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PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN CONSTRUCTION: Everything You Need to Know

Project management in construction has become crucial as the industry has grown. Construction management is largely rooted in the successful development, coordination, execution and completion of projects that include, among others, those of the institutional, agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial, heavy civil and environmental descriptions.

Effective project management and project managers are key to success in construction, so if this is a field you are interested in, it’s essential to equip yourself with as much comprehensive knowledge as you can.

What is Construction Project Management?

Project management in construction involves the facilitation of construction projects, whether you are building a mall or renovating a home. Relevant project management theories, tools, models and processes are used to ensure that:

  1. Everything runs smoothly during the construction process.
  2. Clients are kept up to date and informed of any mishaps on site or changes in planning.
  3. The required resources, including staff, money and time, are available for the necessary work.
  4. Staff are all adhering to the stipulated health and safety protocols.
  5. The final product aligns with the needs and wants specified in the client brief, and the client is satisfied that the project deliverables meet the acceptance criteria.
  6. The project does not exceed budget expectations or run up unexpected costs.
  7. Areas of responsibility and accountability are clear, and the chain of communication runs smoothly.
  8. Project progress is aligned with the timeline laid out in the initial project planning.

What is the difference between construction management and project management?

You may have encountered the term ‘construction management’, and might be wondering if this is different from construction-specific project management. While construction management is rooted in the principles of project management, this is a more hands-on job that involves managing the on-site portion of the project. A conventional project manager who is heading up a construction project, on the other hand, primarily handles administration. Thus, a construction project will usually have both a dedicated project manager and a construction manager.

Why is project management important in construction?

Construction projects are huge-scale and require incredibly careful, detailed and realistic planning in order for them to be successfully executed. It is important for responsibilities to be clearly outlined in any project in order to maximise efficiency and make sure that all bases are covered. Thus, a formal project management process and competent lead project manager are essential to ensure that the project is successfully, safely and economically completed.

What is a Construction Project Manager?

A construction project manager is the leader of a construction project. This means that they are responsible for the planning and execution of the project, along with the management of the project team and team members, so that the client’s needs are met and the project deliverables meet the necessary acceptance criteria.

What are the responsibilities of a construction project manager?

According to the Construction Management Association of America, the most common responsibilities of a construction project manager are the following:

  1. Project management planning
  2. Cost management
  3. Time management
  4. Quality management
  5. Contract administration
  6. Safety management
  7. CM (Construction Management) professional practice

Other responsibilities include setting goals and objectives of the project, drafting contracts and managing and mitigating risks. A project manager may choose to delegate some of the responsibilities among other project leaders.

Who does a construction project manager work with?

It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people to successfully execute a construction project. Thus, each project has a project team. In construction, team members could include:

  1. Construction and building staff
    These are the labourers who physically lay down the brick and mortar and bring the project deliverable to life.
  1. Contract manager
    This person is in charge of scheduling, organising and overseeing all contractors on site.
  1. Contractors
    These include service providers and tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians, painters, landscapers and security system installers. These workers install fittings and structures necessary for a building to be habitable.
  1. Architects
    An architect is responsible for designing, planning and overseeing the construction of a structure.
  1. Site foreman
    A foreman is a senior, experienced worker who is in charge of a construction crew and oversees on-site happenings.
  1. Financial advisors and experts
    These individuals monitor the project’s budget and spending, and consult with the project manager to ensure that costs stay in line with the planned budget.
  1. HR managers
    Human Resource managers are responsible for ensuring that all workers are adhering to safety protocols, and that all working conditions are in line with labour laws and best practices.
  1. Engineers
    Most engineers who work in construction are civil engineers. It is their job to plan out the technicalities of the construction project to ensure that the building can actually be built.
  1. Inspectors
    Inspectors analyse the building and ensure that building codes and ordinances, as well as zoning regulations, and contract specifications are adhered to. It is important for them to confirm that a project is both safely inhabitable and in line with legal specifications.
  1. Design managers
    These individuals work closely with the architects and engineers to ensure that the building is perfectly designed and built to be durable, sturdy, and up to standard.
  1. Quantity surveyors
    These individuals analyse the project and construction plans to determine how much money the project is going to cost.
  1. Construction schedulers
    These individuals analyse the project and construction plans to determine how long it will take for the project to be completed.

A construction project manager will also need to work with clients, stakeholders and business seniors such as the CEO or CFO. It is the project manager’s job to ensure that the clients’ vision is delivered, and to keep everyone in the loop regarding project progress.

The general duties of a Construction Project Manager

A construction project manager will need to complete daily administrative tasks, in addition to conducting site visits and checking that everything is in order. If you pursue this career, you can expect to perform the following daily tasks and responsibilities:

  1. Administration
    Each day, you will need to check in with the relevant members of the construction team to find out if any issues have arisen in the past day, or if any assistance or further discussions are needed. Other tasks could include checking emails, looking over planning documents such as budgets, and making calls. This aspect of the job requires that you have strong technical and communication skills, as well as good time management.
  1. Conduct meetings
    You will need to have regular meetings throughout the duration of the project in order to assess progress, troubleshoot issues, keep separate departments aligned, and keep stakeholders and clients in the loop. You may not lead each meeting, but when you do, you will need to put together an agenda, set clear meeting objectives and outcomes, and ensure that the discussion stays on track and everyone has an equal chance to speak, ask questions and contribute.
  1. Site visits
    You will need to conduct site visits to touch base with your foreman, contractors, construction labourers, and other hands-on team members. You may need to inspect problem areas, advise on next steps, and meet with the client to walk them through the site and address any concerns. This area of responsibility allows you to practice hands-on problem solving, and allows you to monitor the translation of a project from paper to brick.

Being a construction project manager requires you to balance a wide range of tasks, and divide your time between administration and hands-on work. You need to be comfortable working and meeting with lots of different people, in addition to balancing your own task list and managing your time.

What are the Principles of Construction Project Management?

Principles in business are fundamental norms and values that determine an organisation’s operations, processes and decisions. In project management, these principles will play an important part in the planning of the project, as well as guiding the way when problems arise. Important construction project management principles include:

Focus on products
It is important that the project manager and project team keep their eyes set on the deliverables they need to produce. After all, at the end of the day, what matters most is that the project is completed to the client’s specifications, within the predetermined budget and timeframe. Make sure to prioritise the successful production of the product when you need to make tough decisions.

Continued business justification
As vital as it is for you to keep your clients happy, it is even more important that the project remains a viable and profitable business venture. If a project is becoming too costly, or it is suspected that the business may take a loss, you may need to make the call to abandon the project in favour of the business’ survival.

Define roles and responsibilities
Because a project’s success is so important to the business, it is essential that all involved personnel know exactly what they are and are not responsible for. It is also crucial to have a list of all persons involved and their respective responsibilities so that the right people will be involved in the right discussions.

Management by exception
It is essential for those in senior positions to be informed about what is going on, but you must also remember that they do not need to know every detail. This also applies to the general project manager – while they must be informed of any problems, they will simply be unable to manage each and every aspect. Management by exception involves asking the question “What can I delegate?”, rather than “What can I do?”. This ensures that work is spread fairly and the project manager is not inundated with an unrealistic amount of responsibility.

Management by stages
A large portion of project management involves dividing the project into manageable chunks, in a way that is aligned with the stipulated timeline. Arranging a project this way allows your team to focus on one milestone at a time, before worrying about the work that needs to be done for the next stage.

Learn from experience
You, like everyone else, will make mistakes. The most important thing for you to remember is to never make the same mistake twice. As you go through your career, you will identify the most successful ways of operating – make sure to turn to these when the time comes for you to make difficult calls. Remember the missteps of both yourself and others, and take action to avoid repeating them.

Tailor to the environment
Take care to ensure that your decisions are informed by the context in which you are making them. No two projects will ever be the same, and thus no two can be handled in exactly the same way. In this case, ‘context’ or ‘environment’ can include things such as the timeline, budget and availability of resources.

What are the 4 stages of Construction Project Management?

Although not set in stone, there are generally four standard stages, or ‘phases’, of a construction project:

Planning
This stage largely involves transforming the client’s idea or concept into a strategic plan that will bring the project into reality. This could include defining the goals and objectives of the project, evaluating the project’s viability, assessment of scope, and the early acquisition of professionals, such as engineers, who will be involved at a later stage.

Preconstruction
Preconstruction involves transforming the discussions and plans of the planning phase into reality, including drawing up contracts, creating construction documents and organising permits. This phase also involves coordinating the project team and the construction team.

Construction
This phase is the name of the game – this is when all your planning pays off as the project deliverables begin to be produced. Administrative work and hard labour come together in this phase, as you work to keep things running smoothly both on- and off-site.

Close-Out
The close-out or ‘closure’ phase of a project is incredibly important, and all too often people want to rush through this stage. However, it is essential to ensure that the correct steps are taken here, such as creating a construction close-out document list, commissioning the building to check system function, and insurance must be appropriately adjusted.

How do I become a Construction Project Manager?

Project management is an absolutely vital part of construction, and there are plenty of project management career opportunities out there. If you would like to explore the possibility of becoming a construction project manager, it is important that you possess the following:

  1. Relevant work experience
    Due to the incredible importance of successful project management, along with the long list of responsibilities of a construction project manager, it is necessary that you have fairly extensive experience in the construction industry, as well as experience in leadership roles.
  1. Good work ethic
    Project managers have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, and a large number of daily tasks. It is thus essential that you have a good work ethic, meaning diligence, attention to detail, good organisation, and working stamina. You need to be alert and active every day of the week, and always willing to go the extra mile to ensure project and organisational success.
  1. Strong technical skills
    Much of construction project management requires the use of technology such as planning programmes and team communication platforms. Furthermore, we are living through the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), and digitalisation is growing at a rapid rate, meaning that the construction industry will likely increase its use of technological tools. Thus, it is important that you have a fair level of computer literacy, familiarity with basic technologies such as Microsoft Excel, and the ability to quickly grasp and understand new technological concepts, systems and software.
  1. Strong communication skills
    One of the most important skills of a project manager is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Not only will you be required to communicate with your team, but you will also need to report back to your superiors. It is important that you are able to translate issues and concerns into clear terms, and effectively discuss these with the relevant people in order to create solutions. It is recommended that hopeful project managers do all that they can to prepare for the role by researching important skills and enrolling in courses in leadership, communication, and presentation skills.
  1. Strong leadership skills
    As project leader, you will be able to call the shots, but you will also have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders as you are essentially accountable for the success or failure of the project. You need to be able to handle this pressure, make the difficult decisions, have tough conversations and earn the respect of your team and superiors. You can enrol in online leadership courses to boost your skills and volunteer for leadership roles when they arise.
  1. Passion for problem solving
    Project management is a game of problem-solving, especially in construction. You will need to be able to spot the problems and take initiative to implement solutions. Most importantly, you need to be committed to making what needs to happen happen – whatever it takes.
  1. The ability to adapt
    The world is changing at an unprecedented rate, and organisations all over the world need to adapt accordingly. Not only is the digital revolution in full swing, but there is also a move towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable business. Both of these revolutions will have a direct impact on the operations and processes of the construction industry, so it is essential to stay up-to-date with industry updates, news and current affairs.

With all this information in mind, you might be asking yourself:

Should I become a Construction Project Manager?

Project management in construction can be an incredibly, dynamic, exciting and lucrative career. You need to possess a particular set of skills, and do you need sufficient experience, but the path to this profession is not a complicated one. You will need to develop your communication, organisation and leadership skills, and become comfortable with taking on major responsibility. If you are passionate about working in a dynamic team, taking the lead, and experiencing the satisfaction of bringing a project from paper into reality, this might just be the job for you.

Start Preparing Today

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