Project management is an evolving and necessary role within the construction domain

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Project management roles have developed and changed over the last few years, but the problem is that the construction industry is not recognising such a change. Historically, businesses knew exactly what they wanted and it was easy to oversee such a structured approach. Today, however, organisations and markets alike change rapidly where project managers need to acknowledge such changes and become flexible enough to change tactics as, ultimately, the success of any project is highly dependent on the project manager (PM), who forms a critical component.

When undertaking a construction project, to ensure it is planned and executed to the client’s requirements, one needs to ensure the client has appointed a full complement of the consultancy team to see the project through. A key aspect of the process today for consultants—especially when it comes to large-scale projects—is forming a consortium that a client can view as ‘one body’, where there should also be an appointed PM who will represent the consortium and be the client’s single point of responsibility.

Once the scope of work has been clearly defined and outlined in a contract, the next biggest challenge on a construction project is managing the client’s expectations—particularly around time to project completion and final project costs. Often, part of this challenge is that clients don’t give the professional team sufficient time to discern clear roles and responsibilities aligned to the scope of the project, delivering on deadline and within budget—and accountability if it doesn’t. When, in actual fact, having clearly defined roles and responsibilities at the onset of a project—and which each party can hold each other accountable to—can save significant time when there is a clash or dispute that needs to be
resolved, for instance.

Another challenge the industry is faced with today is that construction PMs need to develop the dynamism to cope with what the business environment requires. Today, a PM needs to be the driver across all aspects and the appointed consortium for the project through project integration. The key is to be able to effectively communicate the intention with each party (designers, contractors etc.) to ensure there is integration across all work streams and that every party is playing their part in ensuring the project is completed successfully within time and budget.

As such, a PM needs technical knowledge of the project at hand. Certainly, if you don’t know the project intimately, how can you manage it? They need to be well-grounded and have practical experience under their belts from which they can pull. And of course, having skills in each of the fundamental sectors allows them the opportunity to manage cost, quality, time and risk more efficiently. Furthermore, having the ability to communicate at all levels of authority is key.

All projects have allocated budgets that need to be adhered to for the client’s business case to be realised, and it is the PM’s role to contain the project within these costs. Additionally, a PM needs to be proactive in anticipating and addressing potential problems upfront as, in many cases, from a cost perspective, projects are usually ‘cheaper’ on paper than what the actual cost turns out to be.

The challenge we are finding today is that PM skills are being lost to other sectors (corporate) but, most importantly, what I have seen is that the skills are not being developed quickly enough to meet the high and growing demand by the construction industry. The skills crisis in South Africa goes across many sectors, where the skills available aren’t able to service the growing demands. Project management as a profession requires a base skill that is augmented by experience and maturity—something that cannot be taught overnight. It needs relevant experience and mentorship as well as a dedicated consciousness.

A lack of project management skills will hamper the growth of South Africa going forward as more and more businesses will become cautious in embarking on projects because they are difficult to plan and budget for and satisfaction cannot be guaranteed. In line with this, the role of the PM and, in many cases, the quantity surveyor—who sometimes assumes this role—is evolving to minimise risks.

A quantity surveyor’s role in a project is very important, as he/she is the cost manager with responsibility for controlling resources—a valuable yet often understated function. There is a misconception that quantity surveying is about coming out with the lowest budget to meet the client’s requirements, when in reality it’s about being honest with the client about what can be achieved within the parameters at hand, but without compromising on the overall quality and objectives of the project—similar to that of a
project manager.

The overarching role of a quantity surveyor, however, is to keep cost down or at least within the budget and protect the return on investment—though this role is more complicated than merely being able to provide the project manager and the client with a holistic view of budgets.

In addition to budget management, a cost manager worth his/her salt should also be able to undertake forecasting cost analysis, taking into consideration micro- and macroeconomic influences—including things such as cost of labour, inflation and exchange rates—as these can have a significant impact on the project team being able to deliver within budget.

Added to this, a cost manager should also assess the location-project risks and be proactive in pre-empting such risks with the project manager and/or client, as in certain cases such risks may make or break a project.

As MMQS, working on construction projects and providing our broad expertise is something we have been doing since the inception of the company. We have had the privilege of being actively
involved in impressive and notable projects in the past 12 years, including the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and have been proud to share our expertise with blue chip clients including: Anglo American, MTN, De Beers, Transnet, Kumba Iron Ore, Absa, GrowthPoint and Atterbury Property Holdings, to name but a few.

Project management is an essential function in the South African construction industry which cannot be underestimated, and a role that needs to be nurtured should we wish to see more skilled PMs in the industry. With all the infrastructural upgrades continually taking place across the country, and one that is expected to grow, this is certainly a profession that will continue to flourish—and it’s
essential that we get it right.

Themba Moyo

Chief Operating Officer, MMQS

Moyo is a Professional Quantity Surveyor (PrQS), Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (MRICS), PrCPM, PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI-RMP), and Project Management Professional (PMP).


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