Timeframes need injection of realism

The industry needs to set realistic timeframes for the completion of projects, says Anwer Sher, project director, City of Arabia.
Timeframes need injection of realism
By Anwer Sher
Sat 23 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

The UAE construction industry needs to set more realistic timeframes for the completion of projects, says Anwer Sher, project director, City of Arabia.

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is: What is happening in Dubai and the UAE in terms of all the construction? Indeed, I once described Dubai as Las Vegas on steroids (without the gambling). Walk through a construction site, or into a project manager's office, and you will see the sheer magnitude of what is happening. Indeed, it would seem as if the place is on construction steroids - or at least a large dose of them.

So, when will all this construction be finished, and is it all happening within the timeframes that we anticipated?

There are a few issues in this region that need to be clearly understood. If you believe the media hype then good for you, but in the real world there is a great deal of engineering needed, from planning infrastructure all the way through to construction and completion of these projects. You cannot cut and paste a building from the drawing board onto the site, (I wish it was that easy). The challenge for these projects is the following:

Infrastructure:There is a lot that has been said about this, but from where I sit there is no doubt that the infrastructure capacity exists for the developments currently underway. The issue is getting that infrastructure out to the different and diverse range of projects. In one sense, a large format framework plan has to be agreed with the utility companies covering the next 10 years or so, and then projects should be announced.

Phasing:When projects are announced, the PR machine makes it sound like everything will be built in two to three years, when in reality the project plan is phased over 10-odd years. The result is a set of expectations in the marketplace which are out of sync from the reality from day one.

Capacity:If I was to take all the projects announced today and plot them against the resource capacity currently available, there is no way these projects can be completed within even five years. Only those projects that have contracted the resources and locked in the prices have a decent chance of being completed on time.

What this implies is that over the next few years a number of projects will have to be realistic about their completion schedules, and by the sheer weight of market force, adjust to this reality. A prominent contractor told me just last week that with all that is planned and under construction the resources do not exist to put it all together in tight timeframes. When I asked how many more resources are needed, his crisp response was that it would mean tripling the labour force, doubling the plant and equipment and, most importantly, having a robust supply chain for building materials which can sustain the construction process for a four to five-year building spree.

This is not an easy process, especially considering that planners keep announcing new projects, which are adding to the ‘to do' list. There is a way to do all of this faster, but it will mean compromising on the quality and the delivered product. And perhaps, in some cases, this might already be happening. What is essential to consider is the construction management and the people putting the whole process together. I have seen people with no experience of construction trying to develop very complex and difficult projects with project management budgets that just do not make sense. The end result will be delays, as mistakes will be made during the build process.

Looking ahead, I do believe that developers will be more realistic about the completion schedules of their projects. I also suspect that they will announce a wider phasing plan for projects and confirm completion dates once the project has gone into post- contract phase.

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