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Project Management in Construction

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Definition: “Project management is 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 participation satisfaction.” Definition according to Project Management Institute

Objectives of Project Management:

For construction project management the objectives depend a lot on resource constraints and the target should be accomplished with these in view. A main component of the whole process would be to investigate for better alternatives or making tradeoffs to reduce the conflicts between stated objectives and resource constraints. Especially with manual resources originating from so many cultural backgrounds, the probability of conflict is far higher. In general the objectives of project management in construction can be stated as:

  • Stating of objectives and plans: this should include the various factors like Budgeting, Scheduling, targets and participants.
  • Maximization of Efficiency: This should be accomplished by proper utilization of various resources, labor, material and equipment. The ultimate goal is to meet the objectives within prescribed schedules mentioned in (1).
  • Coordination: A proper communication and coordination has to be maintained between various phases like planning, design, estimating and constructing.
  • Conflicts and differences should be properly evaluated and resolved thus leading towards a common goal and objective

Modern Management:
Development in various tools and technologies along with detailed research into existing project management principles and trends lead into a new phase of management called Modern Management. Research and study into modern management processes reflected the following additional components:

  • Management process approach: To study the management functions in detail.
  • Management science and decision support approach: Assists managers in taking complex decisions by approaching a given problem in mathematical and scientific manner. Example: Operations Research
  • Behavioral science approach: Involved more in interacting with people
  • Sustainable competitive advantage: Is an indication of a proper management strategy.

Modern management can be considered to be a combination of all the ingredients mentioned before, that is General Management, Project management, Special knowledge domains and supporting disciplines. The application of Modern management into construction has proven to be quite effective and efficient.
Project Risk:
Risk is an important factor of any project. Taking risk by a participant of a project shows his willingness to compete but has the down side of putting the whole project at stake. There are also potential chances of conflicts being arisen between participants due to this factor. There are usually many risks involved in a construction project, a brief list of which can be stated as follows:

  • Social Problems: This includes factors like Environmental protection, public safety rules.
  • Economic problems: Stock fluctuation, fluctuations in exchange rates.
  • Relationships: This is one of the most common and most important factors. These risks develop due to the instability in relations between contracting agencies, participants of project, etc.
  • Technological: Though a key factor in a project life cycle, technology can become a risky factor sometimes.

It is up to the project owner and upper level managements to resolve the conflicts created by risk and to give the Go/NO-GO order to the team. Once the decision is made to take the risk, the project management and participants should strive to make the project a success.

Organization:
The other important factor in project management in general and construction project management in specific is the organizational structure of the company. There are various factor involved in designing and configuring the project that depend on the organizational flow. Some of the factors are

  • Method of decomposition of project (Sequential Vs Parallel Vs Staggered decomposition, which depends on the organization needs and availabilities).
  • Number of organizations involved in the project and the phases they are involved in. (Ex: The owner organization which is involved in the whole life cycle can call some contracting organization for their specific needs).
  • Organizational structure which decides the number of projects being taken up at a given instance of time. (Ex: Matrix organization structure involves same teams for various projects, where as Project oriented organizational structure involves various teams for various projects).

Professional Construction Management:
A professional construction management normally refers to a team that specializes various phases of construction activities like Planning, Design and construction. They have the responsibility to coordinate with contracting organizations to resolve conflicts and make the project a success. A professional construction manager is a firm specialized in the practice of professional construction management whose responsibilities includes:

  • Working with the owner and the Architectural/ Engineering teams to decide on strategies and make decisions.
  • Consider various resources and constraints and develop alternatives if needed.
  • Process the progress of the project making sure that the owner is well informed of the situation.
  • Material and supply chain management.
  • Provide other services and subcontracts.

Professional construction management is involved normally for massive projects like Alaska Pipeline Project.
10 rules for Managing projects that win:
Rule1: Clarify the project goal: the most important part of the project is Goal. An effective project manager always emphasizes on goal and rephrases it again and again to the team members. This will clear the vision of people (team members and end users) regarding what they have to achieve thus compelling them to strive for it.

Rule2: Use objectives to define responsibilities: the objectives defined to reach the goal should be used in recognizing and allocating responsibilities. An effective team manager will recognize individual talents of team members and assign responsibilities accordingly.

Rule3: Establish Checkpoints, Activities, relationships and time estimates: Team members work the best when they know what to do and have a specific target set in front of them. Creating Timelines, checkpoints and activities help the team members concentrate their energies in the proper direction.

Rule4: Supercharge the plan with a picture:
Try to make the project progress as clear as possible to your team members and upper management. Use Gant and Pert charts to show the progress visually which will aid them to understand the process much better than verbal explanation or presentations.

Rule 5: Develop an empowered project team: Understand the elements of human behavior and recognize the differences in team members. Note that each person’s skill can be used in a unique fashion to contribute to the project. Try to find the motivating factor for team members, each person can be motivated by something different.

Rule6: Reinforce People’s motivation and energy: This can be accomplished by bringing in a sense of ownership into team member’s mind. Trying to align people’s thoughts with one another and with project goal will help a lot too. By brining in this common thinking and sense of challenge, team members will be cheered and motivated at all stages of project life cycle.

Rule7: Communication: Communication between team members and team management is one of the most important factors for project success. Make sure all the aspects of project including progress, successes, failures, etc, are all well informed to the team members. Another part of communication is to listen sincerely and regularly to the opinion of team members, some times listening is more important than talking.

Rule8: Vitalize people with energy from conflicts: Try to use the energy generated with various conflicts in the project life cycle to encourage people. This will help them to focus and resolve issues cooperatively.

Rule9: The Power of being a project manager has to be used in brining the commitment from team members. This will help them in using their individual powers to make the project a success.

Rule10: Try to be creative.

Case Study: Alaska Pipeline Project:
Alaska Pipeline project was considered to be the most expensive private project in 1970s. With over 10billion dollars of budget and 800 miles of pipeline, this project required top notch project managements abilities to be completed and perfected. I choose this project as an example because of two reasons: (i) The Vast ness of the project and (ii) The involvement of Professional project management organization.

During the planning phase, the owner assigned the whole project to a Construction Management company (contracting, called CMC) while retaining the centralized decision making ability. Initially the hierarchy from top to bottom consisted of 9 layers which created many risks and conflicts between various subcontractors and other participants of the project. There were also delays made in decision making process because of various construction sites and count of subcontractors. To eliminate this, the owner then created a Professional Project Management firm by combining a portion of Owner and CMC. The primary goal of this team was to control all the subcontractors. This change reduced the number of layers of hierarchy from 9 to about 5, in turn closing the gap between management and workforce. This also boosted the performance of decision making process as the communication and collaboration process was greatly improved. . One of the primary decisions of this team was to decentralize the construction of 5 segments of the pipeline as a different project thus giving the organization a goal oriented look. With the introduction of this new firm, all the major rules of project management were covered and the project was successfully completed within given budget and time.

References:

  • Burke, Rory “Project Management-Planning & Control”, 4th Ed, John Wiley & Son 2002
  • Lock D, “Project Management”,  8th Ed Gower 2004
  • W.Alan Randolph, Barry Z.Posner, “Checkered Flag Projects”, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall.

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