Developing a management support system for performing design and/or construction management services


International Engineering Company, Inc.

Ed note: The Northern California Chapter of PMI has conducted an ambitious lecture series designed to provide a forum for evaluating project management approaches and methods. These state-of-the-art lectures present existing techniques as developed within major engineering and construction firms. As this lecture series presents a unique opportunity to learn the latest project management methods, they are being published in Project Management Quarterly for the benefit of all the membership. The following is the fifth in the series.

This paper identifies certain basic principles for developing a Management Support System (MSS) to serve the design and/or construction industries. The term Management Support System is chosen to emphasize that the MSS is in support of those people who must continuously make decisions on the project. The MSS should not be viewed as being simply “informational,” but should instead be seen as a tool for action: action in planning each component of work for the project; action in disseminating these component restraints (i.e., scope, budget, schedule and anticipated standards of quality) to the Supervisors responsible for each component; and action in monitoring the performance of each component during the implementation of each project task.

The MSS consists of six component subsystems which are listed on the left side of Exhibit A. At the bottom of the Exhibit these subsystems are shown to be comprised of written procedures, forms, checklists, electronic data processing software packages (EDP) and reports that are issued about the status of component tasks.

Procedures are the most important of the tools which comprise the MSS. They serve to define both the mode of operation and each individual Supervisor’s responsibility of performance. The procedures of an MSS should not only provide each Supervisor with a complete understanding of how the project organization is to operate but it should also provide a full understanding of their individual responsibilities to communicate, coordinate and make interrelated decisions with one another.

EDP software packages are also of great importance, but whereas a project can be accomplished without a computerized reporting system, it cannot be performed satisfactorily without each individual participant understanding management’s desired mode of operation. The most common vehicle for defining the rules-of-the-road on a project is the Project Procedures Manual which should evolve as a modification of the more general MSS procedures in order to suit the specific project restraints.

A common conception exists that an MSS can be purchased from EDP vendor companies such as IBM (PMS), McAuto (MSCS/COPES) or PSDI (Project 2). This is not true. Vendors can supply excellent EDP tools for performing CPM scheduling calculations, recording costs, and issuing reports. However, these component tools can only serve to support the subsystems which comprise an MSS, as listed on Exhibit A.

Exhibit A also defines the term Project Management Services (PMS). This is an umbrella term, representing a form of contract that empowers a company, referred to herein as the PROJECT MANAGER, to act as either an authorized agent or a representative of the Owner in all matters specifically assigned to the PROJECT MANAGER under the contract. As an umbrella term, its coverage extends from Turnkey type contracts at one extreme — where the PROJECT MANAGER is responsible for managing and performing all design, procurement and construction — to Project Management type contracts at the other extreme — where the PROJECT MANAGER is responsible for managing all aspects of the project but does not perform any design or construction with its own forces. Between these two extremes lies a myriad of contractual variations upon the basic theme.


Managing a PMS Project

The primary advantage to a Client in choosing to contract a Project Management Service is the flexibility that is gained by interim commitments of capital. Each decision to proceed with additional expenditures on the next phase of the Project can be based upon more reliable data than would have been available earlier in the Project’s life-cycle.

At several stages in the evolution of the Project, the Client has the option of:

  • Proceeding as planned,
  • Modifying the plan,
  • Revising the plan, or
  • Aborting on that phase of the work.

This permits an iterative decision-making process, one that provides for continuous control over the commitment of capital on each phase of the project work.

Because of the rapid development of a PMS project and the PROJECT MANAGER’S responsibility for its success, there is less “tolerance for error” on such work. Planning and monitoring are therefore the watchwords for success.

The primary responsibility of each project Supervisor is performance. It is the Supervisor’s responsibility to monitor and control all aspects of the work by assuring conformance to contractual restraints with respect to budget, schedule and the quality of the work. On small projects this can be accomplished by manually tracking labor, equipment and other direct costs for services rendered, manually plotting bar charts of major activities, and by frequently reviewing the production work.

Experience has shown that as project size and complexity increase beyond routine facilities, the demands upon project management increase in geometric proportion. Complexity can develop either from the functional requirements of the facility or from the complexity of the contractual requirements necessary to “fast-track” a multiplicity of design, procurement and construction contracts.

Demands upon project management become particularly acute when a multidisciplinary project is to be accomplished by teams of unidisplinary specialists from different companies (e.g., an architectural firm retaining civil, structural, electrical and mechanical consultants or a construction firm retaining structural, electrical and mechanical subcontractors). Even major architectural and engineering (A&E) firms and design-construct firms, within which the project teams have had previous working experience, find that the “burn-out” rate for Project Managers is alarmingly high.

It is apparent that even on medium-sized projects the most competent of Project Managers and their line Supervisors will require support tools in order to plan, monitor and control the project work. The myriad of decisions that must be made require timely and accurate information in order to optimize the trade-offs required to adequately perform a project.

Organizing For PMS Projects

A MSS should always be designed to support communications within a variety of project organizations because the PROJECT MANAGER will have to satisfy the needs of many projects. On specific projects the responsibility for input of data, monitoring of reports and corrective action upon deviations from planned objectives, should be specifically assigned to individual Supervisors within the project organization. Hence it is necessary to define certain organizational responsibilities, for purposes of exemplifying relationships, prior to delving into the principles underlying an MSS.

A properly designed MSS should be flexible enough to be modified to suit the various organizational formats selected for actual projects. Position descriptions and the functional responsibilities for each line position should be included in the Project Procedures Manual, together with compatible descriptions and responsibilities for staff positions that are in support of line functions (i.e., quality assurance, scheduling, estimating, etc.).

The project organization for Project Management Services will usually have three lead positions, which are shown on Exhibit B as the Project Manager, the Design Manager and the Construction Manager. The Project Manager should maintain the high-level Client contact, as well as the responsibility for coordination of project activities both in the design office and in the field office. On large projects, a Services Manager would normally be assigned to assist in the coordination function; however this position can frequently be omitted on smaller projects.

The Project Manager should function as the Client’s representative in an atmosphere of trust and mutual support. The Project Manager has the primary responsibility of assuring that this level of confidence is maintained throughout the project by addressing all matters of contract administration and management. He or she should organize all aspects of the project in a systematic manner, with effective monitoring and control procedures which will permit timely decision-making at all levels of the project organization.


Design Office Organization

Responsibility for the technical design of the project rests with the Design Manager whose staff functions to perform all architectural and engineering work. The quality assurance program for the technical design of the project is shown on Exhibit B to be separate and apart from that in the field.

The design office normally provides certain staff functions to the project under the direction of the Services Manager, or, if one is not appointed, by the Project Manager. These include the scheduling, cost control, procurement, accounting and estimating functions. The Services Manager would normally provide these staff services in the design office until such time that construction was well underway, at which time he could choose to transfer these services to the field office.

The Design Manager has the responsibility for directing the multidisciplinary design efforts and for assuring that all major decisions are in conformance with project restraints. As the Design Manager and the Services Manager will initially be located in the design office, the daily coordination of their staffs comprises the central focus of a timely project evolution. This evolutionary growth should be based upon methodical decision-making. As the greatest savings in both time and cost are available during the conceptual design phase, and to a lesser extent in the detailed design phase, the importance of early coordination cannot be overemphasized, particularly where the Construction Manager can be involved in the decision-making process.

The multidisciplinary authority of the Design Manager is delegated in part to the Project Group Leaders for the component features (i.e., facilities or activities) of the project. The degree of multidisciplinary authority that a Design Manager delegates is frequently dependent upon the sensitivity of the project. This will, to a great extent, determine the exposure of the Project Group Leaders to the Client’s management. The Project Group Leaders position should be considered a training ground for future Design Managers and Project Managers. As the position entails a multidisciplinary responsibility for a single facility it requires a narrower scope of decision-making responsibility than do the more senior positions.

The Task Leaders on the project have a unidisciplinary responsibility within their area of departmental specialization. Because the Task Leaders are the front-line Supervisors who generate the design documents, they are strongly encouraged to communicate frequently with one another so that the decisions within their unidiscipli-nary areas of responsibility are well coordinated. Frequently a Task Leader whose disciplinary area of specialization is most heavily involved in the design of a facility will also be appointed Project Group Leader for the Task Force designing the facility.

On projects in which a Services Manager is appointed, he will normally assume the Project Manager’s responsibility for cost control, schedule control and procurement. This frequently requires hard-nosed decisions regarding trade-offs that are cost-effective, without seriously sacrificing performance. Proficiency in value engineering techniques is a prerequisite for effective decision-making at this level.

Field Office Organization

The Construction Manager is responsible for all field construction operations. His jurisdiction extends through the Construction Superintendent to the Area Coordinators, who coordinate the Contractors in the daily construction effort. It also includes responsibility for all field services that are shown on Exhibit B as being under the direction of the Construction Engineer and the Business Manager.

Construction work is performed under the direct surveillance of the Construction Superintendent and his staff. The Construction Superintendent does not normally direct the work effort of the individual construction contracts for which he or she is responsible. Instead, he or she and the staff of Area Coordinators administer the individual construction contractors — as the Client’s representative — to assure a coordinated work effort that is in conformance with all requirements of the respective contracts. It is usually the Construction Superintendent’s function to “coordinate and direct” the contractors in making those decisions which affect them collectively, but to only “assist” each individual contractor within its individually contracted area of responsibility. An exception to this occurs on Turnkey projects where the Construction Superintendent must take the full responsibility for directing all construction activities.

The Craft Coordinators who support the Area Coordinators on the job site, have a unidisciplinary responsibility within their specialized trades. They serve as a resource pool for each of the Area Coordinators and frequently may be assigned to the position of Area Coordinator on those facilities which heavily involve their craft specialization.

The Business Manager is normally responsible for all non-technical field services such as local procurement, contract administration and accounting. The Construction Engineer is responsible for field technical support services such as field surveying, design support, planning, scheduling and cost control. In each of these areas the field staff takes its lead from the design office, and is subject to quality audit by Technical Specialists from the design office.

The Construction Engineer is also responsible for the Inspectors who represent the heart of the quality assurance program in the field. The Inspectors’ responsibility is to ensure that all construction work is performed in strict accordance with the Contractor’s contractual responsibilities and the performance requirements of the project. For this function, the Construction Engineer is directly responsible to the Project Manager, as indicated by the dotted lines of quality audit shown on Exhibit B.


Philosophy of Approach

A properly designed MSS will perform a triple function, as defined graphically on Exhibit C. First, it will provide a planning tool, as a check-off list to categorize and retrieve historical data about each activity and item of cost, thereby permitting resources (i.e., labor, material, equipment, facilities, capital, etc.) to be allocated and leveled across the duration of the project. Second, it will provide a tool for disseminating current contract limitation — with respect to scope of work, budgetary restraints and scheduling restraints — to all Supervisors on the project who are responsible for component activities of work. Lastly, it will provide a monitoring and control tool for managing the performance of the work during its development.


By planning, disseminating and monitoring the project’s component tasks, and reporting them regularly to the front-line Supervisors who are in the best position to take effective action, productivity can be enhanced. Each Supervisor’s performance can be measured by his or her ability to meet specific objectives. Management by objectives (MBO) is an ideal way to motivate people. It provides for an incentive system that can be based upon positive rewards such as salary adjustments, bonuses, promotions, better future assignments, commendations and the professional satisfaction of having achieved the desired goal.

Because it is frequently overlooked, it is necessary to emphasize the important of the dissemination function provided by the MSS. Only by regularly disseminating cost, schedule and performance restraints to the line Supervisors who are responsible for each component task, is it reasonable to expect a Supervisor to perform within these component restraints. Indeed, proper dissemination of restraints can frequently reduce the monitoring and control function to a formality.

The MSS should have certain inherent characteristics that are necessary for its successful application as a project planning and control tool. The MSS should provide:

  • A comprehensive system that is designed to suit the most complex project requirements anticipated, from Clients, governmental regulatory agencies and Project Managers,
  • A well-integrated system in which the components of cost, material control and scheduled activities can be related from a common chart of accounts and within a single-entry data base software package, as well as
  • A high degree of flexibility for modification by project management, as required to suit project needs.

Because simplicity should always be the key to setting up an actual project system, the flexibility of the MSS is a most important feature in its application to projects. The value of each level of detail should be fully explored, to identify its use and to establish who within the project organization will be responsible for monitoring and acting upon its data. Reporting superfluous information is both expensive and disruptive. It should be eliminated at the outset of a project by avoiding the pitfall of over-detailing in certain areas and then monitoring the voluminous reports too infrequently.

The level of detail required should be established during the project planning stage and agreed to by the Client, preferably prior to signing the contract. The plan for performing each component task should ideally be derived by the Supervisor who will seek to implement the plan for that component. In this manner, the Supervisor will be totally committed. Where the Supervisor cannot be identified during the planning stage, it is best to have another professional who is qualified for the position prepare the plan, even though it is clear that he or she will not be available to implement it.

The original plan can then be the subject of an in-house negotiation, pitting the Supervisor and the appropriate Technical Specialist/Department Head against the Project Manager and other marketing people who are seeking to convince a Potential Client to contractually commit to the work plan. Such in-house negotiations will frequently result in a game-plan that is fully understood by all parties, including the Client, and having the following characteristics:

  • A scope of work that is consistent with the Client’s objective,
  • A budget that reflects a suitable contingency, based upon a realistic risk-analysis, and
  • A work schedule that is realistically compatible with the resources available to the project.

Principles of Reporting and Monitoring

The primary reports issued from the MSS would be regular status reports about the cost and schedule restraints for all work being performed under each Supervisor’s direction, comparing these with currently established targets. Each such report would be suited to fit the level of detail required at each Supervisorial level. Status reports would be supported by exception reporting, giving details for those items of work that require immediate attention.

Should additional information be required by a Supervisor, he or she can access the complete data bank of information about the project at a local terminal (printed or video display). This would enable the rapid retrieval of detailed data about any aspect of the work by tracing along established audit trails. Hands-on access to the MSS would be assigned to project personnel in five categories, as follows:

  • Access for making program modifications,
  • Access for entering input data,
  • Access to the data bank for information retrieval,
  • Limited access requiring specific approval, and
  • No access.

The regular status reports can be designed to provide each Supervisor with a simple measure (e.g., percentage expended, grade indicator, etc.) of the actual status of the work, as measured against current targets. The computer is an ideal tool for crunching numbers but it cannot make progress evaluations because this requires logic. The computer is suited to automatically reporting on SCHEDULE & TIME EXPENDED as well as BUDGET AND COST EXPENDED for every component task. This must then be compared by the Supervisor with progress reports that are manually prepared by his or her subordinates. The progress reports permit comparison of the actual status and original plan, as reported from the computer’s data bank, with the TIME AND COST REMAINING TO COMPLETE the project component, as independently reported by subordinates.

Status reports can be monitored in two different ways. Manually prepared reports by Subordinate Supervisors can be delivered to Senior Supervisors on a regular basis, concurrent with the delivery of computer generated reports. Alternately, cost and schedule engineers can obtain the estimates of work remaining to complete the component tasks from the Subordinate Supervisors in advance of printing the computerized output. This permits the computer to type-out the comparative measure of project status. However, this approach has the drawbacks of:

  • Requiring staff support to obtain the data prior to the cut-off date,
  • Not providing the Senior Supervisor with detailed backup about the Subordinate Supervisor’s estimate to complete, and
  • Adding unwarranted credibility to the estimate to complete, in that the printed value can be misinterpreted as having been generated by the computer.

A refinement for removing the first of the drawbacks tabulated above is to permit Subordinate Supervisors to input the data directly into a data-base system from local remote job entry (RJE) terminals. However, the other drawbacks lead the author to prefer the former approach, without involving cost and scheduling staff.

The reports issued to the front-line supervisors should provide the necessary detail about operations at that level. By properly designing the MSS reports to match the responsibilities of Supervisors in the hierarchy of the project organization, a simple hierarchy of reports can be generated in which the bottom lines of each Subordinate Supervisor’s report can roll-up into reports to higher and higher levels of project and corporate management (i.e., summary tree reports).

When developing an MSS a conscious effort should be made to maintain a high benefit/cost ratio for each supervisor who must expend costs in support of the system. The best way to do this is to control the support costs. By limiting the time expended by each supervisor in support of the MSS to less than one hour per reporting period, supervisors will readily recognize that support of the MSS is in their own self-interest.

The principles for developing an MSS, as described above, are summarized on Exhibit Dl. These principles can be applied to the design of Management Support Systems for each of the component subsystems listed on Exhibits A and C. Each of the MSS subsystems can then be applied, individually or in combination, to support project efforts in:


  • Contract Administration,
  • Design Management,
  • Procurement Management,
  • Construction Management
  • Resource Management, and
  • Financial Management.

The MSS will permit each Supervisor to compare time, material and cost expenditures, as stored in the data banks, with his subordinates evaluation of the resources required to complete the project task. This independent evaluation lends reliability to the monitoring system as well as enabling each Supervisor to identify and correct any misconceptions that his subordinates might have regarding their expected performance on the remaining portions of the project work.

The principles for using an MSS to monitor progress on component project tasks are graphically illustrated on Exhibit D2. The definitions thereon are self-explanatory and conform to the requirements of the Department of Defense (DOD) Instruction 7000.2, “Performance Measurement for Selected Acquisitions.”


Adapting the MSS to the Project



A well-designed management support system consists of an integrated set of concepts, procedures and computer applications for the effective management of design and/or construction projects. This includes scheduling as well as the management of project costs and financial decision-making. An MSS permits all resources associated with the project (e.g., equipment, labor, plant, material, capital, etc.) to be consistently analyzed, optimized and concisely reported to appropriate supervisors.

The MSS should contain a series of programs for scheduling the work, measuring physical progress, processing current cost data, forecasting costs and analyzing contingencies based on current conditions. Reports should be produced which are specifically geared towards all aspects of project performance, control and financial decision-making.

Implementation of the MSS should begin prior to contracting with the Client to perform the project work. The period prior to the negotiation of a management contract, or prior to submitting a hard-dollar proposal, is frequently the most important period in the life-cycle of a project. It is here that conceptual planning should be performed, using the MSS as a planning tool with which to fit the desired scope of work to the project restraints of budget and schedule. Upon signing the contract the MSS should contain a “game plan” that can be developed into a strategic plan prior to being finalized for dissemination to staff and for monitoring as the project evolves.

As progress is made cost and schedule information should be promptly collected and entered into the MSS. As changes occur in equipment usage, material usage, manpower utilization, current market data, unit prices, schedules, and procurement status, they can be entered into the MSS once, thereby immediately updating the schedule and cost data bases. On the basis of previously established control targets, project components can be analyzed by playing “what if games” with respect to:

  • Productivity,
  • The estimated cost to complete,
  • Physical progress rate,
  • Estimated time to complete, and
  • The scheduled completion data.

Based upon routine status reports — addressing themselves to resources expended, resources needed and the cost of those resources, as well as exception reports that identify upcoming deviations from established targets — decisions can be reached concerning resource allocations or schedule changes that are necessary to bring dates and expended costs back into line with the budgeted and estimated targets. These same reports can also support decision-making with respect to the flow of cash within the project, the effectiveness of its use and future cash requirements.

Computer Utilization

Even the most simplistic application of an MSS on a project will be found to work more effectively when coupled to a computerized single-entry data-base system for reporting stored data. Records within each data base (i.e., a rationally oriented collection of data) have attached to them a key which facilitates their recovery and updating. This key is coupled to an executing, higher level program which uses that key in an algorithimic manner to locate the record(s) which are equipped with that key. The indexing algorithm minimizes the time and cost of retrieval.

The manner in which the codes are designed can serve to identify detail within specific sets of relaxed data. This lends itself to variable-depth key construction. To illustrate a variable-depth key structure, assume that each record — regardless of what set of data it represents — has a key attached to it which fully identifies (via a coding scheme) that record in detail. A drawing control record might have a key containing the project identification number (415), facility code (32), discipline code (M) and sequence number (03). The revision number would be a data item within that record, illustrating how many times it has been revised. If the user, wishing to find information about that drawing, entered the key of 415-32-M-03, the data base management system would return all or selected information about that drawing only. If the user entered 415-32-M, he or she would receive mechanical drawing information about the desired facility. This same hierarchial concept can be used to index all system codes, or to extract information about a given facility, discipline or function.


Resource Allocation and Trend Analyses

Project resources consist of all facilities, equipment, material, labor and capital that is available to perform the project work. Resource allocation can then be defined as the planning of these resources in order to balance the cost budget with the scheduled commitments for performing the project work. Optimization of resources, to conform to timing and quality of work restraints on the project, will result in operational efficiency.

Resource allocation is not a static one-time analysis. To be effective it must be used dynamically throughout the project’s life-cycle. It should be supported by knowledgeable staff who are aware of project priorities and policies with respect to tradeoffs. This work should involve the Services Manager to a large extent in order for him to decide between concurrent demands for the available resources.

The staff responsible for resource allocation should work closely with the projects scheduling and cost control teams. It is their joint responsibility to evaluate trends and to determine concurrent demands for available resources in advance of a conflict. This will permit efficient levelling of resources either by increasing the resources available, rescheduling work or by revising concepts of what is required at completion. Resource levelling permits an optimum utilization of available resources across the full duration of each project activity.

The MSS can contain built-in subroutines for analyzing resource allocation on a least-cost basis or for determining the increased cost for compressing the schedule (i.e., crashing activities). It also permits trend analyses to be made. Either on the basis of a pre-established projection of how expenditures will accumulate during the course of the activity (i.e., the common “S curve” which plots percent completion against time) or on the basis of a cumulation of all estimates to complete each component of effort (see Exhibit D2).


Project Procedures Manual

The proper format for initially disseminating restraints for cost, schedule, scope of work and quality of the finished product is the Project Procedures Manual. Eventually other documents and reports will expand upon the operating procedures, but the basic definition of procedures and project restraints should be initially defined in the Project Procedures Manual. Updated sections of the Manual should be distributed as revised.

A detailed list of documents that are likely to be required during a Project Management Service are listed on the left-hand column of Exhibits El through E3. A Distribution and Responsibility Schedule, such as that shown on Exhibits E, should be prepared at the outset of each project and included in the Project Procedures Manual. The Distribution and Responsibility Schedule should not only delineate the distribution of documentation on a need-to-know basis, but should also define the level of responsibility that each party has for the “commitments” that are included in that documentation. By identifying specific responsibilities for these commitments at the outset of the project, the hazard of miscommunication can be greatly reduced. The coding system shown on Exhibit E is designed for that purpose.

Project Monitoring and Control

Teamwork is the basis of successful management. Teamwork requires proper coordination and timing of both the flow of information and the making of decisions. Project Management Services (PMS) normally include phased construction activities (i.e., fast-tracking) in order to permit early procurement and construction of critical items of work. This permits the project Task Force to develop reliable cost and schedule data at an earlier stage of the project than would a conventional design-bid-construct operation. This is due to the interactive mode of operation in which the early procurement vendors and construction contractors provide current feedback to the decision-making process of the project team.


Where it is desired to track performance on component items of work that are to be accomplished by subcontractors in design, procurement or construction, two alternatives exist. Clearly the best alternate is to have the subcontractor report out the desired information from his own internal management system. If this is not feasible it may be necessary to resort to dual reporting system, one for the subcontractor’s internal control (e.g., payroll) and one for the MSS (e.g., salary costs for each component of work). Such dual reporting requirements should be made contractual requirements of each subcontract to designers, vendors and constructors.

Management of complex projects requires that support tools be provided to all Supervisors on the management team in order to plan, monitor and control the myriad of detail that comprises the project. Ideally, the monitoring system will be supported by a computerized data base management system that is fully integrated to all aspects of the work, for purposes of data entry, manipulation and reporting. However, use of a sophisticated computer is not a requirement for application of the MSS. Even without a computer, the MSS will provide a very valuable categorization and coding, which will help to avoid errors of omission and commission.

Information will not flow of its own volition. If not fully planned and scheduled the flow of information will usually be less than adequate. In such instances PMS projects will be found to be unwieldy in that decisions will be required in rapid succession and without proper data upon which to base professional judgments. This is clearly undesireable.

To successfully perform a PMS Project requires meticulous attention to detail. Information sources must be designated specifically and tapped frequently by designated supervisory staff. This requires that the upper levels of the management team consider themselves the hub of all communication activities, with production taking place all around them. It is their function to concentrate upon the coordination of all activities with respect to budget, schedule and quality of the work. Accountability for production, both in the design office and at the construction site, should be delegated to responsible Subordinate Supervisors.



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