HOLD ON TO YOUR hats for the big winds of change headed our way sometime in the next couple decades in the way jobs are run and buildings built. The traditional sequence of “design-build-validate” project management, which has been the mainstay — if not the only way — jobs have been built for the past 100 years, has now become a suicidal strategy.
We’re talking some drop-dead serious potential consequences here. Every nickel of potential cost could mean that a building gets built here in the states to house white-collar workers, or else a company might lean toward farming those white-collar jobs to somewhere overseas.
When every potential day in the life cycle of construction could mean a company’s division, if not the company itself, survives, the stakes get raised silently even if not shouted from the rooftops.
When each inefficiency of the process of translating a need for space into building the space becomes magnified to near absurdity because of weighted activity cost structures, owners will begin to demand a more ruthlessly efficient method of maximizing project management flow.
Every decades-old assumption, method and madness about project management will be scrutinized and hung out to dry if it doesn’t work, which many of them don’t. At least they don’t work as efficiently as they could.
Owners, those troll-like creatures who usually live under bridges and come out only to sign checks and raise hell that their building wasn’t finished yesterday, are going the demand creation of a new business model.
They might even want an entirely new business, for which I’m going to coin the name TCSB for Total Client-Service Business firm. This new firm will have its roots in the design-build contractors and A/E firms of old but in its new incarnation will be much more than that.
Such firms will address every issue of upfront or extended life-cycle cost. These costs could include the initial purchase price of land; figuring out maximum energy efficiencies of different types of building shells; new methods of shortening time-to-completion via rethinking of manpower needs and allocations; or working with municipal officials to allow for experimental variances of building codes to save money.
These changes will have to be integrated, not just in the request for proposals but in the mindset of all the employees of these firms, or they won’t survive.
Right now, I’d say that in most areas of the country there’s a 10% to 20% cushion in potential base square footage price and the actual price of construction. Once owners figure out that if they hold their ground long enough, some firm that wants a competitive advantage will get the bright idea of giving them what they want. For a while they will dominate their local markets.
At that point, gentlemen and ladies, project management for the mechanical and other building trades will change forever. Oh, we’ll still be needed. In fact, we’ll be needed more than ever because it takes a special kind of gentle insanity to possess and use the multiple skill sets we all have or else we wouldn’t be project managers. Those skill sets will become even more in demand. We simply will have evolved into process managers, not project managers.
A long, long time ago, the early automobile manufacturers project managed every custom and hand-built car they made until a certain genius by the name of Henry Ford figured out that making of a car could become a process instead of a project. Someday owners will finally figure out that we don’t require all the unique circumstances involved in building a building that makes construction a project more than a process. When firms form to fill this newly created need, project management for the trades, as we’ve known it, will be dead.
At that point, most buildings will become a pure commodity, not a unique product. Whoever can produce and sell them most efficiently will get their market share.
We’ll still be needed to manage the processes but not to help create the projects. Agree? Disagree? E-mail or call me. I’d love to hear from you!
H. Kent Craig is a project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/851-9550, or via e-mail at [email protected].