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Author: 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.

Three Attributes of Construction Sector PMs and Nine Important Concepts to Know

The role of an effective project manager has been studied and observed—scholarly researchers studying the managerial profiles of successful project managers (ref 3) observed common traits including extroversion, rational judging, and structured behaviors, for example. Another study from researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ref 1) found common traits of project managers to include openness to experience, surgency, adjustment, agreeableness, and compositeness.

 

I’ve previously written about how the construction industry needs more software project managers—particularly to address labor shortages (i.e., half a million, the ABC reported) as well as help absorb some of the displaced talent from big tech layoffs, I argued.

But what attributes might those PMs need entering the construction industry, and what are some of the important concepts construction PMs should know?

 

Three Traits that Make an Effective Construction PM

Certainly, the above-mentioned managerial profiles of project managers would be useful to have as a project manager in the construction industry.

If I had to choose just three traits needed of a construction project manager, they would be:

 

1. Adaptability

The construction ecosystem is one that is fragmented and requires a high degree of finesse from its practitioners. For example, did you know that the average home has 22 subcontractors working on it? Research from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB; ref 2) found that builders, on average, employ two dozen different subcontractors and subcontract out 84% of their construction costs in the typical home they build.

 

The job of a project manager, then, is one that requires synchronization of many moving parts and coordination through many more project stakeholders. It’s ever-critical for project managers in the construction sector to understand change management modalities, for when equipped with these, they will be able to dynamically guide customers, stakeholders, and cross-functional project delivery partners through:

  • Project kickoff and discovery to fully understand project scope.
  • Resource allocation, organizational commitments/dependencies (and possibly technical debt) to strategically facilitate project scheduling in a way that is faithful to organizational resources and customer needs.
  • Strong customer relationship management and project planning to ensure a high-quality customer experience while allowing for a dynamic response to (and also limiting the quantity of) change orders requested from customers.

 

2. Business Acumen

Forecasting construction projects properly is a mission-critical task that allows businesses to stay profitable, and it’s also a skill that requires business owners and important collaborators (e.g., project managers) to have great finesse.

A project manager might work in lockstep with a business analyst as well as an inventory manager, for example, to better calculate financial commitments annually through job costing, building financial reporting dashboards as well as project management dashboards, etc.

Seeking educational opportunities (e.g., understanding construction financial management) offered through the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) can help project managers strengthen these skillsets.

 

3. Collaboration

As hinted above, construction is a highly collaborative business sector that requires coordination (and cooperation) of a lot of critical cross-functional teams.

Above graphic credit: Fuks et al (ref a) via 4. Polančič (ref 4)

 

The best ways to achieve a higher degree of collaboration with fewer blind spots and information silos include:

  • Adopting cloud-based collaboration tools – Online collaboration (e-collaboration) have been studied by scholarly researchers (ref 4) and prove to deliver a “mutually beneficial relationship between at least two people, groups or organizations, who jointly design ways to work together to achieve related or common goals and who learn with and from each other, sharing responsibility, authority and accountability for achieving results.” Common advantages of cloud-based systems, the researchers highlight, include:
    • Usability – i.e., “SaaS should be easy to use, capable of providing faster and reliable services. User Experience Driven Design aims to maximize the usability, desirability and productivity of the application” (table 1).
    • Efficiency – SaaS, cloud-based solutions allow “computers [… to] be physically located in geographical areas that have access to cheap electricity whilst their computing power can be accessed over the Internet” (table 1).
    • Maintainability – “SaaS shifts the responsibility for developing, testing, and maintaining the software application to the vendor” (table 1).
  • Collaborating with IT and construction technologists to build interoperability of systems (e.g., standardization of change orders, quality control and consistency through the systemization of processes through industrialized construction, standardization of IoT deployment, etc.) as well as the implementation of advanced technology to drive greater real-time visibility and quality assurance (e.g., site-observational drones; robots to automate procedural tasks with a greater degree of consistency, while also removing humans from needlessly dangerous situations, etc.).

 

Nine Important Concepts Every Construction PM Should Know

Now that we’ve covered the common traits that would make a project manager successful in the construction sector, what are some of the important concepts PMs entering the construction industry should know?

 

Here are nine important concepts to know:

 

1. The Five Stages of Project Management

The five stages of project management are equally applicable to the construction industry, which include the following:

  1. Project Initiation – The start of a project, typically including documentation of responsibilities, proposed work, expectations – e.g.,
    1. Project goals
    2. Scope of work
    3. Project organization
    4. Business case
    5. Constraints
    6. Stakeholders
    7. Risks
    8. Project controls
    9. Reporting frameworks
    10. Project initiation signoff
    11. Summary
  2. Project Planning – The high-level planning and scheduling of scoped work via tools like Gantt charts, project management software (e.g., for the construction industry, cloud-based tools like Procore, Contractor Foreman, Autodesk Construction Cloud, Monday Construction, Houzz Pro, etc.). Typical deliverables may include:
    1. Work breakdown structure
    2. Activity network diagram
  3. Project Execution – The completion of scoped work
  4. Project Control – Measures to prevent scope creep (see in next section), cost overruns, etc.
  5. Project Close – The conclusion of the project.

 

2. Scope of Work, Scope Creep, and Scope Management

The scope of work is the documentation in which features and functions of a project, or the required work needed to finish a project, are defined, typically involving a discovery process during which information needed to start a project is gathered (e.g., stakeholder requirements).

Scope creep refers to the continuous and/or expanding work requirements past the project’s original scope, which can happen at any point after the project begins. Scope management is the process of defining and managing the scope of a project to ensure that it stays on track, within budget, and meets the expectations of stakeholders.

 

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3. Lean Project Management

Project managers and project leaders in manufacturing industries may be familiar with lean manufacturing principles – lean construction is an industrialized construction method whereby companies approach the business of building things more effectively and efficiently by minimizing waste and maximizing value for all stakeholders.

 

The approach centers around:

  • Minimizing waste.
  • Reducing expenses.
  • Boosting productivity.
  • Improving quality over time.
  • Increasing value for the customer.

 

Image SourceWikiCommons

Many resources exist for project managers looking to adopt lean construction – e.g., the Lean Construction Institute offers certifications, eLearning, whitepapers, membership, as well as a directory of lean practitioners, while the Lean Construction Blog offers a Lean Academy, conferences, webinars, and its industry-known podcast. Consider, for example, a recent interview I conducted with a Milwaukee Tool continuous improvement leader about lean management and industrialization as one additional resource to get started with IC and lean principles.

 

4. Project Management vs Program Management

Harris & Associates, a civil engineering and construction management company that ranks in Engineering News-Record’s Top 100 Construction, defines project management versus program management (i.e., project manager versus program manager) in the construction industry as follows:

  • Program management/program manager – management of large portfolios encompassing multiple projects on multiple sites (they provide the example of a K12 school district, where the program manager may be responsible for upward of 10 elementary schools, five middle schools, and two high schools).
  • Project management/project manager, meanwhile, will “manage work on one of the schools [… handling] the single project from cradle to grave: pre-design, design process, bid/award, construction and close-out.”

 

5. Project Management Triangle

The project management triangle is a model employed by project managers that dates back to the 1950s and it “contends” the following principles:

  1. The quality of work is constrained by the project’s budget, deadlines, and scope (features).
  2. The project manager can trade between constraints.
  3. Changes in one constraint necessitate changes in others to compensate or quality will suffer.

 

 

Image source: WikiCommons

 

6. Scrum

Project managers from the tech and software development industries may be well familiar to scrum, though its principles are equally useful for contractors. Scrum, simply put, is a framework that helps teams work together while empowering teams to learn through experiences, prioritizes self-organization while working through problems, and encourages ongoing reflection in the constant pursuit of continuous improvement.

 

7. SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis is a commonly used business tool and acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, described as a “framework used to evaluate a company’s competitive position and to develop strategic planning.”

 

Image Credit: swot-analyse.net via WikiCommons

 

8. Quality Management

Quality management (aka: total quality management or TQM) is defined as “the act of overseeing all activities and tasks that must be accomplished to maintain a desired level of excellence [… including] the determination of a quality policy, creating and implementing quality planning and assurance, and quality control and quality improvement.”.

Examples of quality management in the construction industry may include procurement managers assuring that materials to be used are not damaged; tools and equipment used to perform work are properly serviced, calibrated, and not out of specification; the right tools to drive the highest degree of quality are employed (e.g., consider, for example, how M18 FUEL™ Controlled Torque Impact Wrenches utilize proprietary sensors and machine learning algorithms to drive greater repeatability for solar installers).

 

9. Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is described as a “leadership style that prioritizes the growth, well-being, and empowerment of employees [… aiming] to foster an inclusive environment that enables everyone in the organization to thrive as their authentic self.” What’s more, Investopedia describes servant leadership as embodying “a decentralized organizational structure.”

The application of servant leadership in the construction industry has been studied by researchers for the SA Journal of Industrial Psychology and findings have “indicated”…

… job resources mediated a positive relationship between servant leadership and work engagement and a negative relationship between servant leadership and burnout. Servant leadership had a positive significant relationship with job resources and significantly explained a proportion of the variance in job resources. Job resources, in turn, significantly explained a proportion of increase in work engagement levels and a proportion of reduction in burnout levels. An insignificant relationship was found between job demands and servant leadership.

 

Final Word

The work of project managers in the construction industry shows great promise and represent continually important roles to maintain scope management, resource allocation, budgets, and schedules as the industry faces strong headwinds. For those entering the industry, your work will be highly valued, and you may find a fruitful career when shifting from more volatile industries. The above construction PM traits and industry concepts are intended to be useful in this transition. For project managers in (or entering) the construction industry, I’ve also prepared a more extensive List of Construction Project Management Terms.

 

References

  1. Henkel, T. G., Haley, G., Bourdeau, D. T., & Marion, J. (2019). An insight to project manager personality traits improving team project outcomes. Graziadio Business Review, 22(2). Retrieved from https://commons.erau.edu/publication/1353
  2. Emrath, E. (2020, 12). Average new home uses 24 different subcontractors [Data set]. National Association of Home Builders. https://www.nahb.org/-/media/NAHB/news-and-economics/docs/housing-economics-plus/special-studies/2020/special-study-average-new-home-uses-24-different-subcontractors.pdf
  3. Montequin, V.R, Nieto, A.G., Ortega, F, and Villanueva, J. (2015). Managerial style profiles of successful project managers: A Survey. Procedia Computer Science 64, 55-62, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2015.08.463
  4. Polančič, G., Jošt, G., and Hericko, M (2015, 02). An experimental investigation comparing individual and collaborative work productivity when using desktop and cloud modeling tools. Empirical Software Engineering 20(1), http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10664-013-9280-x
  5. Fuks, H., Raposo, A., Aurelio Gerosa, M., and Lucena, C. (2005, 06). Applying the 3C model to groupware development. International Journal of Cooperative Information Systems 14(2):0218-8430, http://dx.doi.org/10.1142/S0218843005001171

 

How Project Managers May Help Address Construction’s $30-$40B Productivity Problem

Productivity has been in steady decline—CNBC reported a few months ago, for example, that the U.S. had experienced five consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines in worker productivity. Last year, worker productivity was falling at the fastest rate in four decades.

Productivity in construction is an even harsher reality, the industry faced with skilled labor shortages and a recent FMI Corp report that showed productivity is a $30 billion to $40 billion annual problem, affected by planning, communication, and collaboration 3 in 4 times.

 

In this article, I discuss how, in the construction industry that faces labor shortages topping half a million, the role of the project manager is ever-critical in empowering the team to work more collaboratively, heed strict quality assurance requirements, and achieve greater productivity outcomes onsite to, correspondingly, drive better customer outcomes.

 

The Role of Project Management in Construction Projects

Studies show “an extremely strong correlation between the Project Manager and the success of the construction projects” (ref 1). What’s more, project managers with high emotional intelligence have been shown to be a catalyst for empowering team cohesion and effectiveness (ref 4), particularly with the soft skills to navigate teams through change management – a key competency that successful project managers in the construction industry possess, according to a systematic industry literature review (ref. a).

The role of a construction project manager is a multifaceted one, its duties perhaps described as a myriad of spinning plates, routinely responsible for example (ref. 3) –

  • Project cost estimating
  • Project planning
  • Production planning
  • Resource management
  • Scheduling

 

Project managers in construction are able to address these myriad challenges through agile methodologies to drive greater flexibility, correspondingly higher productivity outcomes onsite, and an integrated approach is of particular use to facilitate greater cross-functional collaboration.

 

Integrated Project Management

Experts recommend companies employ an “integrated” construction project management approach (ref 2); project managers in construction have a wider scope than the traditional time-cost-quality project management triangle, needing to address, for example, critical factors like “sustainability, health and safety, ethical requirements, social responsibility and security.”

Authors view “integration” as a “keyword” of project management in construction, with the “project managers of tomorrow [requiring] new competencies and new ways of working that embrace technology and communications” (ref 2). The authors stress the importance of “Integrating the different and fragmented process in the supply chain and with the design team.”

Ways project managers can integrate project systems and workflows to drive greater transparency, real-time data sharing, and correspondingly higher productivity outcomes onsite include:

 

Materials and Inventory

Integrating project management with materials and inventory management systems ensures project teams onsite get what they need onsite when it’s needed, that materials are appropriate (i.e., not damaged), so they can perform work on schedule.

A synchronization between project and inventory management platforms not only helps declutter and decrease outdated project data as changes are made in real-time, but also helps project managers better oversee projects with relevant alerts that:

  • Better predict stocking needs and help the team assess how they might acquire safety stock to prevent stockouts
  • Provide access to pertinent job costing information, helping project managers better forecast and improve accounting across companies’ operations; they can also work with inventory managers overseeing equipment rentals to drive better profitability and ongoing maintenance.

 

When coupled with other proper inventory strategies (e.g., inventory tracking and kitting) and other IoT solutions, project managers can work in tandem with inventory managers to better account for inventory through its lifecycle.

 

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Safety

Project managers can work with safety managers to develop safety metrics (e.g., hazard identification and assessment; hazard prevention and control; program evaluation and improvement) that ensure onsite workers are managing their own risk and abiding by site rules. Safety is a team sport, hence why the team needs to keep each other safe, which will also help drive greater quality assurance targets.

What’s more, project managers can work with inventory and procurement (as discussed above) as well as construction technology teams to implement emerging technologies to support greater safety outcomes: e.g., robots to automate needlessly hazardous installations, newer-generation drills and impacts that prevent against kickback events, drones to perform overhead safety checks, etc.

 

Project Design

An integration between project management and design (e.g., architecture, CAD, and BIM) can help drive better quality assurance, ensuring not only scoped design plans are properly installed, but also that design-related problems (and ensuing rework) are mitigated.

According to Dodge Data & Analytics, 61% report BIM processes reduced project error. In the hands of a project manager, BIM data is powerful; what’s more, integrations with smart tools can help ensure project managers and the design team alike are getting application-specific reporting so they can verify not only that designs are accurate, but also that critical fasteners were installed to manufacturer specifications.

 

Sustainability

Platforms like Green Badger are purpose-built to measure, benchmark, and report on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) metrics, helping project managers report to business owners data on carbon, waste, water, and energy data, how projects are completed to company sustainability targets, etc.

 

Bottom Line

As the construction industry combats with a labor shortage that has topped half a million, it’s no surprise that productivity issues on sites nationwide cost the industry between $30 and $40 billion annually. All this to say, the job of the construction project manager is of prevailing importance, helping companies negotiate complicated projects and workflows and empowering cross-functional teams to be more productive with continually shrinking resources. An integrated construction project management approach is the way forward to driving the productivity needle back in the right direction, improving company top and bottom lines, and improving the industry outlook as it looks to build the green infrastructure projects necessary for our planet’s continued existence.

 

References

  1. Abdulsamad Ali, M. and Chileshe, N. (2009). The influence of the project manager on the success of the construction project [Paper presentation]. 6th International Conference on Construction Project Management (ICCPM) / 3rd International Conference on Construction Engineering and Management (ICCEM) Global Convergence in Construction, Jeju, Korea. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265689336_The_influence_of_the_project_manager_on_the_success_of_the_construction_project
  2. Fewings, P. and Henjewele, C. (2019). Construction Project Management: An Integrated Approach. (3rd Edition). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
  3. Sears, S., Sears, G., and Clough, R. (2008). Construction Project Management: A Practical Guide to Field Construction. (5th Edition). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  4. Zhang, Q. and Hao, S. (2022, 04). Construction project manager’s emotional intelligence and team effectiveness: The mediating role of team cohesion and the moderating effect of time. Frontiers in Psychology 13 https://doi.org/10.3389%2Ffpsyg.2022.845791
    1. Oliveros, J. and Vaz-Serra, P. (2018). Construction Project manager skills: A systematic literature review. In P. Rajagopalan and M.M Andamon (Eds.), Engaging Architectural Science: Meeting the Challenges of Higher Density: 52nd International Conference of the Architectural Science Association (pp.185–192). The Architectural Science Association and RMIT University, Australia.

What Construction Project Managers Should Know about Change Management

A conference talk on the challenges faced by project managers of the 21st century lists several factors experienced across industries: scope management, information technology, team dynamics, customers’ satisfaction, lean management, communication, innovation, and quality.

 

The construction industry in particular is prone to change. Part of this is due to the nature of its workforce. For example, an article for the Human Resource Management Journal describes the construction industry as “reliant on a transient workforce and exist[ing] within a complex multidisciplinary team-oriented environment.” This workforce is continually challenged with some experts suggesting a dynamic approach to analyzing impacts of skilled labor shortages.

As you would imagine, multiple studies have been conducted in how change management principles may be useful in construction projects (e.g., see: conference talk for the 25th International Conference on Information Technology, International Journal of Project Management article, etc.).

 

Materials pricing in the industry is finally starting to stabilize; however, they remain high (higher than pre-pandemic levels). The labor shortages the industry face are part of a larger story of an aging workforce – hence why newer, tech-forward roles that can attract a younger generation of workers are increasingly important.

The job of a construction project manager is ever critical to meet the needs of complicated projects with continually constrained resources. Change management is one concept in these managers’ toolkit that can help them confront the constantly shifting construction landscape.

 

What Is Change Management?

Change management, defined by the Harvard Business School Online, is a term that “refers broadly to the actions a business takes to change or adjust a significant component of its organization” including company culture, internal processes, underlying technology infrastructure, corporate hierarchy, or other critical aspects.

Change, they explain, can be adaptive (e.g., small, gradual, iterative changes to evolve a business’s product lines, processes, workflows, and strategies over time) or transformational (e.g., larger scale/scope changes that signify dramatic and “occasionally sudden, departure from the status quo,” such as launching a new business division, expanding internationally, etc.).

To put this into context of construction, an adaptive change might be a sudden change order (i.e., a documented re-define of scope, budget, or timeline of a previously agreed upon construction job). A transformational change, meanwhile, may be a change in management structure or a company buyout.

 

Change management are the processes and guiding principles that help organizations (particularly, the employees that make up them) respond dynamically to change.

Construction project managers, coordinating teams of cross-functional workers onsite in a “multifaceted, dynamic industry,” need an equally dynamic approach to change management.

 

Here are some of the factors construction project managers may consider keeping top of mind:

 

ADKAR

One change management concept construction project managers should know is ADKAR, a change management model and acronym developed by Prosci® founder Jeff Hiatt after extensive study of patterns at more than 700 organizations.

 

ADKAR is an acronym for:

  • Awareness – Of the need for change
  • Desire – To participate and support the change
  • Knowledge – On how to change
  • Ability – To implement desired skills & behaviors
  • Reinforcement – To sustain the change

 

Prosci® recommends a 3-step process for implementing ADKAR within an organization:

  • Step # 1: Prepare approach – in this phase, practitioners (e.g., construction project managers) establish what they’re trying to achieve (e.g., better project outcomes) by defining impact (i.e., how the change affects individuals) and approach (i.e., the steps needed to achieve project success and mitigate risk – such as defining clearer project milestones and maintaining open lines of communication/collaboration)
  • Step # 2: Manage change – in this phase, the change management strategy is brought to life through three stages:
    • 1) Plan and act (i.e., preparing, equipping, and supporting those impacted by change – e.g., creating project management plans)
    • 2) Track performance (i.e., the phase in which change management efforts are tracked through implementation and practitioners identify performance strengths and opportunities – e.g., how effective is a project management tool in increasing project visibility, to what extend does it increase collaboration between team members?
    • 3) Adapt actions (i.e., based on what practitioners have learned, they spend time adjusting the change management strategies – e.g., considering the observed efficacy of the implemented project management tool, what tweaks should be made to ensure continuous improvement?
  • Step # 3: Sustain outcomes – in this final phase, the practitioner establishes the approach needed to ensure change is sustained organizationally for the long-term. Outcomes include:
    • Review performance – reflecting on performance, confirming desired results, and reviewing and documenting lessons learned (e.g., project postmortems)
    • Activate sustainment – focusing on implementing actions to sustain change outcomes, engaging in activities to identify gaps and activate sustainment roles
    • Transfer ownership – establishing how to carry sustainment efforts forward with activities including the transfer of knowledge and assets (e.g., sharing lessons learned with and recommendation to business owners)

 

ADKAR is a powerful change management model and tool worthy of consideration within construction projects to sustain meaningful change organizationally with how companies approach future projects.

 

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Structural Flexibility and Antifragility

Prosci® recommends implementing change management at both the project- and organizational-level (i.e., project managers should be fierce and empathetic advocates for both the individualistic people-side of change as well as possessing “a leadership competency for enabling change within [an] organization and a strategic capability designed to increase […] change capability and responsiveness”).

In other words, change management should be implemented from top to bottom.

 

Another, related managerial concept is antifragility, a business model first coined by financial scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The concept makes reference to Greek mythology and the creature known as Hydra who possesses nine heads and is depicted to possess immortality and the power of linear regeneration – growing three heads in the place of two from each stump when decapitated. This linear progression shows the Hydra, when attacked by an adversary intent on defeating it, becoming stronger through the adversity.

 

As a construction project manager, building structural flexibility and antifragility into your project framework such that team members are empowered to respond dynamically to change can make teams stronger in spite of any adversity they may encounter:

  • Do teams have the authority to employ creative workarounds (e.g., find new supplier, 3D printing, prefab) or work with customers to avoid excessive changes in design that explode project scopes (e.g., suggesting alternative, recyclable materials; cheaper, more readily available alternatives; negotiating on delivery fees; etc.)
  • Do teams have the authority to reject change orders (if too far out-of-scope)?
  • Do teams have the authority to strategically plan (e.g., purchasing safety stock on critical materials from wholesalers)
  • Do teams have the tools they need cross-functionally to be successful (we discuss this in the next section)

 

Embracing Technology for Dynamic Change Management

Technology should be no stranger to construction project managers. It is the enabler to productivity among teams even where resources are limited. It is the facilitator that allows the transfer of knowledge between cross-functional teams, breakdown of information silos, and builds antifragility into your workflow structures.

 

Digital solutions that exist to empower construction teams include (but are not limited) to:

  • Project Management: Tools like Procore®, Autodesk® Construction Cloud™, Buildertrend, e-Builder®, and Fieldwire by Hilti® help project managers coordinate work, delegate tasks, track progress performance, and document disputes and excessive change orders. Facilitating cloud-based project management enables real-time collaboration similar to how cloud-based collaboration tools like Office365 or Google Workspace enable real-time collaboration among office workers and university students.
  • Building Information Modeling: Building information modeling enables digital representation of building projects that facilitates collaboration between designers, architects, engineers, construction managers, and customers in real-time, allowing companies to find and mitigate risk, and reduce potential issues in design that would otherwise lead to change orders and overruns.
  • Inventory Management: Cloud-based inventory apps can help construction teams manage materials as well as equipment needed onsite to perform work, as well as cut down on hording across a multi-jobsite infrastructure.
  • Embrace Integration: In addition to the tools above, it’s critical to embrace technology integration – creating pathways for data sharing between project management, design, and in-field execution teams ensures real-time communication, prevention of duplicate (sometimes outdated) project data, and meaningful collaboration that mitigates risks.

 

Certifications for Construction Project Managers

Finally, aspiring construction project managers should consider certification programs that can (in addition to demonstrating competency to potential employers aiding in career advancement) provide practitioners with the necessary knowledge and skills to apply effective management techniques to the planning, design, and construction of projects that controls time, cost, and quality.

 

Possible certifications of note include:

  • The Construction Management Association of America’s Certified Construction Manager Certificate
  • The Project Management Institute’s Construction Professional in Built Environment Projects (PMI-CP)™ certificate
  • The Project Management Institute’s Agile certifications can also provide practitioners the knowhow to apply relevant agile/scrum principles to construction technology implementation
  • Certifications in Lean Management offered through the Lean Construction Institute and Associated General Contractors of America to apply lean management principles, reduce waste from projects, and improve quality assurance

 

For Construction Pros also recommends six other worthy contenders for certifications for construction career development.

 

Bottom Line

The construction industry, more so than other industries, is defined by change. As the industry faces continuous operational challenges, it’s ever critical that construction project managers have the tools to manage their projects dynamically—change management chief among them can help them empower and empathize with their cross-functional stakeholders and building partners, equipped to grow, evolve, and become stronger through stressors they’re constantly confronted by.

 

From Waterfall Walls to Agile Architecture: The New Era of Construction

This is a collaborative article cowritten by Lucas Marshall and Jason Braun.

 

Productivity is hard to measure. It differs depending on industry, for one. What’s more, the construction sector is what the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago considers “strange and awful,” representative of raw BEA data suggesting “that the value added per worker in the construction sector was about 40 percent lower in 2020 than in 1970.” For instance, the construction of the One World Trade Center in New York faced numerous delays and budget overruns, highlighting the challenges the industry faces. Labor shortages—whose “impacts on labor wages, cost overruns, and scheduling concerns in construction projects”—could be the driving factor here as companies struggle to fill positions while unemployment remains low. In other words, “few construction workers [are] seeking jobs, and therefore the pool to fill demand is shallow,” while onsite workers face the unique challenge of executing projects with limited resources—adding to these impacts and slowing growth.

 

At first glance, the worlds of software development and construction may seem poles apart. However, both industries grapple with the complexities of managing large-scale projects, ensuring timely delivery, and adapting to unforeseen challenges. For example, the development of the Windows 95 operating system was a monumental task for Microsoft, much like constructing a skyscraper is for a construction firm. Just as software developers transitioned from the rigid Waterfall methodology to the more adaptive Agile approach to address these challenges, the construction industry stands at a similar crossroads.

 

While it may seem alien to the construction sector, the software industry has subbed one framework (i.e., waterfall) for another (agile), resulting in success ratios two times greater, 37% faster delivery, and greater impact on improving product quality, a 2023 scholarly study found. Popular apps like Spotify and Airbnb have notably benefited from Agile methodologies, iterating rapidly based on user feedback.

 

In this article, we propose applying similar agile and lean construction methodologies illustrative of industrialized construction. Like software—which replaces a rigid, monolithic release cycle with a more agile framework—we explain that industrialized construction looks to replace the old-school, one-off “project” mindset with a fast and dependable productization framework. Consider the construction of modular homes, which are built offsite in controlled environments and then assembled on-site, mirroring the iterative development and deployment in software.

 

Software Project Management: From Waterfall to Agile

Companies in the software industry generally use one of two frameworks when building software products:

 

Waterfall

Waterfall is a more traditional approach to software development where production takes place in a linear, sequential manner (i.e., every task needs to be finished before the next one begins). This means new software solutions begin by defining requirements, then shifting into the software design phase, then shifting to the software developers building what has been proposed, then verifying the release is stable, and finally shifting into maintenance (i.e., finding and squashing bugs). For instance, the early development of Microsoft Office followed a Waterfall approach, with distinct phases and milestones.

 

Key point: Like construction projects that oftentimes involve a considerable deal of back-and-forth with approvals before breaking ground, then contend with unpredictable access to onsite labor and materials as well as rapidly changing weather conditions, we’ll argue later that construction is due for breaking from the waterfall-like processes through industrialization.

 

Agile

Agile is an iterative, team-based approach to software development where rapid delivery of functional products over a short period of time (known as sprints) is used (similar to lean manufacturing methods applied to construction). Continuous improvement is adopted, and subsequent batches are planned in cyclical schedules. Tech giants like Google and Facebook have adopted Agile methodologies for many of their projects, allowing for rapid iteration and improvement based on user feedback.

 

Agile methodology is more collaborative and customer-focused. Oftentimes, customers have the opportunity to offer their feedback through the software development process (e.g., beta releases). Through this approach, developers can improve the overall functionality of the software for the target end user and establish a 1-1 relationship based in trust and mutual respect. It also offers a fixed, predictable schedule and delivery, improved quality for customers through their hands-on participation, as well as adaptability through change.

 

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From One-Off Projects to Finished Goods through Industrialized Construction

Industrialized construction (IC) refers to “the process through which construction aims to improve productivity through increased mechanization and automation,” similar to how Ford’s early assembly line offered the mechanized approach necessary to meet the demands of customers for the Model-T while ensuring product consistency and quality through mechanized orchestration.

 

The mention of Ford’s Model-T isn’t merely a nostalgic nod to the past but a pivotal example of industrial transformation. In the early 20th century, the automobile industry faced challenges similar to today’s construction sector: Inefficiencies, inconsistencies, and a demand that outpaced supply. Ford’s introduction of the assembly line for the Model-T revolutionized production, offering a standardized, efficient, and scalable solution.

 

At a high-level, industrialized construction as a concept moves beyond approaching each build as one-off projects. Instead, practitioners apply a foundational framework where building deliverables are treated as building products and the same attention to build quality, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement seen from manufacturers of marketable finished goods (e.g., automobiles, electronic devices, perishable goods, etc.) is applied to construction. A real-world example can be seen in the rise of prefabricated homes, which are built in factories and then assembled onsite, ensuring consistent quality and faster construction times.

 

The traditional approach to construction, as we highlighted earlier, comes with its set of challenges. For instance, 45% of all construction projects face disruptions due to inclement weather. A staggering 93% of construction firms grapple with material shortages. Furthermore, the limited access to skilled workers, a point we touched upon earlier, restricts the efficiency of an onsite workforce, especially under tight deadlines. This can jeopardize schedules, budgets, and even the quality of work.

 

For instance, the construction of the Berlin Brandenburg Airport faced numerous delays due to planning and execution challenges, showcasing the need for a more streamlined approach.

 

The transition towards Industrialized Construction isn’t just a theoretical proposition; it has tangible, real-world implications that can redefine the construction landscape. For starters, IC can lead to significant cost savings. By shifting much of the construction process to controlled environments, we can mitigate the risks and uncertainties of on-site construction, from weather disruptions to labor shortages. This not only ensures projects stay on budget but also can lead to faster completion times. For example, the Broad Sustainable Building company in China constructed a 57-story skyscraper in just 19 days using prefabricated modules, showcasing the potential of IC.

 

Industrialized construction, meanwhile, looks to improve quality by affecting factors within a business’s control:

  • Third-party prefabrication and offsite construction partners or building out your own infrastructure to support offsite preassembly can improve schedule certainty by 90%, while cutting down on construction costs by 10% and improving quality by mechanizing the preassembly process in a temperature-controlled factory setting where stringent quality measures can be enforced.
  • Robotics and additive manufacturing technology to increase output, capabilities, and design freedom of human installers; smart tools and IoT solutions in the hands of these installers, meanwhile, can further assist in performing installations more safely with reporting/quality verifiability. For instance, the use of drones in construction sites for surveying and monitoring has become increasingly common, providing real-time data and insights.
  • Building information modeling (BIM) can help construction professionals and stakeholders (e.g., customers, inspectors) collaborate virtually, envisioning finished products in their natural environment while improving the 1-1 relationship and trust through construction projects similar to how earlier discussed software teams run beta tests. The construction of the Shanghai Tower, for example, heavily relied on BIM for its design and execution.
  • A wealth of data via digital twins (e.g., real-time inventory data, predictive analytics, data synchronization to remove information silos, etc.) can help professionals manage projects with more certainty and deliver data-driven insights to drive proactive decision-making and quality.

 

In the broader discourse on project management methodologies, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez’s article, “It’s Time to End the Battle Between Waterfall and Agile,” offers a compelling perspective. Nieto-Rodriguez critiques the rigid dichotomy many project leaders maintain between Waterfall and Agile, suggesting that such binary thinking has fostered tribalism within the project community, stifling innovation and potential. This tribal mindset has even led entire organizations to “go agile,” often at the expense of sidelining the foundational principles of traditional methodologies that certain projects might still benefit from. The real-world implications of this divisive approach can result in tangible losses for organizations. Nieto-Rodriguez advocates for a more nuanced approach: hybrid project management methodologies. By merging the meticulous planning of Waterfall with the adaptability of Agile, these hybrid methods can address the shortcomings of a one-size-fits-all strategy. Such an approach not only bridges the divide between the two methodologies but also paves the way for more effective and innovative project outcomes.

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Bottom Line

The construction industry and its fragmented ecosystem is in desperate need of industry-governing interoperability where critical project data is shared in real-time, enabling collaboration and a nimble building process adaptive to change.

 

As project managers in our industry look to the software industry for ways to improve quality, one conclusion they may come to is breaking away from the monolithic, waterfall delivery methods. Instead, they may implement an agile framework and industrialization of processes that facilitate the same increased output and uncompromised product quality that allowed the iconic Model-T to roll off the production line and meet customer demands.

 


About Authors

Jason Braun is the author of Designing Context-Rich Learning by Extending Reality and an educator with over a decade of producing, delivering, and promoting critically acclaimed multimedia learning experiences. Recognized for collaborating effectively with programmers to create educational software featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education and with subject matter experts like New York Times best-selling authors and FBI cybersecurity agents.

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 layoffs.fyi 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.