At its most basic, project management in building and construction involves three core aspects: (a) an objective (or set of objectives) to deliver, (b) a time within which to deliver it and (c) a budget within which to deliver it.
That, however, is where the simplicity stops. In reality, the modern project manager has many challenges to deal with. Just to name a few, these include changes in project scope/budget, securing appropriate resources, setting up systems and methods for communication, making sure the right parts and raw materials arrive at the right time, sequencing tasks within the project in a coordinated fashion, communicating project changes and managing stakeholder expectations.
In this regard, technology is having a big impact.
At its simplest level, basic technologies such as email have eliminated significant volumes of paperwork and saved loads of time – not just for construction specifically but also for project management in general. No longer does the approval process, for example, involve physical handling of documents passed around in internal mail and stored in filing cabinets. Nowadays, everything is done by email, with documents and approval emails stored on a central server and scanned copies of any physical documentation that have been signed stored electronically.
Beyond this, more advanced technologies specific to construction are having a more profound impact, with Building Information Modeling (BIM) – software which allows for the creation of a full 3-D virtual representation of buildings and the sharing of that information with clients, contractors and others involved in the project – being the most obvious example.
Increasing use of BIM has benefited construction managers in a number of ways.
First, the ability to provide 3-D views of a building’s layout has enabled construction project managers to communicate more clearly with designers and clients. The capacity to sit down with the client and provide ‘walk-throughs’, for example, allows the client to ‘visualise’ the impact of decisions regarding aesthetics and make better decisions regarding aesthetic features of the space.
Second, by enabling project teams to ‘construct’ the building as a whole in full 3-D and see how the parts of the building work together and whether or not they line up and intersect properly, the technology has enabled better and safer building design.
Third, the ability to provide a full 3-D building model to builders, contractors and other project participants has helped to improve coordination during the construction process, saving time and costs as well as eliminating mistakes by reducing communication errors.
Fourth, by providing greater accuracy in terms of specifications and sequencing, BIM has increased the potential for pre-fabrication, whereby parts are pre-assembled off-site in a more easily controllable environment and delivered to the site as and when they are needed. This has reduced the need for stockpiling of raw materials on-site.
Finally, the ability to provide a complete model of the building at handover time provides significant benefits to building managers in terms of identifying the source of problems or defects (e.g. potentially faulty valves which cause leaks), staff training with regard to emergency procedures and facilitation of future modifications or renovations and leaves a positive impression of the project manager in the eyes of clients.
Fergus Dunn, Industry Solutions Director – Building and Construction South East Asia & Pacific for Bentley Systems, a global information modelling software provider for the architectural, engineering and construction industry, says the benefits of BIM for project managers can be significant.
“BIM accelerates the understanding of complex projects for all project participants, helping to ensure that decisions are better informed and thus avoiding costs from bad decisions” Dunn says.
“As well, it effectively captures the relevant facility data during design and construction for commissioning and handover – reducing time required for data collection and entry and improving quality of data (those that enter data are experts)”.
By its nature, project management will always be complex. But thanks to technology advances over the past two decades, project managers in building and construction have made great strides in project coordination, efficiency and most important, the quality and reliability of the final output.
By Andrew Heaton