"Evidence from other industries suggests the successful introduction of new techniques, such as supply-chain management, depends on softer skills such as human resource management, relationship management and industrial psychology. These skills appear to have been sadly lacking in the construction industry."
A second criticism is that they are more concerned with the details of how they do their job than what they are achieving. It says: "It is a tendency in the construction and development industry to emphasise the more formal techniques of contract management and budgetary control."
This indictment of the project management profession follows on from criticisms made by Peter Rogers, chairman of the strategic forum and director of developer Stanhope, earlier this year. Rogers echoed the RICS' worries at Building's House of Commons terrace reception at the end of June. He called for project managers to "have an understanding not only of process – on which everything seems to be focused nowadays – but on design and the broader benefits of procuring a major project".
The project manager's role is a complex one: on large developments they take responsibility for the planning, management, co-ordination and financial control of a scheme. It is their job to ensure it is completed on time, within budget, and that it gives the client best value. This role covers every part of the construction process from setting up the project brief and selecting the design team to overseeing every stage of work on site.
This was once the architect's job; they would pick the artisans and craftsmen to build their building, and they carried on doing this until the 1970s, when the concept of the project manager was imported from the USA to handle pre-let, multiple-tenancy developments. The idea was that the dedicated project manager would handle the multitude of interests involved in these jobs, allowing the architect to concentrate on design. In most cases, these dedicated managers come from specialist outfits or cost consultants that diversified.
But with this relatively new profession under fire, the role of project manager is once again up for grabs. Architects are looking to get their old job back, on the grounds that the client will get better value if the technique-focused QS project manager is replaced by a design-focused architect project manager. Alsop Architects is in the process of establishing a stable of in-house project managers to facilitate his large-scale redevelopment projects; this is expected to be operational by the middle of next year. HTA Architects has recently set up dedicated project management teams. "We've created a design organisation where project management is part of the package we offer to clients," says Bernard Hunt, managing director of HTA.
To accommodate project management, HTA has created three separate architectural specialities: concept design, technical design and project management "We've deconstructed the architect," says Hunt. At HTA, each architectural team is lead by a project manager. "This is the person who is totally imbued with what the client is looking for," Hunt says. The advantage of this arrangement is that it releases the designers from the constraints and preoccupation of having to deal with the client.
At HTA, the project manager's role extends beyond managing a project internally. "We feel well equipped to lead the team; we are happy to appoint subconsultants and manage the design team," says Hunt, adding: "It doesn't matter if the team is in-house or out-of-house – we will offer a price to take responsibility and deliver the project."
Hunt says architects' training and ability to solve problems creatively make them good project managers. "They bring design insight in at the start of a project and factor it in to creative problem solving," he says. At the moment project managers are failing to exploit this ability because the architect is brought on board after the main decisions have been taken.
BDP Advanced Technologies, the technical arm of multidisciplinary practice Building Design Partnership, has come up with a similar solution. However, BDP's model involves the engineer taking the lead role, a system the practice calls "design-led contracting". This was developed as a way to manage highly technical engineering projects, which often need to be delivered swiftly to allow a pharmaceutical or manufacturing client to steal a march on its competitors.
Mike James development director at BDP Advanced Technologies defines design-led contracting as "designers who contract rather than contractors who design". He says the distinction is important: "The designer manages the project from the beginning through to the delivery of the final product – the designer could be an engineer or an architect, depending on the key features of a project."
James says that this is crucial for complex pharmaceutical projects because the designer understands how the production facility will work, whereas a contractor may not: "In the construction phase of a project, it is important that the design does not get sidetracked by construction events."
Using a designer to lead the team can save a client money, says James. He says this is because time and effort is put into developing the design early on, so more detail can be applied to project planning, which delivers substantial savings. "We put more effort into the front-end design, which gives better out-turn quality and lower costs to the client".
What this means in practice is an increased number of smaller works packages. This gives BDP a direct interface with the contractors who do the work and hence more control. At present, subcontractors get complex packages of work, such as an entire M&E installation, and have to employ subcontractors to handle the parts they do not understand. "There are more steps in the line but no remote interfaces, the net result of which is overall savings because we are not putting margins on margins," says James. And because BDP uses open-book accounting methods, these savings go directly to the client.
However, some developers look to add value by bringing the project management role in-house. "Our policy is not to employ external project managers on a project because you need ownership; you need to feel the pain," says George Kyriacou, development director at developer CIT. Kyriacou says that at CIT project managers go under the heading of development managers because they see a development through from start to finish. "It is soup to nuts here: a development director has to deal with site acquisition, funding, the construction process right through to dealing with tenants."
CIT's development managers are mostly surveying graduates from a construction background who want to make the leap into the commercial aspects of development. "Construction is a big part of the development process; a construction background gives you a good practical grounding – you've been in the trenches and you've fought the battles," Kyriacou says.
For specialist project management outfits, the real battles are yet to come. With architects and engineers now beginning to muscle in on their manor, their position at the head of a project team is no longer a certainty. It is looking increasingly as if they will have to put forward a convincing business case if they are to persuade a client of their usefulness.
For clients, keen to add value to their scheme, there is now a choice. Would a project manager with a background in quantity surveying or construction deliver the best solution? Or should they plump for an architect or engineer to lead the project? Perhaps the task should be handed to a dedicated project management outfit, with an ability to draw on best practice from other industries.
No doubt there will be some projects, such as complex manufacturing plants, where the project manager's background is the key to adding value for a client. For other projects, the value for the client will come from the skill of the project manager in managing the designers and contractors and getting them to work as a team – just as it always has – whatever their background.
- Trained to understand design and construction
- An ability to communicate and talk in terms that a client can understand
- A grasp of the value of design and an ability to see possibilities in the way a project could be realised
- Not always team players
- A lack of management skills
- More at home managing the design team than a horny handed contractor
- Battle hardened
- They know construction and its problems
- A familiarity with the techniques of project management
- Lack of customer focus
- Dealing with a design team is not the same as kicking a subbie if it is not doing the business
- A lack of design training
- Little understanding of the client’s business
- An ability to discuss and develop designs for complex manufacturing plant with the client
- An analytical mind is useful for applying the more methodical project management techniques
- Well-developed numerical skills could be used in cost control
- An ability to think in three dimensions
- Little training in aesthetic design
- Engineers are notoriously inept at communication
- Cost, legal, business and management skills do not form part of an engineer’s basic training
The specialist project manager
- Not tied down by professional loyalties
- They have access to good practice in other industries
- Trained in management and leadership
- Dedicated to project management
- They may lack knowledge of the industry
- They can put too much emphasis on technique
- Standards are not consistent across the profession
- Unless they have an architectural background, they may not be good at increasing value through design
The quantity surveyor
- Good at balancing the books
- Well equipped to understand the commercial aspects of the development process
- Their financial acumen makes them prime candidates to head PFI teams
- A business training is well suited to the inception, bidding and construction stages of a project
- No design training
- The QS is not normally responsible for driving projects forward
- Little training in negotiating and management skills
- Poorly developed people skills