Project management in construction


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R. Harvey Self

Scrivener Projects Ltd.

Project Management is another name for fast-track scheduling and basically is not a new approach to the delivery of a project. Project Management or fast-tracking has been used successfuly for many years in North America both in the industrial and commercial fields.

Project Management really started during the second world war when the American industrial machine was put into high gear. In the 1960’s many people realized that the efficiency of Project Management in industrial and commercial fields could be applied to architecturally-designed buildings with the same results and, therefore, it has spread to the construction of education, health and government facilities in the last dozen years. The apparent reason for this wider application stems from the fact that escalation costs, tied in with poor delivery of architecturally-designed projects, demanded that something be done to control these budgets and get them in use. When one realizes that construction costs have been increasing approximately 5% to 10% per year, something had to be done on behalf of the people who were responsible for financing these projects.

The time period on many hospital projects, from preliminary planning, programming, design and through construction until occupancy, has been in the order of 7 years or longer. Experts in t he field have agreed that this is a ridiculously long time and it could be reduced. The apparent advantages of this reduction in time are three-fold: (1) the earlier delivery of medical education and medical care to the community involved, (2) reducing the chance of building obsolescence before occupancy. Over long periods, medical buildings can be out of date before they are occupied, (3) avoids increased project costs over the long period due to a high rate of escalation experienced in the construction industry.

Under the time-tested and conventional method of planning, programming, design and construction, the delivery date, of course, is delayed longer than is necessary. Some people will argue that this is the correct procedure because it has been done for many decades, but in the atomic and nuclear age in which we find ourselves, there simply must be a better procedure. This better procedure is referred to by various terms such as: fast-tracking, dynamic construction, project management, turnkey, etc. In the conventional procedure, every step of the operation follows the preceding step in a logical sequence; whereas, under the procedures used by such organizations as our firm, the Project Management approach “squeezes together” the operations to the point where time lag is limited, each step is pushed forward to expedite and squeeze the previous step, and the accumulated savings in time will result in as much as 3 years in 7 years. As illustrated in the diagram, the conventional method is simply a linear approach to the scheduling, whereas the fast-tracking method is an approach whereby the work is speeded up to eliminate the dead areas in the scheduling.

Thus, for example, in the linear procedure of programming and design, decisions may have its advantages in small projects that could be completed in the total elapsed time of one year of construction, such as small school projects that can be planned, designed, tendered and constructed in 15 months. But when one approaches hospital, educational or building projects in the millions of dollars, then one must consider the fast-tracking procedures as being the only logical approach to controlling the budget. In the final analysis, budget control is what it is all about. The day of the lack of budget control in public works construction is almost past, and public officials are now demanding to know the end results before the job starts, and certainly before they commit themselves to the preparation of final designs.


In Canada, the total concept approach of overall Project Management first appeared on the Medical Sciences Building project at the Univeristy of Toronto in 1965. This project was completely conceived, planned, programmed, designed and constructed in the elapsed time of 60 months. The programming and preliminary planning for the facility was considered by specialists in the field and took the first 20 months. The final planning, design, construction and commissioning, took the last 40 months.

The key to success in using these modern procedures lies in the fact that they weld together a complete team of experts from Day One. Not the least of these experts, of course, is construction expertise with all its ramifications such as quantity surveying, knowledge of building materials, efficient procurement, and up-to-the-minute construction costs and procedures. Fast-tracking usually requires that the client realizes the absolute necessity of the services of the Project Manager from early in the project to co-ordinate and manage the project. Every day lost in making this decision is critical in the final success of Project Management. Early project control offers potential savings because the complete team is putting all their expertise together from Day One, and this is in addition to the savings attributed to the actual time saved by earlier delivery of the project by the improved scheduling.

Basically, with these modern procedures, the Project Manger spreads the design work into “packages” such as foundation, super-structure, cladding, interior finishings, equipment installations, etc. When sufficient designing has been completed on the foundation and the structure, these packages are started through the mill with tenders called with every step along the way. Long delivery articles such as air conditioning, transformers, elevators and structural steel are tackled very early in the procedure, the design tied down and tenders awarded.

The first two or three tenders such as foundations or structural steel can be tendered on a unit basis without the complete design, allowing architects and engineers a longer time to refine their ultimate design. The only “drawback” to fast-tracking is that the client and its users must make decisions earlier rather than later and human nature being what it is, people like to put off making decisions as long as possible; by using Project Management techniques, these decisions are “extracted” earlier in the game.

One finds from experience that decisions do not get better with age, and decisions made early are just as valid as decisions made later. However, once decisions are made as a result of these procedures and construction has started, they cannot be revised without incurring substantial costs which, of course, will destroy the budget.

One thing to remember in using Project Management procedures is that the length of time to do one particular activity is generally not shortened, and certainly there is not one hour of good design and/or construction labor eliminated, which is often the complaint of architects and engineers. The oft repeated complaint of the design professionals who have not worked a Project Management type of approach is that they do not have sufficient time for design, is not valid. Architect and engineers who form part of the design team are simply pressured to make their decisions and get their design done on schedule and in accordance with the budget. The experience gained on the University of Toronto Health Sciences Center has certainly paid off and already at least two other major health complexes in Canada have followed its example: (1) the Health Sciences Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where the estimated construction cost of 57 million dollars would have taken 7 years of design and construction, has successfully been reduced to 4 years, through the use of fast-tracking procedures. It is noted that 60% of the building structure was in place before interior contracts were awarded; and (2) Memorial University Medical School and St. John’s Hospital in St. John’s, Newfoundland commenced in the summer of 1971 and is expected to be completed in December 1975. This approach includes complete planning, programming, design, construction and commissioning.

It is estimated that the procedures of Project Management, as applied on the St. John’s project, have effectively reduced the total value from approximately $53,900,000 to a figure of $45,000,000, the reason being twofold: (1) the procedures in tendering to suit the market in a Province with only 500,000 people, and (2) the time saving of approximately 2 to 3 years, at an escalation rate of 5% to 10% per year.

The reduction in time will vary from project to project. Complexities of individual projects, the availability of foundations, the size and type of facility, the geographic location in the nation which affects both manpower and climate, and the ability to meet project schedules with the local resources, all have a bearing on the total project schedule and budget.

As an example, Newfoundland is an island separated from the mainland and, therefore, its communication must be via water or air; with only a small population on the island, many of the products for construction must, of necessity, be purchased offshore and transported long distances, which adds to the time of completing the job and increases the cost. Also, some of the most sophisticated tradesmen must be flown in from the mainland.

Project Management has been just as successful in the industrial and commercial field as it has been in the institutional and public works area. In the past four years, in our organization alone, there have been two mining projects, one food processing plant, two office buildings, two industrial plants and other miscellaneous projects for a total involvement in the order of $50,000,000.

The same management techniques and systems used on Medical Schools and hospitals are applicable to industrial and commercial projects. It is the effective use of experienced specialists in a team effort that makes for good Project and Construction Management. Building Projects on budget and on schedule can be a fact of life.



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