On average Octatube manages 15 projects per year. Nevertheless, Iris Rombouts, project manager and structural engineer at Octatube, managed to deliver two projects on one day, Wednesday April the 13th. Both the Passage in Tilburg, with its unique wavy roof, and the bicycle-parking garage ‘De Vijfhoek’ in Amsterdam were completed. That's quite remarkable, even for Octatube. How to make a project run smoothly? How does a handover actually work and why does Iris combine two roles? It's time for a chat with this energetic Octane!
Iris has been working for Octatube for more than 3 years now. After her master's degree in Structural Design in Eindhoven, she started as a structural engineer at Octatube. A year later, Octatube Services was very busy and Iris was asked if she would like to take on the role of project manager.
"I didn't have to think about that for long. I saw this role as an ideal opportunity to gain work experience in a short period of time. At Services, you control the entire process independently, from sales to completion. In fact, it's a mini version of what we do at Octatube. On average, a job takes 3 to 5 days, meaning that you work on many projects in a short time. You will learn how the processes work within Octatube and what you will encounter in the position of project manager."
After 10 months, Iris resumed her role as structural engineer and started a project that would later be called Passage Tilburg. Octatube still needed a project manager for that particular project.
"At the time, I was asked if I wanted to consider being the project manager. Since I had just gained experience as a project manager with Services, it seemed like a good fit. I was keen to combine it with my job as a structural engineer. Together with my team leader, I checked whether both roles could be combined. That proved to be very efficient since you have a good (technical) background because of the decisions you make as a structural engineer. To be able to manage more than one project you need to know exactly how the process works within Octatube."
Later on, when the project was more advanced, Iris received two more projects: DK125 & bicycle parking garage ‘de Vijfhoek’. Both were somewhat smaller projects. Most project leaders work full-time as project leaders on the larger projects. What are the most important skills you need in your role as project leader?
"We all have a background in Building Technology. For the role of project leader, you need to be able to communicate and negotiate well. It’s also important that you can be organized and look ahead in order to have a clear view of what is going to happen. If you don't do that, there may be a disruption or delay in your project and you don't want that of course. That is why it’s important to be aware of any potential issues in advance and to determine how to address them (tactically). An example is the connection with third parties. For example, (concrete) anchors on which your column needs to be placed. In reality, the anchors are sometimes slightly different from the plans, which makes it difficult realize the connection. We work in a high degree of detail compared to the tolerances of concrete. That is why we often include greater tolerances in our work with respect to third parties so that we can vary a little with columns and that often solves a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, it’s unfortunate if the predefined tolerances are exceeded in the work. You think you’re prepared, but sometimes it goes wrong. The steel is in most cases easier to change than the existing concrete. Still it’s not pleasant when the steel is already coated and fully finished. This also means additional costs for the client and disappoint everyone. You try to avoid a situation like that as much as possible by planning large tolerances and making sound arrangements in advance."
How do you work together with the rest of the organization?
"You certainly feel supported by the organization. As a project manager, you take the initiative to gather the people involved and monitor the progress. You have to create team spirit so that people all want to go for it and meet the deadlines. You want to see what has been done in a period of one or two weeks. In addition, if a deadline cannot be met, the team must let me know well in advance. The engineer puts a lot of questions forward in a design meeting. Therefore, if you make sure you have the right people at the table, you can take decisions right away. All of our project managers have an engineering background. They think along with these kind of meetings. Project managers don't just negotiate about schedules and budgets. When it's a large project, a project coordinator is added to the team to provide additional support. The project coordinator actually is an executive project leader. At the ‘Vijfhoek’ and Tilburg Passage it was all manageable and therefore I did everything myself."
What are the challenges in the role of project leader?
"The challenge is to keep an overview and ensure that the project is progressing as efficient as possible with the best possible result, with naturally green figures at the end of the project.
What I find especially important is the atmosphere within the project: both internally and externally. External is sometimes more difficult in the early stages, because you have to get to know each other first.
In addition to that, you need to be strong and know how to delegate certain tasks. Within the organization, an experienced project manager coached me for a few months. It’s an advantage if you already work for Octatube and know how the process is conducted within the organization. That’s why engineers often move on to the role of project leader. You can also learn a lot from the other project leaders."
What is it like to be a woman in this industry?
"Sometimes it’s an advantage and sometimes it's a disadvantage. You have to stand your ground. You have to demonstrate that you can do the job and then you gain respect.”
Now you have completed two projects on the same day, how have you done that?
"Overseeing two projects at the same day is manageable. It depends on the size of the project of course, but for me it was easy to combine. Completion of the projects went well. During construction, I maintain close contact with the supervisor. You communicate about the construction with the foreman, he oversees the entire construction project in which we are a subsidiary. If you prepare it thoroughly, the completion is very straightforward. We aim to walk around with the contractor more regularly before the completion of the project. Together we will check if we still need to do any finishing touches to ensure that the final completion process runs smoothly.
Prior to the handover of the Passage in Tilburg, the client had already done a round tour and passed on all the delivery points beforehand. That is why I completed the project immediately together with assembly worker Stuart Voskamp, who finished all the items during the morning. The supervisor was very pleased with that.
At the ‘Vijfhoek’ there was also a list made by the main supervisor. Together we went through the points and I wrote them down on the completion form. A few days later, they were solved.
Therefore, together with the main supervisor, you do the finalization of the project and you conclude: if the completion activities are changed, we are both in agreement and stand by the result. These completion activities are actually your last meeting with the supervisor, so you can easily do two in one day."
"I really enjoyed these projects and, above all, I thought it was very efficient to have a dual position. It was good to be able to combine the role of project manager and structural engineer. Spending time behind the computer for the calculations as a structural engineer and time on the road for the position of project manager."
What are you most proud of?
"The Passage in Tilburg I am most proud of because it was a huge challenge in a structural way. The article in Bouwwereld describes well what we have achieved; it’s not just a roof. From scratch to completion, I was involved and I am very proud of what we achieved!
And nothing more to do now?
No, I don't like to sit still. I'm already working on calculations for new projects and I'm also picking up some smaller jobs for Services. There are plenty of new projects planned and if a project lends itself to my twin role, I will probably do another project again soon!
Also interested in working for Octatube in the position of project manager, structural engineer or project coordinator? Check out our current vacancies at www.octatube.nl/vacatures or submit an open application. We are a growing company and regularly have vacancies. We look forward to hearing from you!