A construction industry task force on project management services delivery expects to publish a guide on the subject in early 2019.
The purpose of the document is to set out guidelines on how construction project stakeholders can work with project management (PM) firms and to iron out what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are.
The task force is made up of representatives of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and its regional partner associations, the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, PM firms and project owners — all together, more than a dozen people.
“The task force has been working on the guide for the past two or three years,” said Eric Lee, CCA’s vice-president of industry practices.
“When it is completed and published, the guide will be approximately 20 pages long.”
The task force’s mandate has evolved over time. Initially, it was to help owners who were considering hiring PM firms.
“The scope of construction projects has become larger and more complex, and many owners want to engage project management firms,” said Lee.
“The task force thought it useful to develop guidelines to help them.”
But since the task force’s inception, its mandate was expanded to include developing best practices for all stakeholders, including PM firms, consultants and contractors.
“We want to develop a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities and the relationship between all the stakeholders when PM firms get involved in a construction project, and to communicate that understanding,” said Lee.
On big construction projects there is often a lack of “clarity and understanding” of the roles and responsibilities of PM firms, Lee says.
An effective project manager needs to be objective, with nothing personal or corporate invested in the project
— Rory Kulmala
Vancouver Island Construction Association
“Complicating matters are varying project organizational structures and different amounts of authority delegated to PM firms,” Lee said.
“There needs to be common understanding among all of a project’s stakeholders of everyone’s respective roles and responsibilities — who’s doing what.”
The guide will include an RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Consulted and Informed) Matrix that explains the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders in cross-functional projects and processes.
The matrix provides a detailed list of project management activities and the stakeholders’ relationships to those activities.
Jonathan Huggett, a Surrey, B.C. engineer, who has acted as a project manager on public sector infrastructure projects, says the increasing complexity of construction projects is the source of much of the friction between the various stakeholders, project managers included.
“The construction industry has changed dramatically,” Huggett said.
“In Vancouver, 30 years ago, there were numerous small consultants with good reputations. Today the design industry is controlled by four or five multi-nationals and that presents major problems.”
In addition, “the big four management consultants and the law firms” have entered the construction industry in a major way, Huggett says.
“It’s a lucrative market,” he said. “Forty years ago, the B.C. market was all low-bid tender work. Now there are P3s (public-private partnerships), construction management at risk, design/build, etc. etc.”
It used to be that project management was performed by architects and engineers, Huggett says.
“Today we have professional project managers,” he said. “Although they have their positive sides, many of them have no technical knowledge. It’s a problem if you don’t know what questions to ask.
“In my training I worked in a design office, then on a construction site, then in small-p political management. I have stood on a concrete pour on a dark night in heavy rain. If you haven’t had that experience, how can you discuss project risk?”
Huggett says many of the present-day project management challenges could be resolved, or at least mitigated, by better communication.
“Project managers need to better understand that public projects necessarily involve communicating with the public,” he said.
“It is a fundamental requirement to understand the political framework we work in and to be able to navigate it.”
Rory Kulmala, the CEO of Vancouver Island Construction Association and a project manager with 25 years of experience, says the various stakeholders in large, complex construction projects have their own and different objectives and friction between them is inevitable.
“So there is great value in nailing down the business processes early in a project,” Kulmala said.
“An effective project manager needs to be objective, with nothing personal or corporate invested in the project. All the ducks need to be lined up so the contractor can do the work and keep the project moving forward.”
Kulmala says a good project manager provides focus to a project.
“They bring best practices and accountability to a project, and able to challenge the conventional wisdom on a project.”