Construction – the Challenge for Project Managers

7th November 2019

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There is no doubt that managing a construction project on a commercial scale is a complex and challenging job.   The industry’s struggle with productivity is well known, but not always well understood.

With the industry becoming increasingly saturated, competition for contracts is increasing, which has a knock on effect on profit margins. Poor productivity in the construction industry is exacerbating the problem of competition because a lack of productivity is of course, reflected in the bottom line.

Whilst new construction techniques, delivery strategies, and enhanced processes have improved the delivery of projects, it is apparent that project management across the industry is still lacking in transparency and assessment, resulting in small issues becoming significant barriers to progress.

In our latest blog, we look at some of the key challenges of construction project management.

Managing Expectations

Demands from clients and stakeholders can be considerable, and are often focused on speeding up the schedule or working to a limited budget.

Whilst a skilled project manager can make allowances for client demands to some extent, unachievable goals will only create tension and impact productivity.

Detailed forecasting plans can help to illustrate issues to clients and stakeholders in advance, and allow the project manager to manage expectations from the outset.

Communication Issues

Communication is a key tool of project management.  This is particularly important when the project manager is working with a number of providers to get the job done, as is often the case on large builds.

Without effective communication between all parties, assumptions can be made about responsibilities and ownership of tasks, resulting in all parties remaining unaware of issues until it is too late.

By putting in place key guidelines for communication, the project manager can ensure that all contractors on and off site are aware of any issues at the end of each day, allowing problems to be solved before they become a significant drain on project resources.  There are a number of project management tools designed specifically for the construction industry that can help with this and other issues.

Performance Management

Performance management is a key part of project management.  Without effective goal setting for parties on site, a project can easily run over time or budget, or both, and it can be difficult to hold people accountable for the tasks they must do.

Again, construction project management software can be a useful tool here, allowing managers to break down bigger project wide goals to daily targets for teams or individuals to accomplish.

By keeping people accountable, and monitoring progress, a project manager can retain effective control of a project throughout its lifespan.

Skilled Labour Shortages

It is no secret that one of the major issues affecting productivity in the construction sector is the lack of skilled labour.  This issue has been compounded by the current political climate, which has led to a great deal of uncertainty in the labour market from overseas.

Another issue affecting labour shortages is the lack of younger people joining the construction industry, which could pose a significant threat to future project performance improvements.  At present, the skilled labour market is comprised of workers spanning four generations; traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, and Millennial, with the majority (77%) being Gen X or Millennial (source KPMG)

This generationally diverse workforce brings its own challenges for project managers.  Each generation possesses different work ethics, attitudes, and behaviours, which can pose challenges for project managers looking to attract, motivate, and retain such a workforce.

What is essential is that project managers ensure they are aware of any skills gaps they have on site, and address these before they have an impact project performance.  Whilst the labour shortage may mean that talent is in high demand, the right person can be found if time and resource is allocated to the search, allowing gaps to be filled quickly and efficiently.

What Next?

It is clear that the construction industry is changing.  Project managers must take the appropriate steps to ensure that they are fully aware of key issues affecting the industry, and of the tools available to them in order to boost productivity.

Developments in technology mean that the tools are out there to support many of the project management tasks on site, but uptake by the industry remains slow.

By focusing on promoting the industry as a career option to young people, and joining the digital future, construction businesses can stay ahead of the competition and make significant impact on the productivity crisis.