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Project Management Issues in the Construction Industry
Issues and challenges with regards to construction project management have emerged over the last two decades. Naoum and Egbu (2015) assert that most of these project management issues faced by construction managers may result either directly from construction operations or indirectly from peripheral activities. It is advisable that many of these project management issues be addressed and dealt with expeditiously and intelligently by project managers to ensure the success of the project (Omran et al., 2015). Some of the direct construction project management issues include time constraints (Fulford & Standing, 2014.), safety (Zeng et al., 2015), workforce considerations (Zhang et al., 2015) and the ever-changing nature of construction works (Sears et al., 2015).
The indirect project management issues that construction managers face are those that stem from the business landscape: legal issues and government regulations (Sears et al., 2015); environmental concerns (Omran et al., 2015); and pressures on the socio-political front (Muir, 2005). Leach (2014) advises construction project managers about the importance of understanding the demanding realities they face in the planning and execution of construction operations. Most of the project management issues and challenges construction managers face on a daily basis are presented in Figure 1 below.
Construction projects comprise sets of activities that take place in order to produce unique products. Successful projects are judged by meeting project management issues of safety, cost, resource allocation, time and quality as determined by the client (Omran et al., 2015; Sears et al., 2015; Fulford & Standing, 2014). The purpose of project managers is to attain objectives and goals through careful resource allocation that meet the client’s requirements (Kelly et al., 2014). The construction project manager must control, redirect and/or mitigate any situation or occurrence that might affect the success of the project. This essay discusses the direct construction project management issues of time constraints, safety, workforce considerations and the nature of the work.
Figure 1: Construction Project Management Issues (Source: Muir, 2005)
As the adage goes, “Time is money” and Omran et al. (2015) agree that time is money to both project managers and their clients. Enshassi and Mosa (2015) found that because project owners perceive time constraints as one of the project management issues that result in lost revenue, defective designs and increased accidents, they adopt close supervision as a method of dealing with this challenge. As stakeholders, users of the finished construction products also believe that time constraints have financial implications (Haimes, 2015). According to Omran et al. (2015), missed deadlines and targets result in less efficient construction operations which translate into higher construction costs.
Project managers are therefore required to complete high volumes of work within specific and strict time frames and generally limited resources (Mir & Pinnington, 2014). Thus, construction operations must be very well planned and their progress closely monitored (Sears et al., 2015; Fulford & Standing, 2014). This makes project management schedules very valuable tools, helping project managers handle most of the project management issues that arise from time constraints (Kim et al., 2015). Conditions and events that cause project delays must be managed or mitigated for the project to be constructed on time.
Safety is an ongoing project management issue for all construction managers. By its very nature, construction work is inherently dangerous and carries a degree of risk (Love et al., 2016). The number of accidents emanating from construction projects is high, in terms of both loss of life and costs (Hughes & Ferrett, 2015). According to Love et al. (2016), accidents add a significant burden of avoidable and needless costs. Love et al. (2016) further affirm, that financial losses, however, are minor when compared to death, bodily injuries and the subsequent social impact these have on communities. According to the health and safety executive (HSE), the estimated cost of workplace accidents and illnesses in the UK was £14.3 billion for the year 2013/2014 (HSE, 2015).
Insurance policies usually cover contractors for some direct expenses such as financial compensation and medical costs (Muir, 2005), but accidents can involve other indirect uninsurable costs (Muir, 2005) such as time lost from work, economic loss for the injured family, loss of production, clean-up and repair costs, damage to equipment and tools and many other costs that cannot be quantified (Zhang et al., 2015; Zeng et al., 2015; Muir, 2005). Construction managers must therefore be concerned with project management issues of safety to avoid legal, cost and ethical implications that may arise.
According to Zhang et al. (2015), the most valuable resource for any construction organisation is its people. The operations of any construction company are dependent on the expertise, skills and knowledge of the people planning and implementing the work. Muir (2005) says that the quality of the workforce is what makes a construction project stand out. Acquiring a talented management team and obtaining enough skilled and unskilled workers is crucial for the success of any construction project (Marzouk et al., 2014). Among other project management issues, finding and hiring a talented and skilled workforce has proven to be the most difficult (Zhang et al., 2015).
Managers of construction projects should provide objective solutions to this project management issue to ensure that the productivity and safety of the workforce are enhanced. These should be geared to maximising performance in the long term; to do this, construction workers should receive the necessary training to enhance their knowledge of what is needed for the project (Muir, 2005). Research shows that an increased level of workforce empowerment translates to enhanced productivity (Van De Voorde et al., 2016; Salajeghe et al., 2015). Van De Voorde et al. (2016) found a connection between high levels of empowerment yields and high production levels. Empowerment of the workforce is a key project management issue for improving the performance of construction projects.
Nature of work
Figure 2: The complexity of the construction of a basement made up of 493 anti-seismic pads and columns
Construction projects comprise a complex array of interlinked activities that some refer to as ‘well-organised chaos’. The very nature of construction work introduces project management issues typically unique to the construction industry (Muir, 2005). For instance, construction projects differ from other types of projects in that they are often seasonal. Each project is unique. Some of the difficulties to be anticipated include: the site may be located in remote areas with limited access; the process is often unpredictable; it may not be easy to apply automation and the success is dependent on the quality of the workforce (Zhang et al., 2015; Salajeghe et al., 2015; Marzouk et al., 2014). Moreover, construction work is not performed under controlled conditions which makes the project highly susceptible to the impact of adverse weather and other environmental conditions (Nadhim et al., 2016; Assaf & Al-Hejji, 2006).
Construction managers must therefore be cognizant of such project management issues and mitigate the effects where applicable. The nature of construction work is such that it is constantly changing and now includes renovations, retrofits, rehabilitation and upgrades along with new projects (Nadhim et al., 2016). This translates into the challenges of limited or lack of built information on maintaining existing facilities during the construction phase and all other challenges associated with linking new work to previous projects (Salajeghe et al., 2015).
Furthermore, construction work in urban areas is further complicated by the increasing presence of utilities that have to be protected and maintained during the project’s lifecycle (Muir, 2005). Damage resulting from the disruption of such services as communication services can incur enormous financial costs, even to the point of bankrupting the contractor (Burr, 2016). Griffith et al. (2014) say that constructions work rarely happens in isolation and construction managers, being aware of such project management issues, must also be fully aware of the surrounding built environment in order to safely maintain and preserve the construction products.
Construction managers in the 21st century are faced with many project management issues stemming from different causes. These issues can have a significant impact on the success of the project. Construction managers must carefully consider the implications and the risks of these project management issues. The issues discussed in this essay include conditions and situations that project managers must proactively manage to make sure that the construction project succeeds. The project management issues discussed here have to do with direct construction operations: time constraints, safety, work force consideration and the nature of construction work.
Great project managers understand all these realities and steer the project successfully to completion. Good project managers must be able to overcome obstacles by creating opportunities from risks to gain a competitive advantage. They must understand the time and safety aspects of the construction projects. Construction managers must learn to value the people working for them and make sure that the nature of the construction work is safe to promote the well-being of the workforce. Excellent project managers must continuously adapt to the changing project management issues and lead the project successfully through the challenges that it encounters.
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