How Project Managers Can Evolve with Current Construction Trends
As one of the earliest examples of construction management, the Great Pyramids of Giza were an impressive example of an early megaproject. Although not every detail of construction is known, ancient relics have revealed that there was a system of project management to oversee the building. Historians have even discovered there were four different managers for each of the four sides of King Khufu’s pyramid–and each was responsible for the planning and execution of their parts. Although construction is completed very differently today than it was in ancient times, with modern machines and a skilled workforce, the ancients already knew one of the secrets of getting the job done–an organized system of management.
Today more than ever, construction management is essential to a project’s success. Although project management is on average 20% of an overall cost of a construction project, when done correctly, it’s well worth the spend. In fact, effective project management not only keeps projects on time and budget, but reduces the need for costly rework and increases ROI. Nonetheless, at the core of great construction management is the quality of the project managers themselves.
To be successful, project managers need to juggle the increasing complexities of construction management. Competition is increasing, schedules are getting more aggressive, finances are scrutinized to an even higher degree and new technology and innovations are entering the market. Even the construction workforce is changing, and the way people prefer and need to be managed is evolving. Overall, although there are many benefits to construction management, it can be a challenging profession, and project managers need to have the right set of skills beyond a degree to meet the high-pressure demands of deadlines and budgets.
The challenges of construction project management are here to stay–and now more than ever there’s a need for skilled project managers. In fact, a study from Roberts and Furlonger demonstrates that using a detailed project management methodology, as compared to a loose methodology, improves productivity by 20-30%. But exceptional managers know that they don’t just need a detailed plan and method to execute. They also need to stay on top of current trends and be adaptable to help keep their teams and projects running efficiently.
So, what are the skills today’s project managers need to adopt? Below, to help you understand how the field has changed, we’ll first briefly take a look at the evolution of project management, before getting into the new rules of construction management.
A (Brief) History of Project Management
Although the Great Pyramids and even Great Wall of China involved a rudimentary form of project management, the concept wasn’t truly defined until the 20th century. But before project management became a formalized concept, Henry Gantt took the first step in managing an official schedule of construction projects with the invention of the Gantt chart. The chart was even used to build the Hoover Dam in 1931.
In its modern form, project management as we know it began in the 1950’s with the invention of the Critical Path Method (CPM). At the core of CPM was a way to analyze and calculate the activities needed to finish a project and assess the length of each phase. However, the official beginnings of project management were born from the establishment of the Project Management Institute (PMI), in addition to promotion of project management as a profession. Furthermore, defined project management methods and approaches like PERT, Agile and PRINCE also brought the focus on why project management needed clear implementation strategies and experts to execute correctly.
The Evolution of Project Management Through the Decades
Since its formal beginnings, each decade of project management has had a new and important focus. For example, in the 1960’s, the focus was on scheduling, whereas in the 1980’s the focus was on reducing uncertainty. In recent years, project management has evolved to be more all-encompassing. Now, project managers need to be more broad and strategic than ever with a focus on adaptation and globalization.
The New Rules of Construction Management
Rule 1: Your Budget May Be Tight, but You Need to Invest in Tech
Generally, in construction, frugality is more of a blessing than it’s a curse. Material and labor costs are increasing, and construction managers need to follow strict budgets and always be wary of scope creep and cost overruns. However, proficient construction management involves spending wiser and not necessarily cutting costs whenever necessary. Nonetheless, some construction managers will refuse to buy or are overly cost-conscious when it comes to implementing new technology on projects, resulting in a flatline or decrease in productivity over time.
In today’s construction landscape, project managers cannot afford to underspend or cut technology. Also, keep in mind that although standard project management software might serve a purpose to your individual role, you also need software to work for those in the field to positively impact your project. Managers might not be using field collaboration software extensively themselves–but their field teams will definitely be. Consider that with the right construction productivity software, especially options with cloud-based project management capabilities, your project team’s communication will improve, along with their efficiency. From submittals, RFIs and field reports, construction productivity software can help seamlessly bridge your whole team. As a result, you’re more likely to see an increase in ROI on your project if you empower your field team with the right tech tools.
Rule 2: Consider Collaboration Your New Best Friend
Project managers can no longer just depend on independent team members and employees to carry out tasks, with individual accountability. To implement effective construction management, a teamwork mentality needs to be advocated for and fostered by managers. Collaboration and better communication can definitely be more easily achieved with the implementation of construction productivity software. Nonetheless, team cohesiveness is necessary whether or not software is involved. Without a high level of communication, project managers risk exposing their projects to cost overruns and delays. According to the PMI, “Companies risk $135 million for every $1 billion spent on a project and new research indicates that $75 million of that $135 million (56%) is put at risk by ineffective communications.”
Although you might already be taking measures to improve collaboration, adopting a more social strategy on projects can be effective. For instance, encourage employees to get engaged and talking at all phases of construction. Set up meetings to align with not only progress but use it as a time for employees to discuss how to problem solve and think forward on the potential roadblocks to the project’s success. By taking a more collaborative approach to your projects, productivity will increase, and construction risk will be reduced.
Rule 3: Become an Emotionally Intelligent Manager
Managers are often busy balancing so many aspects of a project that it’s sometimes easy to forget who is behind the execution. However, your employee and team members’ happiness should be a priority for you. Disgruntled employees are more likely to leave without sufficient notice and on the whole, are less motivated to perform. It’s no surprise that happier employees lead to better projects. Thus, take the time to get to know your employees and try to understand their motivations and even frustrations from their own perspective. Emotionally intelligent construction managers are generally easier to work for, and employees end up feeling more valued in the long run.
Studies have confirmed that managers with a higher emotional quotient (EQ) perform better. In one case, leaders who use their emotional resources to foster engagement deliver significant bottom-line results. In fact, teams with higher engagement are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity and 27% more likely to report higher profitability.
Raising your EQ doesn’t have to be difficult. Just take a few small measures with your employees’ well-being in mind, and employee morale can be improved significantly. After all, you spend the majority of your day with your coworkers and there comes the point when your team becomes like a family. At the end of the day, construction is still a very human industry and saying thanks and showing you care, even just a bit, goes a long way in making your workers feel valued.
Rule 4: Start Thinking and Acting More Strategically
In the building industry, the structure of project teams is changing. For instance, teams are becoming less hierarchical and with fewer junior level project managers on jobs. As a result, project managers will have more influence on major decisions. Today more than ever, construction management requires a strategic mindset, and project managers need to think more like entrepreneurs. Although project managers are still expected to run business as normal, managers will need to be quicker and more efficient when it comes to decision-making. With these decisions having the potential to affect the long-term financial stability of your company, project managers should not only be forward thinking but also analytical.
Strategic thinking isn’t a skill that comes easily, and in most part, needs to be practiced and learned. Statistics indicate that only 4-7% of leaders are considered skilled at strategic thinking. The good news is that the right technology can aid business strategy. In particular, construction technology can help today’s project managers work more strategically through data. With more visibility into how things are running on site, software can help provide the evidence project managers need to back up their decisions and think more long-term about the direction of their project and company.
Rule 5: Adopt Flexible Planning Methods
We can see it in your future now–project changes are going to happen. In construction management, it’s relatively unavoidable that you will need to manage some degree of scope change. What is avoidable, however, is how well you can prepare. Whether that change is due to unexpected reasons like weather or avoidable ones like communication errors, an effective project manager will plan ahead for all possible circumstances.
To adopt more flexible planning methods, project managers should, of course, establish a construction plan that is both achievable, thorough and competitive. However, worrying about each and every detail is less important than thinking about the potential for change. Project managers need to be proactive and attempt to predict and plan for changes before they occur. This involves a thorough knowledge of the project scope as well as the history of the teams completing the project. Managers should even think about environmental impacts from normal weather patterns to unexpected disasters that could lead to change orders. With full insight into your current state and the awareness of what could go wrong on site, you’ll start to develop flexible plans that can render potential issues before they become major problems.
Construction Management Is Changing, Don’t Get Left Behind
Take a step back and evaluate your current project management skills. All managers have something they can continuously improve on. Just like the building industry itself, construction management is evolving. Successful project managers will know how to adapt their skill set to meet the current need of the market and their employees. Furthermore, being an effective manager will not only benefit your employees and your own job security, but it helps to ensure your projects run smoothly and effectively. Basic project managers have the qualifications and experience to manage the day to day of construction. Great managers have both the qualifications and expertise but know how to see the bigger picture and adapt. Most importantly, effective and adaptable project managers will be more adept to handle management of large-scale megaprojects. Who knows? With the right skills, you might manage our generation’s next Great Pyramids.