus
  • Leadership, accountability and agreed responsibilities
  • A baseline to judge and make informed decisions
  • Quality management
  • Actual management of risk
  • Continuous review and improvement

Project planning ‘if done well’ is therefore not a waste of time and actually can make a tangible difference.  For your next project, take the time to get it done right, develop a solid and realistic strategic plan – see the difference for yourself.

And if you’re still not a believer, give us 20 minutes, a cup of tea and an open mind to demonstrate…