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People skills are crucial in project management

By Chau Ee Lee

It has often been said that a good degree of awareness of the social, cultural, political and economic climate is a useful aid to successful management of a project in any construction industry.

Conversely, being unfamiliar with the customs and conditions, and the inability to communicate and deal with the client or employer effectively can prove detrimental to this process.

It can't be truer when one looks at this region's construction industry, particularly in its current state.

Current state of the industry

It is common knowledge that the region's construction industry is today faced with a lack of quality contractors, labour shortages and the rising costs of materials.

To add to its woes, a recent industry study revealed that skills shortages are likely to limit its growth. One of the main reasons cited was the continuing struggle to recruit enough qualified professionals - never mind the seemingly high salaries and attractive benefits packages.

The overall impact of all these factors means that more construction projects will continue to struggle to be delivered on time.

It could be argued that circumstances like these are not necessarily within the control of the client, its project team or members down the supply chain.

However, what can be done at the very least, as a construction project moves beyond the technical, financial, economic and operational feasibility studies stages towards initiation and implementation, is to plan towards and successfully manage the project.

Admittedly, though, there can be no single panacea for any construction industry's ills.


It is questionable, then, whether there can ever be a set of ‘win-win' guidelines or recommendations to assist a project team in its long-standing but nonetheless committed pursuit of successfully managing a construction project.

It is a measure of the magnitude of such a task that the recommendations set out below are derived purely from a technical albeit elementary rather than operational point of view.

The principal management and decision-making responsibility changes as the construction project moves from project inception to implementation. Since the quality of the work in each of these steps affects the later phases, the communication at the point when the responsibility shifts becomes very important.

Knowledge of project management tools such as planning, scheduling, and budgeting and control is not entirely sufficient to successfully manage a project.

What these tools are and when they are properly adopted will serve to enhance the project delivery process. Once clearly understood and with responsibilities duly assigned, the implementation process kicks off properly.

Time scheduling for project tasks should be assigned for staff who are familiar with the work to be performed. This is, of course, easier said than done.

Such a task would first entail staff with a good level of expertise in ensuring work breakdown structures were being used as a basis for network development and budgeting.

The work packages should also be well-defined and related to the internal organisation and responsibilities.

All organisations involved in this process should understand and agree to its scope and time, for example, identifying the precise start and completion events or milestones for each work package. This can sometimes be a contentious issue!

The appropriate evaluation of an initial price forecast is clearly relevant, as this is required to develop a meaningful management cost control system.

The identification of design cost limits associated fee levels, overall cost limits to enable the client to make decisions on whether the project should proceed and if so, which proposal at whichever phase would facilitate the optimum use of finance.

It is necessary to put in place an appropriate draft quality statement setting out the anticipated quality plan, quality assurance requirements and outline specifications for the workmanship to be achieved for the project.

Practical approach

It is comforting that signs are emerging from the current buoyant market that, with so much at stake, investors and parties along the supply chain feel the need to equip themselves with the appropriate experience and expertise to work together to successfully manage a project, regardless of its size and complexity.

In many ways, to achieve successful project management, there has to be a keen awareness and a somewhat uncommon capability to deal with the various overlapping forces that form the Middle East construction industry.

There should be a boldness to ask the correct questions about so-called basic and established assumptions which may not necessarily represent recognised international standards.

Change, if required, should be sought. Hopefully, one should never overlook or under-estimate the value of the human touch. In many respects, as some have said, the approach should be one of empathy not apathy.

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About the Authors

Chau Ee Lee, international construction lawyer at Reed Smith

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