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project development

Civil engineering projects are not good breeding grounds for project managers. Garth Ward explains why.

The nature of civil engineering projects and the industry in which they are now carried out inherently inhibits the development of project managers.

For a start, pure civil engineering projects are very mono-discipline within an industry that has a history of being carried out in isolated sections. They are often designed by a consultant with little construction experience, and the construction is then performed as a separate project with the contractor having had no involvement in the design.This lack of integration leads to poor performance for the client, longer programmes and consequent cost increases. Further, the consultant and contractor do not have the operating experience required to satisfy the business solution the client needs.

The problem often stems from relationships at the front end of the creative process when projects are too often categorised by type and designed accordingly.

For example, is the Sydney Opera House a civil engineering project? Is the Millennium Dome a structural engineering project? Or are they both buildings?

As a consequence, the creative designer - the architect - retains far too strong an influence on the management structure. Projects are generally driven by their creation rather than focusing on a cost effective business solution for the client.

The lack of understanding of project management is common. Sir Michael Latham's 1994 report on the industry, Constructing the team, demonstrated this clearly in a footnote which stated: 'In some projects the client's representative, the lead manager and the design leader may be the same person.'

This statement perpetuates the fallacy that architects, or any creative designer for that matter, can be both creative and effective project managers on the same project. From an objective distance the picture is of an ego trip for the designer. Project management will have come of age when it is the project manager's name on the structure or building ahead of the designers.

One of the four finalists for the ICE civil engineering manager of the year award, is recognised for his work on a process engineering project. But the universality of project management is not limited to civil engineers - it has been proven by many people in differing environments. What better example than the National Gallery extension in London and the Glyndebourne Opera House - both successfully project managed by Eric Gabriel from the power and process industries.

The post Egan Movement for Innovation's list of demonstration projects also illustrates the range of schemes that can be considered as civil engineering.

However, all these projects involve the electro/mechanical technologies to some degree and in this multi discipline project environment the civil elements are again put at a disadvantage.

So often civil engineers are the last to be given the information needed to develop their design. They are the first to start work in the ground and are required to be the first out of the way to enable other disciplines to start.

Equally, the civil engineers' functional management perspective, rather than a systems based approach, means they are unable to see the overall picture of the project.

The consequence is that civil engineers find it much more difficult to develop into project managers with a strategic, political, cultural awareness in a multi discipline, multi company environment.

Garth Ward runs a project management training and consultancy business, Ritchie Ward Associates, and lectures at Cranfield School of Management.

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