What does a development manager do?

Written by Tyler Kastelberg

February 15, 2022

Developing a commercial real estate project from the ground up and/or performing a major renovation is an exercise in planning, logistics, and execution.  Each new project has dozens of moving parts that must be synchronized and choreographed in a well-timed dance of construction crews, materials shipments, and financiers.  

For a project to be completed on time and within budget, there must be an individual responsible for coordinating and scheduling the entire effort.  This individual is usually the development manager and their role is an important one.

At a high level, a development manager is responsible for overseeing the successful completion of a construction/development project from beginning to end.

More specifically, the day to day responsibilities of a development manager include:

  • Project Plan & Scheduling:  At the beginning of a project, the development manager creates a project plan/schedule that outlines, at the task level, exactly what needs to happen to get the project from beginning to end.  While this may seem straightforward, there may be hundreds or thousands of tasks in a commercial grade project that need to be arranged in a logical order and assigned to an area of responsibility (contractor, architect, etc).  This task alone is a major lift.
  • Budgeting & Tracking:  In conjunction with the project plan, the construction/development manager must also create a budget that details line item costs for the project.  They may complete it on their own or with significant input from the general contractor.  Once complete, they are also responsible for tracking expenditures against the budget to ensure the project is on track.  If it isn’t they must create a plan for corrective action.
  • Materials & Deliveries:  During the construction phase, the development manager is responsible for overseeing the ordering of construction materials and the delivery of them to the site.  This is a critically important task because a shortage of materials can cause project delays, which can have significant financial consequences.
  • Contracts & Compliance:  The development manager is responsible for negotiating all of the contracts necessary to commence work on the project.  They may do this in conjunction with legal counsel.  Once the contracts are signed, they are also responsible for enforcing the terms of the contract(s) with all vendors.
  • Progress Tracking:  Once the project is underway, the development manager is responsible for tracking its progress on a day to day basis against the project plan.  If there is a significant deviation, they must develop a plan to correct it.
  • Risk Monitoring:  A commercial construction site is a place with many potential risks, both to physical safety and financial capacity.  The development manager is responsible for setting a safety first standard and holding the contractor responsible for adhering to all required rules.  
  • Reporting & Communication:  Above all, the development manager’s job is to act as a liaison between the on site staff and senior management, lenders, and investors.  In this role, they must provide frequent status reports, communicate risks to the budget or timeline, and develop plans to address any issues that arise.   

Needless to say, the Development Manager is very important to the on-time/on-budget completion of a commercial real estate development project.  But, individuals with the experience and expertise to perform this role effectively can be difficult to find when they are needed.  

When do you need to hire a development manager?

Based on the name of the role, the most logical time to hire a development manager is when there is a development project to manage.

Larger commercial real estate developers/investment firms may have enough ongoing project work to justify the cost of hiring one or more full-time development managers.  When they complete one project, they can simply be reassigned to a new one as it gets underway.

Small to midsize real estate developers/investment firms with sporadic projects may not be able to support the cost of a full-time development manager.  Fortunately, they can hire them on a one-off project basis from Bullpen.

What differentiates a good development manager from a great one? 

While every individual and construction project is unique, there are several qualities and characteristics that tend to set a good development manager apart from a great one.  They include:

  • Organization:  Fundamentally, the development manager is a traffic director of sorts.  To efficiently coordinate and schedule the project, the must be highly organized with a knack for implementing systems and processes to make it run smoothly. 
  • Detail Oriented:  In a large scale construction project, the details matter.  A great development manager has an eye for them and the personal drive to get them right.
  • Proactive:  In a construction project, delays can be incredibly costly.  So, it is critically important that development managers are proactive.  They are always looking ahead for potential risks/issues and they proactively address them to minimize their impact to the timeline.
  • Decisive:  Because delays are costly, the best development managers are extremely decisive.  They recognize issues, develop a plan to address them, and act quickly to ensure small issues don’t become big ones.
  • Experience:  Great development managers have a demonstrable track record of overseeing projects that are completed on time and within budget.    
  • Industry Certifications:  Great development managers are dedicated to achieving the highest levels of expertise in their chosen field.  Often this is demonstrated by pursuing industry certifications like the Certified Construction Manager.
  • Highly Collaborative:  A development manager actively develops relationships with a wide variety of coworkers, vendors, and interested stakeholders and they recognize that each individual makes an important contribution to the success of a project.   
  • Communication:  The best development managers are excellent communicators up and down the value chain.  They are equally comfortable communicating with colleagues in the field and senior level management.

While possession of the above qualities does not guarantee that a construction/development manager will be great, it certainly increases the likelihood that they will be and hiring managers should actively seek candidates with them.

Where can you hire a development manager?

At the time of writing, the commercial real estate industry is going through a major boom and there is a record number of projects under construction.  As a result, competition for top development manager talent is intense. That’s where we come in …

At Bullpen, we specialize in helping commercial real estate acquisition and development firms find and hire the best freelance development managers in the industry. We pre-screen the candidates, verify their experience, and handpick the best talent for your hiring needs … all within 72 hours.

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