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The Construction Industry Needs More Software Project Managers

An article for the Human Resource Management Journal discusses how “project-based workplaces” are characterized by “short-term interaction and involvement,” making them “particularly challenging for the individuals charged with managing performance within them.”

They single out the construction industry, “inherently unique,” and an industry that tends to “be awarded at short notice, […] reliant on a transient workforce, and [it] exist[s] within a complex multidisciplinary team-oriented environment.”


As the construction industry faces a myriad of challenges—persistently rising materials costs, labor shortages topping half a million, and fierce competition that is complex for firms to grapple with—there is an exceeding need for empowered project managers equipped to confront them.

Thus, herein, I’ll contend the need for project managers (particularly, software project managers) to answer the construction industry’s needs, where the construction industry can source these operational experts, as well as the unique project management skillset owners should look for when hiring.


Big Tech’s Displaced Project Managers to Fill Construction’s Talent Gap

If the real-time tracker tells us anything, it’s that big tech, long known for astronomical salaries, may be reaching its plateau – a bubble popping it hasn’t seen since the dot com era.


Among those affected by these tech layoffs are project management teams—e.g., project managers at large SaaS companies like Red Hat were among the positions recently slashed, while program managers at the country’s biggest tech firms have also been handed pink slips (e.g., accounting for 5.8% of layoffs at Amazon, 7% at Microsoft, and 17.7% at Google).


I’ve previously made the argument about how big tech’s software engineers may use their technical skills to help solve the construction industry’s myriad problems by helping build automated, connected workflows.


Project managers, too, play an important role in this equation:

  • Scrum Masters Lassoing Available Resources: Software project managers and business analysts are skilled in scrum, a particularly useful framework for dividing resources and time-boxing work into manageable, two-week sprints. Arguably, this framework has a particularly useful application to construction, an industry whose projects are regularly disjointed in nature (requiring as many as 24 specialized subcontractors in addition to fierce competition for the skilled trades we earlier discussed). The practitioners coming from big tech’s displaced software development teams can help implement this framework that will allow companies to better manage resources with clear accountability (everybody knows what they’re working on), more consistently meet project milestones through manageable and measurable sprints (everybody knows when they’re working on what), and improved quality through clearer communication and continuous improvement.
  • Building Software Interoperability: Another area project managers from the software industry are adept tacticians in wrangling is a concept known as software interoperability, how multiple software programs operate together and seamlessly share information. Just as Apple has received flack for being slow to adopt the more universal USB-C standard, construction companies often rely on multiple teams who use specialized software (e.g., ERP systems, building information modeling, computer-aided design, project management, inventory management, etc.), and these programs need to properly communicate lest companies face information silos, data duplication, and ensuing productivity issues. Software project managers can help wrangle the necessary technical resources (whether in-house or through third-party integrators) to build the interoperability a construction company desperately needs between its various systems.


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Harnessing Project Management’s Triangle

Another reason why project managers—software specialists or otherwise—are critical hires to the construction industry is that they are trained to understand quality that the project manager’s triangle makes up:


  • Quality = Cost + Scope + Time


The numbers don’t lie, either. Project managers at companies with a high maturity rate within the project management discipline have helped organizations outperform those with less maturity:

  • 77% of organizations with high maturity met goals/intent compared to 56% of organizations with low maturity.
  • 67% of organization with high maturity completed projects within budget compared to 46% of organizations with low maturity.
  • 63% of organizations with high maturity completed projects on time compared to 39% of organizations with low maturity.
  • Only 30% of organizations with high maturity experienced negative “scope creep” compared to 47% of organizations with low maturity.
  • Only 11% of organizations with high maturity experienced project failures compared to 21% of organizations with low maturity.


Furthermore, the same study found that 11.4% of investment is wasted due to poor project performance, while 67% more of these companies’ projects failed outright.


Project managers, skilled in juggling these triangulated factors (cost, scope, and time), are just the professionals the talent-strapped construction industry needs to understand cost, project scope, and time (and with a hawk’s eye on those factors ensuring they don’t overrun). Equally, they’re the tacticians needed to skillfully lasso multifaceted teams, understand their capacities, and time-box those sprints we earlier discussed to meet project milestones and continuously iterate to ensure quality for customers.


Skilled Communicators

Communication is constantly cited in academia and by research bodies as a critical skillset of a successful project manager – e.g., see:

  • Procedia Technology journal entry
  • International Journal of Project Management study of IT project managers
  • Heliyon study of construction megaprojects in Iran
  • International Journal of Applied Industrial Engineering article
  • Journal of Physics conference talk
  • European Management Journal study
  • Project Management Institute study of communication competencies and their impact on team member satisfaction and productivity
  • USC Department of Communication and Journalism blogpost


In construction, a project manager can help maintain real-time communication between customers and important company and project stakeholders (e.g., onsite workers, tradespeople, engineers, architects, as well as subcontractors/suppliers) of important scope changes to ensure proper accommodations are made to limit construction overruns.


Bottom Line

Disjointed processes have long been a characterization of the construction industry which has required a certain degree of operational finesse—that said, the industry faces unprecedented labor shortages, materials price hikes, and fierce competition for projects. As another industry—big tech—faces a surplus of technical resources, among them software project managers, one might naturally deduce that each industry meets the other’s needs. Software project managers, skilled communicators with the subject matter expertise to coordinate technical solutions, may just be what the construction industry needs to deliver projects more efficiently.

Lucas Marshall

Lucas Marshall is a professional writer whose work has appeared in Geo Week News, IoT For All, Robotics Tomorrow, and Construction Business Owner, among others. At Milwaukee Tool, he is Content Marketing and SEO Manager, responsible for raising awareness and engagement to the company’s digital product, ONE-KEY™, through a variety of content vehicles such as the team’s connectivity blog.