Learning curve in development

how would you describe the learning curve in development?

What are things that made you successful in the space?

I've been in development for a year and a half now. Enjoy working with my boss, however, i can feel like his time is way too limited and it's impacting my ability to learn more or at least be mentored in a way where i can make decisions more confidently. Do you think your boss's ability to mentor you has made a difference in how successful you've been in the development world? I don't know if i'm setting too high of expectations there.

Comments (15)

Ozymandia, what's your opinion? Comment below:
Manager in RE - Comm

I've been in development for a year and a half now. Enjoy working with my boss, however, i can feel like his time is way too limited and it's impacting my ability to learn more or at least be mentored in a way where i can make decisions more confidently. Do you think your boss's ability to mentor you has made a difference in how successful you've been in the development world?

Yes, the mentoring you get is wildly important.  That being said, he hired you to do a job, not suck up a lot of his time, so it's not unreasonable after 18 months to expect you to go and try and walk on your own without him there at all times.

Frankly, he's probably trying to get you to go make decisions and make some mistakes along the way.  That's the only way to really learn.  Get into the docs, the plans, the underwriting and figure out on your own how all the pieces fit together - I can guarantee you your boss isn't going to let you make a decision that will sink the firm, and if he gets angry at you for making a mistake, that's on him and not you (unless it's one you've already made, yada yada yada).  My best piece of advice is to go walk the construction site often.  Nothing will bring it all together like watching a building come out of the ground.  And the construction process is by far the most opaque part of development, and the piece that folks in the office will have the least handle on.  It's a major value add to understand.

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  • Manager in RE - Comm

Thanks. On the last part about walking the site, I've been doing that more recently in the last month or so, and it's for sure been helpful to understand where we're at, plus with the GC being "in-house" it's allowed me to ask more questions and understand why certain issues are arising and what solutions are coming in place.

MidasMulligan, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Need more input.

How big are the projects you're working on? Are you doing projects for your own account or with investor money? How involved is the dev team with all the professional firms/subs involved? Are you sourcing opportunities yourself or paying bird dogs for leads? Does firm hold projects or dump them to recycle capital? What is your role in the process currently? You mention making decisions confidently... what kind of decisions? 

There's a spectrum of possibilities here - on one end are the small bootstrap developers who do it all themselves and have fingerprints on every aspect of the project from idea to sale. The other end are the people with money and vision that engage professionals to manage the actual process for them so all they have to do is make decisions and try to collect fees from financing so they can move on to the next one. Where on the spectrum do you fall?

"And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world"
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  • Manager in RE - Comm

All of the projects are quite small mostly 4-5 units valued at around $4 million as the average. Two other projects I manage are upwards towards $6-8 million and have higher unit counts. These are all basically townhomes that are designed as either for rent or for-sale. 9 different projects in construction plus 7 others in pre-construction.

All of these are investor money.

The GC is in-house and manages most of the pre-con approval process. Because there's so many projects we have, we have pretty good relationships with specific vendors and consultants that we use.

I'm not sourcing opportunities, another guy on my team does that. My primary role is development manager, I have to catch hold of all acquisitions that come in and make sure they make it through the pre-con approval process, get into construction and finally reach delivery for stabilization/disposition.

We dump most of them to recycle capital and put it into new projects.

Most of my decision making is related to the construction process and management of budget/funds and schedule for the project. I mostly am not sure in my decisions sometime is because I haven't finished the complete life cycle of one asset yet, or I will be soon in this quarter, after several long awaited delays.

The company has been doing a little bit of a reset. They were competing in a different space of development that proved to be not-so-profitable and before I came it sounded like there were a lot of employees that were idle. Since then, they've made the team particularly lean and focused on engaging external consultants to cover specialized areas. Overall, though i think we're trying to grow slightly more of an influence in each project as opposed to simply being just an orchestrator.

MidasMulligan, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Based on this - I'd have to agree with most of the other advice in here. It sounds like you're well on your way to running the deal but just lack the confidence that is born from experience. As long as you're on budget and on schedule, keep making not-dumb decisions and have your reasoning articulable. When in doubt - write a short bullet pointed email or memo with options, your recommendation, and reasoning and take to your boss and ask for their input (this is the part where you take FutureCEO3's advice and do your homework first to show initiative and effort). You'll get their input based on experience and can ask additional questions. Rinse and repeat that across the number of deals you're working on and you'll pick up the subtle nuances that make one like-project different from another like-project. RE is an iterative industry. 

Time in seat is critical and 18 months is a pretty long while. If you still feel like this at 24 months; you'd be justified in asking for a sit down and requesting some specific feedback or guidance if you're not already getting that as part of review process. 

"And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world"
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CREnadian, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Mentorship is important (irreplaceable) but I also realized a few years in that once you've got good footing mentorship should be more a person to bounce the occasional questions off of/to leech knowledge off of by watching them work. After they've taught you enough to be mostly self sufficient, the best learning happens by just figuring it out on your own and making mistakes.

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FutureCEO3, what's your opinion? Comment below:

To address your initial question, the learning curve is steep - you essentially need to become a "B" player in all phases to effectively run a project independently from underwriting to stabilization including underwriting/financial analysis, due diligence, closing, entitlement, construction, financing and marketing/lease up. There will be resources along the way depending upon your firm (via other internal employees or third parties) but you'll still need to understand the important parts/areas of focus of each phase and more importantly tie them all together to run a project smoothly.

As others have mentioned, mentorship is critical because you can learn through them the skills I described above. Ideally you are given phases of the process to run so that way you can learn without having all the responsibility all at once. 

To address your specific concern, one of the core skillsets to success in development is the ability to find resources independently and those who thrive with a high sense of autonomy. You absolutely have to be "politely persistent" (oftentimes without being polite). Development as an activity is the art of juggling a bunch of balls so the daily schedule of a senior leader can be quite busy - I would encourage you to make your growth a priority and push your mentor to lead (or at the very least pass along knowledge for your benefit). Immerse yourself in what's available to you, think it through on your own and generate a list of questions to review with them. Some good activities would be reading through/analyzing all key documents (loan docs, partnership agreements, PSAs, construction contracts), construction drawing packages, land use attorney letters or zoning analysis and your company's full financial models to name a few.

Set a standing meeting with them and hold them to it where you can ask questions about the above. Push hard for more autonomy in your role and make yourself essential by going ahead and doing tasks that you think are important but no one is addressing.

  • Analyst 2 in RE - Comm

I'm in a similar spot where my boss doesn't come in often (2-3 days a week if that), will show up late (they're still pretty junior basically a senior analyst) and it's generally me focusing on acquisitions waiting for next steps. Any advice there? Seems not to be ideal, but I've also been hearing no one can make deals work right now with where rates are and a majority of people are on the sidelines so I am looking at plans, OMs, models to get thoughts and put things together but it's generally slow overall and I shouldn't complain.

Let me know what you think, on one hand I think someone should be in more as an active mentor, on the other things are slow and places are laying others off/not a lot of acquisition roles out there.

FutureCEO3, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Although my role involves sitting on IC and weighing in on potential acquisitions, it is not heavily focused there so other users in acquisitions will have to expand on the technical elements to focus on but here are a couple things that pop into mind.

You're right in that broadly transaction activity has slowed so that's usually a good time to prepare for the future and focus on supplemental learning as well as networking. Preparing for the future is forming your own opinion of where we are now/the state of your markets and making informed guesses about where the opportunity might be based on a range of outcomes, ie how will players react if interest rates go up by 50 bps this year, what about if rates drop by 50 bps, does it matter in certain markets or not? What is the 3, 5, 10 year outlook in certain markets? Doing this sort of mental exercise to form your own opinion as well as taking into account other's views will help guide your search on future deals and markets to target. Down times are a good "pause" to start researching new markets or neighborhoods before activity drives up again so start expanding your horizons to get a sense of new areas.

Additionally, in down markets you want to make yourself as essential as possible so keep an eye out for any tasks you can take and move forward, especially those that no one wants to touch. These include activities like cleaning up or re-sorting the folder tree, expanding the firm's presence by updating their website or posting more of your deals, updating your firm's template for OMs, expanding on functions within the company's financial model, etc. The more items you control beyond your job description, the more valuable and entangled you are as well as the better you'll holistically understand how the company operates. The big hedge being here that the ultimate protection is outcomes so deal flow is the most important box to check.

This is also a good time for supplemental learning - take advantage of your free time and read, read, read. Spend a good portion of your morning catching up on daily news - Feedly is a good software to consolidate all of the recurring news channels into one space. Don't be afraid to expand outside real estate specific books - some of the reading I did in my mid 20's while I was waiting for additional responsibility became a launching pad for my career down the road. You can train yourself to think like an executive long before you become one.

The last and most obvious one is networking. Everyone knows how relationship focused real estate is so won't belabor that point but now is the time to go grab coffee, attend that conference and perhaps most importantly for your situation is to find the right mentor. ULI, NAIOP and most industry organizations have young leaders programs where mentors are matched/provided to you. All my advice above still applies (setting a standing time, remaining persistent in making your growth a priority) but I would also recommend finding a more senior leader internally to serve as mentor. Senior analysts/associates are often in "grind mode" where they are trying to prove themselves so you'll have more success finding a mentor relationship as you get to the senior levels of your company. Those of us VP and above have proven ourselves so we usually have a bit more capacity and have shifted into "giving back" mode so they value the mentor/mentee relationship more. Find someone who feels like they fit and do everything possible to help add value into their life.

  • Manager in RE - Comm

Coming from someone who hopped with a construction background and MBA, I can easily say that the hardest part for me is understanding and anticipating next steps from every process and how to actually push it forward.

It's one thing to know that we need to execute a PSA, it's another to actually round up all the right people and point your skis in the right direction while keeping everyone in line and in accordance to your goals. The actual construction/design is probably tougher as well but it's not something I've personally struggled with in my background. 

Tbh I think the financial analysis piece is the most straightforward and "easiest" to do. Actually building models/updating models is generally not that hard, it's understanding and guessing how the sensitivities will change your investment while still making the right decisions and steering the ship in accordance while trying to hit your deadlines. Time kills all deals and being able to quickly execute is imo the hardest part of the job. 

jenkinscooper, what's your opinion? Comment below:
[Comment removed by mod team]
  • Associate 2 in RE - Comm

Significant learning curve. You really need to stick your head in every meeting you can, construction, architecture, engineer, environmental, etc.

Submerging yourself is the quickest way. When you cant get in those meetings, research, network and learn shit when you can.

lafferp1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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