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Tough lessons for project managers from Covid-19

By Harriet James
Friday, May 22nd, 2020
NASHON OKOWA, Association of Construction Managers of Kenya chairman.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

What’s the role of a  project manager in construction?

Unlike other built environment professionals, a project manager focuses on management of a project.

His focal point is supervising the 10 components of project management in each site,  in addition to the triple constraints of time, cost and scope. 

(The 10 essential elements of a project plan are: scope statement, schedule, budget, requirements, quality criteria, roject resources,  stakeholder list, communications plan, procurement strategy and risk management). 

Unfortunately, in the current absence of legal regulations of project and construction management professions, there are many quacks, pseudos and masqueraders. It’s hence important to get the rightly qualified staff trained in our universities. 

As the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya (ACMK), we have a list of project and construction managers registered and certified by us.

Clients should ensure they have the requisite construction project management training from accredited institutions.

What are some of the issues that project leaders are facing and any adaptations?

Outside the project owners, our work has been extensively affected by this pandemic.

The Waterloo on projects now is the invariant time and cost overruns, which is at the core of our management work.

We must either innovate now or perish. Covid-19 has allowed us to think outside our norm on other technological ways of running projects.

Though in stubbornly fractured, highly fragmented and conservative industry like ours, digital transformation is quaint.

Why was the association created and what changes are you pushing for the industry?

ACMK is a professional body for project and construction managers in Kenya. It is anchored on the ropes of professional management of projects that has been a thorn in our industry.

The incessant time and cost overruns on both public and private projects is an indicia or lack of proper management in construction sites.

The association is pushing for the introduction of project and construction managers in all our construction sites to cushion developers against fraudsters. 

Look out for it; countries that have managed to streamline their builds environment industry have deliberately professionalised, via laws, the management of projects. This has to be our path too. 

Is construction an essential business? 

Statics worldwide show strong correlation between countries’ economies and the construction industry.

I know many countries are grappling with question of whether the construction industry should be an essential service. It’s a murky debate. 

But for a global south country like ours, I think the answer is obvious: It is. We don’t have the muscle resources of developed countries have to shut the sector down and fully cushion it with stipends. 

We must allow it to run here, however minimal that will be. This industry is the core of our informal labour employment who lives from hand to mouth.

Is it possible to be self-sufficient as a country instead of over reliance on imported construction materials? 

We are not yet there. You won’t believe it, but imported materials have been cheaper than local products.

Most developers for example prefer importing tiles than buying locally because of cost issues. 

We are going to invariably face increased construction costs with reliant on local materials.

And that’s my worry since our cost was already high before Covid-19. Let’s buckle up for a bumpy ride if things don’t change. 

What inspired you to venture in the construction business?

I’am Bachelor of Construction Management graduate from The University of Nairobi. I was to be a lawyer in another life, but ended up in the construction industry.

I have made the most of this God’s abundance gift to me without an ounce of regret. I’m passionate to leaving a better industry to my followers and country.

What has this season taught project managers on contracts and what lessons have you learnt?

 We must relook at our contract provisions for such calamities. There have been different interpretations as whether coronavirus is force majeure or not. I think in 2020, such should be expressly stated without gray areas for misinterpretations. 

Most astute of all, we have been hopelessly exposed to realisation that we need to explore other contracts, such as smart contracts, in this digital era.

Lean construction methods like Integrated Project Delivery must now be our new norm in this industry. The old wine skin must now give way.

Your parting shot? 

These are unprecedented times in global construction industry. Humanity keeps throwing complex challenges to construction industry and Covid19 won’t  be the last of it.

We must survive, if not thrive, amidst this, but that won’t be possible if we stick to our medieval, obstinate ways.

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