By Robert Mattia
How can project management techniques help the efficiency of your business? Robert Mattia outlines the fundamentals of the technique and its application in the construction industry.
In today's world of ever increasing speed, complexity and competitiveness, we as technicians and managers find ourselves with the overwhelming need to achieve absolute efficiency in our work. This need forces us to organise and direct our energies in ever more creative manners. As we surpass one goal, another sets the bar even higher, requiring additional improvements. This efficiency is generally a result of taking our experiences and lessons learned and converting them into an improved method or product at the most competitive cost.
Project management helps bring efficiency to our technical challenges. Originating in the days of pyramids and castles, project management techniques have advanced to modern construction processes. It is achieving maturity in virtually every industry that requires products or deliverables. In many organisational environments the term program management is used to define the management and prioritising of a multiple of projects, this should not to be confused with project management.
At some point in our careers we have all been involved with, been made aware of, or practiced the principles of project management. It is largely defined as the process whereby you are called upon at the inception of a project or deliverable to plan, co-ordinate and control all of the resources required to complete it through to operation within an allotted time, an agreed budget and to a specific level of quality and safety, at a minimum of risk.
Many of us play a role in the overall project management process. A project team may have participants exhibiting planning skills; other members of the team may have more technical or quality skills. Generally, one individual acts as the project manager overseeing the entire process and holding the ultimate responsibility and authority. This position is usually achieved after many years of playing several roles in the project management process gaining knowledge and experience or through a process of formal education.
There are countless books available to help detail and define the need and application of project management techniques and methods. Many organisations have also adopted project management principles and created procedures to meet their own circumstances.
Why use Project management?
As with any task, it makes good sense to create and follow a well thought-out game plan. Project management helps to create that plan. It helps you to focus on the objectives by documenting the needs and building the deliverables on paper before committing expensive and scarce resources to it. Project management produces information that can increase your level of confidence and communicate the expectations. It forces you to plan your resources then use them efficiently and productively.
The Project Management Institute founded in 1969 is the custodian of The Project Management Body of Knowledge; this document represents years of effort and standardisation in the profession. Through education and practice one can achieve the recognised designation of Project management Professional (PMP).
Projects can range in size and scope from a new product to a major industrial construction development. Each deliverable has its own unique set of circumstances: they can involve standard products with multiple quantities or a custom application, but regardless of how unique a project may be, in general all undertakings require some form of control and organisation.
Project management is made up of many organisational competencies. This article will focus on six main controls - scope, time, cost, quality, resources and safety - which, once mastered, will deliver a high incidence of success. These are not given in order of importance or significance as each project's circumstances will dictate the priorities.
Scope of works
A scope of works defines in detail what is wanted through written documents or an electronic database; it further serves to avoid the need for interpretations. A well-defined scope provides clear instructions that are understood to mean the same thing by all who are affected by it.
The product scope determines the ‘what' and the project scope is the ‘how'. A scope can also help to define the work breakdown, which reduces the project to easily definable and manageable parts that can be resourced and scheduled.
The scope of works is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and constructable. Tender documents generally begin with the scope of works. This should address all the major aspects of a project, such as time, cost, quality and safety. Generally the more detail found in the scope of works, the more efficient the cost and time will be in executing it.
Schedules are created to plan, monitor and control that precious commodity, time. The scope of work is usually accompanied by a time restriction, which can be in a macro form or a more detailed micro form.
Several forms of time control exist, the worst being memory or, as many of us veterans recall, ‘on the back of a napkin'. More effective methods include lists with dates, day-timers and notes. Modern software now allows us to utilise time-scaled charts, specialised computer applications and risk analysis programs.
In essence, time control involves establishing a timeframe or duration and applying it to an item of work breakdown or activity. It should be measurable so that any progress can be determined at specific intervals against the base or original plan.
These durations are assigned by the use of actual data from previous or estimated results. Activities are then linked via dependencies called relationships. Activities can be linear or in series, or they can be in parallel with one another. By creating this network of interdependencies a critical set of activities emerges that can help to determine priorities. With the accurate input of actual progress, the schedule acts as a tool to determine current status and predict future results.
Similar to time control, cost control assigns a value to the scope of works. Individual items can be valued and then summarised to a work breakdown item or cost code.
Ideally, time control and cost control should support the same basic work breakdown structure, thus providing a basis for measurement that serves as the initial cost plan. The value or cost of an item of work can be determined by using historical data, estimated results or research analysis. Cost is generally broken down into labour and materials, with possible contingencies where they apply.
Controlling costs involves the careful procurement and assignment of resources and materials within the scope's budget or estimate. Any deviation from the scope or changes in work is a major source of cost overruns, therefore change management becomes a key function in controlling these unplanned costs. Comprehensive documentation is the basis of a well managed cost and change control programme.
Quality can be defined as the ability of a product or service's features and characteristics to satisfy stated and implied needs. This takes on a more technical approach to the management of work and the level of expectations in products or processes.
A good quality programme starts with a well-defined need through the use of clear and concise scope documents, specifications and drawings. It includes such factors as materials specifications, dimensioning, tolerances, welding procedures, Codes and Regulations. In the case of personnel it involves the levels of skill, expertise or certification and professional designation.
Quality programmes should be recognised and uniform. Many organisations have adopted recognised international standards of quality control such as ISO. Quality involves inspections and the documentation of results that are compared to the specified needs, which may in turn lead to non-conformance and corrective actions. Needless to say, the fewer non-conformances encountered the more successful the project in terms of cost and time.
Resources include all the elements that are needed to deliver a project, such as labour, materials, money, equipment, tools and time. This involves procuring and assigning resources at the point of need in a project in order to avoid waste or delays. Resources that are introduced too early, too late or inadequately become inefficient or non-productive, thus driving costs and time beyond the plan or budget.
The key to the efficient use of resources is to determine the optimum quantity and apply them at the optimum time. Procurement of resources, managing, human and labour relations also become key functions in a project in order to ensure adherence to quality, time and costs. Resources can also be planned in the same way as costs and time are applied to items on the schedule. By applying resources to the schedule, histograms and cumulative curves can be generated, providing early resource management capabilities.
As a mature, industrialised economy and society we have developed safeguards to ensure that people can work at their vocation with a level of confidence in their personal safety.
Today, unfortunately there continue to exist economies that lag behind in basic worker safety practices. The goal of a safe project is to perform and complete the scope of works within a specified time, cost and quality without injury or incident. This begins with a complete safety policy and procedure that adheres to or exceeds Government-regulated standards of safety. These policies and procedures must then be communicated to all the project participants via several media methods, including orientation, training, regular reminders, visual and audio awareness techniques.
Safety records and reporting are an integral part of a good safety program as these generate statistics and lessons learned, thus injury avoidance. Safety audits to ensure compliance are a must, as complacency can easily result in injury to a worker. Another widely used safety technique is the task plan: this documents the task process and highlights the potential dangers and the techniques used to avoid or reduce the risk of injury. Each participant in the task reviews the documented plan and acknowledges their understanding prior to starting work. This communication helps to unify the group's responsibilities and identifies the expectations.
To achieve a competitive edge it is necessary to take an organised approach when embarking on a project. Project management can help to achieve that success by providing techniques and guidance through each stage of a project's development. Each of the above controls does not act alone, they each relate to one another. If one of the controls is not managed adequately it will manifest itself on some other control item. For instance, a badly defined scope may increase the project costs and duration due to excessive contingency allowances.
It makes good sense to consider the fundamentals of project management. On a small job a project manager may work on their own to perform all of the major functions of control; on larger jobs their function may be to act as a leader and coach, guiding a team of experts. The utilisation of project management does not guarantee perfect results in all cases, but if applied and executed properly it will reduce the risk of failure and increase the rate of success.
Robert Mattia is a project manager and operations manager with Canadian-headquartered MEP contractor The State Group International. The State Group is embarking on a joint venture business development with SS Lootah International in the UAE.
For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.