Yes, we took the liberty of re-using one of the titles from Bob the Builder, who is undoubtedly the most well-known construction manager out there. Just kidding! Last week we’ve started our monthly series on project management in different industries with an article on the benefits of PM for public relations. This week, we’ll take a look at how construction can utilize PM methodologies to deliver successful building projects.
Since the dawn of mankind, we have always had an urge to build. It ranges from simple homes made out of clay to incredibly impressive structures such as the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Giza. We’ve come a long way and with technological advancement, not even the sky’s the limit anymore, when it comes to building the motto is: the bigger and higher the better. Modern construction faces many challenges, cost- and time-efficiency being the two biggest ones combined with an aggressive global competition, construction managers need to have comprehensive project management skills to be able to manage the many variables of complex construction projects.
Importance of the Project Manager
In construction, the role of ‘project manager’ is often given to the architect because of budget constraints. That can prove shortsighted, though, as architects have the aesthetical and technical knowhow, but often lack the necessary management and leadership skills. In times of economic uncertainty, you’d want to make sure that everything goes according to plan and without mistakes, so you need a proper project manager with the necessary background in construction to ensure the project’s success.
Everyone who has built a house or contracted a company to do so knows how chaotic it can get. Chaos is always followed by confusion and mistakes and in construction a tiny mistake can snowball into a catastrophe very quickly. A clear project plan is therefore a must before you start building.
The first step is always to set goals. You can use methods such as SMART Goals to define project goals. Be sure to communicate these goals to the client and base them on what you have agreed upon in the contract. It’s important to precisely define what counts as success, i.e. when the contractual conditions are met.
The scope will differ depending on the type, size and location of the project. Defining the scope is important to differentiate between required work and non-required work that the team has to do. Just like the goals, the scope is important to settle what work the contractor has to do to fulfil the requirements of the contract.
Create a task schedule based on the previously defined goals and scope. A task plan includes all the necessary steps to achieve the project’s objectives, sorted by priority. It’s important to specify the dependencies between tasks. Some tasks can only happen when a previous task has been completed, while other tasks can run parallel or overlap at one time or another. In project management, the most important task sequence is the so-called ‘critical path’, i.e. a series or ‘path’ of tasks that have to be finished before the project can be completed successfully. It’s advisable to use a project management software with a planning function, often in form of a Gantt chart that can also show the critical path, so you can keep track of project progress. .
The variables scope and time directly influence the costs. The construction industry is under immense economic pressure, mostly due to the difficult global economic situation, increasing competition and decreasing profit margins. Any delay or change in scope can cause costs to spike and that can determine the financial success or failure of the project. Estimating costs is paramount for the creation of the budget. Consider wages, equipment, materials, and other factors into your cost estimate. Keep an eye on the costs by comparing the estimated costs with the actual costs at least on a weekly basis. This will ensure that the construction team stays on budget.
Managing resources is one of the most important aspects of construction project management as you can only run a building project with the necessary equipment and supplies. It’s important to carefully plan and schedule resources, as delivery delays are extremely costly and it will throw off your whole project schedule. Resources also pose a logistical challenge as you need a place to store them and find a way to track the inventory. Use Kanban or Lean Management methods to plan resources more effectively and avoid over- or understocking. A typical resource management process usually involves these 4 steps:
- Obtaining equipment and supplies
- Planning and scheduling
- Allocation of resources
- Collaboration and tracking
It’s extremely important to keep quality standards high in construction. The best way to ensure high quality is to make sure that everything and everyone is in the right place at the right time. Have the right people doing the right job, communicate the goals and objectives effectively to the construction team. Constantly work on improving processes and performance, for example, with the Six Sigma method. The ‘philosophy’ behind this method is to optimize processes and to reduce defects.
Construction projects are often dependent on external influences that are partly controllable, partly not, and often unpredictable. You need to be flexible and be able to react quickly to keep the negative effects of any changes to a minimum. Have a strict change management process in place to avoid constant changes:
- Change request
- Identify and prioritize
- Assess and communicate
- Change Plan
- Implementation and review
Most projects fail because of communication failure. It’s important to establish a clear communication process, which can prove a challenge since so many people are involved in a construction project. That is why it’s all the more important to have a project manager who acts as a focal point for the project team and who communicates with external as well as internal stakeholders. A clear chain of communication makes sure that important information doesn’t get lost, that everybody is always informed about the project’s status, and that everyone is aware of potential problems or roadblocks.