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Engineers ARE best managers...

Garth Ward's article (NCE 7 October) starts by making reference to 'pure civil engineering projects' being very mono-discipline in nature. It then goes on to talk about the Movement for Innovation's demonstration projects, all of which 'involve the electro/ mechanical technologies to some degree and in this multidiscipline project environment the civil elements are again put at a disadvantage.'

We have come a long way from being the civil version of the military engineer, but do we now represent only what is left over when the work of other specialist or overlapping groups has been taken away? Do we really have only a functional management perspective, making us unable to see the overall picture of the project? As a consequence of which, do we find it difficult to develop into project managers?

I would argue that the training and education of a civil engineer, embracing as it does (or should) sufficient understanding of all related engineering disciplines and project management, places civil engineers in a much better position to project manage within the construction industry than any management specialist or project manager from a different discipline.

A fundamental understanding of the engineering aspects of the project enables the engineer to exercise early judgement on the evaluation of quality, risk, and the potential for savings (or added value through marginal additional expenditure), at the outset of a project. If the engineering concept is unsound at the outset, then no amount of subsequent project management can easily or cost effectively restore the position.

According to the project management author Tom Peters, we have entered a period where technological change and rethinking of organisation structures will result in more and more organisations moving towards becoming 'professional service firms', where the star performers of the future are project managers. Companies will start vying for business in areas where they did not previously have a presence or expertise.

Peters, in his book Liberation Management, highlights the move towards only three types of 'firm' being engaged in executing commercial projects:

Systems integrators.

Specialists.

Independent talents.

Civil engineers should be the first choice for creative and project management roles under the above headings within the construction projects. The challenge for the Institution in relation to its own survival is how to avoid becoming marginalised as other professions and Institutions try to move into new 'business areas'.

Both challenges are, in reality, the same.

Graham Olsen (F), 7 Bishops Court, Woolton, Liverpool, L25 5HR

... but show lack of commercial skill

Garth Ward's criticism of the silo approach to, and limited understanding of, project management in construction is well founded.

Having completed the full-time Cranfield MBA, with which the Cranfield MSc in Project Management is closely associated, I recognise how much further ahead other industries are with their understanding and application of project management.

I would like to take Garth Ward's views a stage further and argue that as an industry we have a fundamental lack of understanding of business management. If clients' projects are not aligned to their business needs, it doesn't matter how well we project manage their projects, they will never provide optimal business benefit to those clients.

Keith Marr (M), KeithMarr@Compuserve.com

Team talk

Garth Ward's concept of a 'pure civil engineering project as very mono- disciplined' is a strange one. The physical manifestation of all civil works is but a means to an end and I don't accept that an engineer conceives design and construction in isolation from the whole purpose of the overall endeavour. The artefact is the end of a creative journey encompassing contributions from many disciplines.

Creativity is something to be vigorously pursued and not to be denigrated by the misleading assertion that the act of creating is associated with a lack of focus when it comes to cost effectiveness and value.

One of the difficulties that I come across time and time again is project managers who assume that all the activities of conception, finance, management, design, procurement, construction and commissioning can be put in isolated boxes and that the only person capable of understanding the whole is the project manager. It is also wrongly assumed that each contributor must have a parochial view and objective which may or, more likely, may not be in tune with the client's.

The thought processes of good design are much the same as those applied to the task of good management; they just use different palettes and vocabularies. The challenge is to ensure that the team dynamics are such that the players of whatever discipline and role look outwards and don't drop into the false and short term comfort of trivial self interest.

Richard Henley (M), College Farmhouse, Silchester Road, Little London, Tadley, Hampshire, RG26 5EX.

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