Project management - the hidden entity

Samer Mahdi, project manager, Jones Sweett International, discusses about how the often ignored role of project management can play dividends.

NEWS, Projects

When I arrived in Dubai four years ago, I was surprised by the fast pace of the construction for all these massive projects. The face of Dubai has changed amazingly since then. Projects such as the Palm Islands, the World, the Burj Dubai and many others were not on the map four years ago.

For all of those who aren't in the business, they will notice how busy all these contractors and designers are and what a wonderful job they are doing to beautify the area and turn it into one of the most exquisite metropolitan cities in the world.

But the fact that a 1,000-worker project on Sheikh Zayed Road, for example, is backed up by a team of at least 150 designers, cracking ideas, reports and drawings to produce a stack of documents that a contractor then transforms into steel and concrete is amazing - but how is all of this done? And what glues the overall process into a single product?

Still, some projects fail, leaving questions such as: Why didn't it finish on time? Why did it cost much more than the set budget? Why is this component not compatible with that one? What went wrong? Who messed up? Or still, what is missing in the equation?

The answer for all the above questions is hidden, but fairly simple: Project management and the project management team.

By definiton, project management "is the art and science of coordinating people, equipment, materials, money and schedules to complete a specified project on time and within the approved cost."

The key words in the above sentence are: ‘to complete', ‘time' and ‘cost'. In project managers' terminology the above words become: scope, schedule and budget respectively.

The fundamental principal of project management is to organise the project around the work to be done. The main function of a project manager is to lead the project team to ensure the production of a quality project within the constraints shown above: time, budget, and scope.

Management can be categorised into two groups: functional management (per discipline for repeated work of a similar nature); and project management, which involves coordination of one-time work by a group of people who haven't worked together before.

Management is mostly summarised in five basic functions: planning, organising, staffing, directing and controlling.

Planning starts with the beginning of a project and runs through the lifecycle of the project. Ideally, personnel from all disciplines should be involved. During the planning stage, the scope statement is created and budget is developed. Successful planning comes from the collaboration and input of all parties involved in a project. Risk analysis and counter measures are also anticipated during this stage.

Organising is the arrangement of resources in a methodical way to fit the plan. A network diagram with milestones and deliverables is constructed based on activities emerging from a work breakdown structure (WBS). The final product is an operational plan to guide the execution of the project.

Staffing is about people and the selection of who will do what. People are the most important resource to the project; therefore, creating a comfortable working environment will definitely increase efficiency and productivity. People are the knowledge base and problem solvers through the life of a project.

Directing involves guiding the process to reach the desired deliverable. Different people providing diverse technical expertise must bring their work into one coherent product.

Controlling creates a baseline of which progress is measured and variations are determined and predicted. It is the phase during which corrective actions can be taken during the project before it is too late.

Project managers are the hidden soldiers which make things happen. They apply state-of-the-art tools to make sure the customer is satisfied and receives what he requested and paid for within the agreed timeframe.

If you would like to write for Construction Week in this column, please email angela.giuffrida@itp.com

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