Saturday, November 21, 2009


The size and complexity of luxury pleasure craft have grown over the last two decades to the point where we’re no longer building “yachts,” but more accurately small ships. Contemporary megayachts are relatively so complex that no set of specifications or plans, no pre-contract discussions and agreements, no set of known yard standards are likely to be complete enough to pre-settle every question or issue that may arise during a new-build or major refit project. This is doubly true in the case of refits, which inevitably require dealing on the fly with “emergent” work, work the necessity of which only becomes apparent after the dismantling phase of the refit has begun.

Add to this the now almost ubiquitous situation in which an entire team is required for a build or major refit, from naval architects to marine engineers, stylists and interior designers, sound and vibration attenuation specialists, and a myriad of other outside experts, all with their own egos and personal agendas. The upshot is that today, experienced, skilled project management can be of critical benefit both to boatyard and yacht owner.

Deft project management: 1) facilitates timely communications and decision making during a build or refit, 2) assures that an overall vision of the project is maintained which coincides with that of the yacht’s owner or buyer, 3) significantly aids in avoiding misunderstandings during a refit or build, 4) works to avoid delays and to keep the project on schedule, and 5) increases the probability that the project will complete successfully and to the owner’s or buyer’s satisfaction. All of which ultimately have to be the rational objectives of every major yacht yard in the world, as well as every owner, buyer, and captain.

There are, however, two distinct types of marine project management: in-house and owner’s representation. The in-house project manager works for the yard and his or her first priority is, obviously, to protect the yard’s interests. For that reason, it behooves every yacht owner or buyer involved in a major build or refit purchase to have, as well, his or her own project manager, whose primary responsibility is to protect the owner or buyer’s interests.

Besides having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the technical aspects of yacht construction, a first-rate owner’s rep needs to be able to: assess job progress and evaluate the adequacy of the yard’s allocation of necessary resources, frequently by means of “shadowing” the yard’s project planning and management; accurately quantify, on an ongoing basis, “earned value,” i.e. percent of job complete versus percentage of budget or contract price expended (especially important when progress payments are involved); interface with the yard’s accounting department to achieve accurate cost control, tracking, and reporting (critical in T&M situations).

To sum up, the qualifications which are essential for an owner’s rep or project manager to have are:

• a firm grasp of the fundamentals of design and engineering;

• a broad-based technical knowledge of ship’s systems, fittings, and equipment;

• the ability to accurately and objectively interpret the owner’s preferences, needs, and requirements;

• a high degree of people skills and an understanding of interest-based negotiating;

• the willingness to place the successful completion of the project ahead of personal ego; and last but not least

• familiarity with, and the ability to implement critical path analysis and management, as well as other key project management techniques.

Some of these skills and qualifications can be attained through study; but the successful deployment of these skills, for the most part, requires a solid previous hands-on foundation in yacht building and refit. As in most things marine, when it comes to project management... experience always matters.  

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