Project Management Challenges in the Construction Industry

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Architects working in office on construction project

The Project Management Institute defines project management as:

“The art of directing and coordinating human and material resources throughout the life of a project by using modern management techniques to achieve predetermined objectives of scope, cost, time, quality, and participating objectives.”

A construction project manager combines the responsibilities of a traditional project manager with the expertise of the construction industry. The diversity of the teams and the projects are just two of the challenges a construction PM contends with.

Project Management Basics

Project management deals with principles and processes that tend to be universal across projects.

PMI (Project Management Institute) defines five phases of project management:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Performance Monitoring
  5. Closure

The project manager begins by creating and evaluating a business case to determine project feasibility. Along with the stakeholder, a project charter or project initiation document is developed.

Planning includes creating a map for everyone to follow. The PM creates a formal document called a project management plan (PMP) that guides execution and control of the project. It includes the scope, cost, and schedule baselines as well as scope statement and documentation. The objectives, deliverables, and key milestones are listed within this document.

Other parts of the plan include the work breakdown structure (WBS), the communication plan, and the risk management plan.

With execution, the work begins. The project team will assign resources, execute plans and tasks, set up tracking systems, and keep the schedule up-to-date. This is where records management, contract management, and contract procurement reside.

Performance and monitoring typically occur in conjunction with execution. Progress and performance are measured to ensure the project is tracking to the plan.

Closure occurs when the project is complete. The PM may hold a post-mortem and the team creates a punchlist of items that were left undone. Out of this comes the project report.

Where It Goes Wrong

There are a number of common obstacles to project completion that the project manager is expected to work out in order to keep construction on track.

Undefined Goals

To prevent undefined goals, the project manager must be careful to ask the right questions in order to establish and communication clear goals from the start.

Scope Changes

Also known as “scope creep,” this describes the extension of the scope beyond the original objectives. Since the changes are not planned, they typically cause delays and cost money that isn’t in the budget. It is up to the PM to evaluate change requests and decide whether or how to implement them. The PM then communicates to all stakeholders the impact the change will have on the schedule and/or budget.

Inadequately Skilled Personnel

The PM determines the needed competencies and assesses the available employees. If needed, training can be recommended, as can outsourcing the job and hiring additional workers.

Lack of Accountability

If the team members aren’t taking responsibility for their goals and activities, the PM should provide the leadership to direct (or herd) the team towards the goal laid out in the plan.

Improper Risk Management

Risk tolerance is part of the make-up of a PM. To avoid risk management shortcomings, the PM learns to gather input, develop trust between team members and have a good idea which parts of the project are likely to veer off course.

Ambiguous Contingency Plans

Part of the PM’s planning includes what to do for a variety of scenarios when things aren’t going to plan. These contingencies should be identified ahead of time. A good PM learns to ask others to help identify potential problems.

Poor Communications

Poor communication is a morale killer and a project delay mechanism of the first order. It is up to the PM to keep communications and feedback open between upper management and team leaders, as well as other stakeholders.

Impossible Deadlines

Another morale killer, impossible deadlines can result in a loss of productivity. The project manager is there to respond unreasonable requests and negotiate a more realistic deadline.

Resource Deprivation

If resource needs are adequately defined by the PM and approved by management from the beginning, this should not be an issue. The PM is responsible for assigning and prioritizing resources for the duration of the project.

Lack of Stakeholder Engagement

The project manager must strive to keep communications open and encourage feedback from everyone at every step of the project.

Project managers have other ways to handle the challenges listed above, depending on the nature of the issue and its impact on the project. If the PM cannot come to an agreement with both parties involved, it may be time to try mediation, a mini-trial, or arbitration.

These actions cost time and money. It would behoove management to provide appropriate and adequate resources to avoid these types of problems.

Steve Wright

Steve Wright

Steve Wright works for Whirlwind Steel Buildings, a manufacturer of pre-engineered steel buildings and components. Whirlwind Steel metal buildings are manufactured and designed to meet the highest quality standards.

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