The unsung heroes?

The impact of a good project manager can have major repercussions on a developments' progress.

ANALYSIS, Projects

If you ask 50 people in a room what a project manager does, you will get 50 different answers," says Phillip Edmondson, general manager, Edara Project Management.

This misunderstanding of the role is perhaps to blame for why many developers still feel their projects can do without employing a specialist project manager.

 

The project manager�s role is to liaise between all the the various elements on a construction site to get them working towards a common goal.

In general terms, the project manager's role is to liaise between all the various elements on a construction site to get them working towards one common goal.

"There is a major problem over here of clients understanding the role of a project manager," says Edmondson. "The role and responsibility is that we have total responsibility for a project.

"The engineer is responsible under the contract to make sure that it fits in with the construction standards and the local authority standards.

"But we have to make sure that the engineer is making sure that they are doing that.

"If the project goes wrong, we are the ones who get in trouble and get fired. So there's a lot of pressure on us.

Edmondson believes that many projects were suffering because clients often took jobs upon themselves which should be left to the project managers.

"As a lot of clients come from financial backgrounds, they don't understand what we do," he says.

"They should come to the project management team from day one and let us recommend the right architects, engineers and cost consultants; but often they do this themselves.

"With a smaller project, most of these have in-house project managers who can handle it.

"But when you are coming up to US $81 million projects you need to have someone who can oversee the project; allowing the architect, engineers and cost consultants to concentrate on their jobs.

"This means the client will not have to worry about individual contracts, difficulties and costs of how to get from one price to a better one.

Yet the rapid pace of development in the region is creating unique problems of its own.

"The sheer volume of work in the UAE makes things difficult for everyone," adds Edmondson.

"Project management is a lot different from what we know back in Europe. Over here, project managers need to have some kind of technical background, but back in the UK they are often only qualified in project management.

"They aren't qualified in civil engineering or architecture; they just take a course in the one subject.

"Over here, project managers start as project managers, but they have to work as consultant engineers because of the sheer volume of work.

"There is a difference between Europe and Australia, where you are purely trained as project managers, and over here where you need other skills as well.

But Bassam Samman, CEO, Collaboration, Management and Control Solutions (CMCS), said it was not just the workload which was creating difficulties in the industry.

"The problem we are having is that there are not enough project managers in the region," he says.

"There are not enough qualified people to manage those projects.

"Projects are getting delayed and clients are not getting what they planned for.
 

The main job of the project manager is to understand and map the client's requirements for the project.

"As project manager he is not designing or constructing, so he mainly manages the overall life cycle of the project.

Samman adds that a good project manager understands all aspects of construction, including the law, business and difficulties which could be encountered.

Education is one element, but experience is the key factor in their success," he says.

"But experience is not the same for every environment. In the Gulf region there are particular issues.

"So you might bring a top-notch project manager from the US or the UK, who might be great over there, but he will fail to perform because he does not know the practices in the region.

The specialisms over here include communicating with different players; language barriers; contractual agreements in our region; local procurement; quality of design and engineering.

A difference in the legal systems between the West and East is also hampering some projects.

"In the Gulf region, since we follow the local civil law, not the Anglo-Saxon law, you might think what is in an agreement applies, but this is not necessarily true," he says.

"If you have a dispute and it goes to the legal system, it will follow the local law.

A certain agreement which would be legal in the USA or UK would not necessarily be legal over here."

But Samman believed there was no simple solution to these issues.

"Frankly, with many of these issues there is no quick answer," he says.

"The majority of project managers in our region became project managers by accident, which means that they have no formal education in the job.

"If they came into the job by experience, they need to couple this with education.

Mohammed Al Rais, senior vice-president, Abu Dhabi Project, Hill International, believes that Dubai's construction industry was learning from past mistakes and beginning to show more reliance on project managers.

He says: "Projects are related to setting up systems and direction by experienced professional teams on the project management consultant side that ensure all stay on track and meet all intermediate and final milestones and goals - be this quality, cost or time.

"This can only be achieved if there are no delays or hindrance to the decision- making process by those who are entrusted with that task.

"The only need that we see is for clients to carry out their due diligence and prepare the busi is theness plan, and once those two factors are positive there is a need to proceed with a swift decision process in place.

"This is what will allow the rest of the region to come online with the setup in place in Dubai, which model in the area of what can be done having such a system in place.

Al Rais says that other countries in the GCC should follow Dubai's model.

"Dubai has been enhanced through the experience gained during its construction boom and other areas in the region need to learn from this," he says.

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