Realising project management

exactly how a project is managed is of vital importance if its basic aims are to be met on time and on budget

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By  Colin Foreman Published  March 20, 2004

Realising project management|~|Steve Irvine Body.jpg|~|Steve Irvine, general manager, Edara: “What we aim to do is finish the project with everybody happy. Unfortunately, in this industry there is a lot of agony at every stage and we aim to avoid that by managing the project correctly.” Managing the client is a key.|~|THE AIM of construction is to build and deliver a project of satisfactory quality to the client on time and within budget. How the project is managed through its various stages is of vital importance. Construction Week spoke to Steve Irvine, general manager, Edara, about project management in the UAE and the benefits it brings to all the parties involved in a project.

How long have you been working in the UAE?
Prior to joining Union Properties as head of Project Management (now Edara - a wholly owned subsidiary) I was working here in the UAE on the Burj Al Arab project from 1994 to 1999 and I then managed a couple of other projects in the UAE and one in Saudi Arabia for WS Atkins.
Prior to working on the Burj, I was with Atkins in the UK, and before that I was in Kuwait for four years. Like many people I left Kuwait in the summer of 1990. I was working on a project that was nearing completion, the Telecommunication Tower, and I had actually left on what was intended to be just a one-week holiday. It turned out to be a permanent holiday from Kuwait because Iraq invaded while I was away.
Before Kuwait I was in Jordan, so my professional experience is more Middle Eastern than anywhere else.

What was the state of project management when you first arrived in the UAE?
When I first arrived here in 1994, project management as a serious approach was just starting. The two major projects in the city at that time were Chicago Beach Resort Development as it was known then (Burj Al Arab), and Emirates Towers. Turner managed Emirates Tower and Atkins managed the Burj.

What is a project management approach?
Project management can be used for any discipline. It basically applies to anything with a definable start and a definable end. The more traditional approach where construction is concerned has been for a client to employ a design consultant, probably an architect, who is then responsible for creating the design, documentation and supervision of the construction work. What this process lacks is independent management.
Project management, as a separate independent discipline, manages the whole process. This includes understanding what the client is looking for from the very outset and taking it all the way through the selection of designers, management of the design and procurement process to the actual construction. The design process is probably the most important part of the whole process.

Why is the design stage so critical?
Because that is when everything is defined. To put it crudely, the lines on the two dimensional drawings define what the project will cost and how long it will take. However, the design process is not very visible, there can be a tendency to focus on what we actually see when the project begins onsite. The emphasis in project management is to manage the whole scope of the project and get it designed correctly so that it delivers a project within budget and on time.
Opportunities to benchmark the importance of the design process are very rare, but such an opportunity did present itself at our Creekside project. At present there are five similar sized projects all under construction in the Port Saeed area of Deira. One of them is the Creekside Residences that Edara is managing. Although work onsite began after the other projects it will be completed before them. The reason is principally because at the design stage we insisted that the consultants to look at some innovative approaches. The standard approach is to construct a concrete frame, clad it, and finish it. In the case of the Creekside Residence, a precast solution was selected that meant both the quality and speed of construction was better. The aim is to deliver top quality to the market as soon as possible. From a developers point of view these two things are important, especially getting it onto the market so that is can start to earn better.

Other than design, what else is important?
It is also incredibly important to put the right team together for a project. Our more successful projects are those where the client has shared our vision to create the best team of designers and contractors. Many examples exist, such as The Tower, the Green Community, Commercial Bank of Dubai, Creekside, UpTown Mirdiff, various industrial projects and the Autodrome. By having a good team where each member knows its job and does it well, you end up with a top quality project being completed more quickly.
What we aim to do is finish each project with everybody happy. Unfortunately in this industry there can be a lot of agony at every stage and we aim to avoid that by managing the project correctly. If everybody can walk away from the project happy, and paid the right amount on time, they will want to repeat the experience.
One of the things we concentrate on is managing the client so that they become part of the team as well. The client must make sure you get decisions on time, and these decisions do not change. Project managers facilitate this process for everybody else. The good contractors can do the work as long as you give them the information and means to build. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. I am not here to criticise anyone else, but those are the key factors for a successful project. Invariably it is the same factors happening wrong that lead to a project being a failure. If decisions are delayed or changed, or people don't get paid when they should; then project failure will often result, certainly in terms of late delivery.

How keen are clients to hire project managers?
There is a perception among some clients that it is unnecessary to pay project management fees. The simple answer to that is that it saves clients money. Clients should look at it more as an investment than money simply spent on fees. They pay a relatively small fee, and for that you get quality input throughout the entire process of the project.
This, without any doubt saves the client money. On any project the savings should be significantly more than the fees paid to a project manager. Because of this it is now well recognised as the best way to procure a major projects. We would contend that a Project Manager acting for the client will provide significant benefit for projects in the region of Dhs100 million and upwards. For the smaller projects it can be an advantage but can at times be unnecessary.

Is there a difference between in house and independent project management?
The principles are the same. For example, we operate with Union Properties exactly the same as with any client. We have an agreed scope and service agreement with a job to do for a very demanding client. I would say one of the benefits of Edara coming out of a developer organisation rather than a contractor or a consultant environment is that we know what is important to the developer. Having worked on some of the best developments in Dubai with Union Properties, we are able to deliver that expertise to other developers.

How many clients in the UAE now realise the benefits of project management?
More and more. I think it would be fair to say that the better developers, and by that I mean the ones that are clearly focussed on what is to be developed and when and for how much, you will usually find some form of project management in that team. This will be provided either independently or in house. Invariably they are the projects that are more satisfactory to those involved than the projects that don't include any project management expertise at all.

Do contractors welcome a project management approach?
As long as it is a mature approach to project management where pragmatic decisions are made, the majority of contractors prefer to have a project manager either within the client's organisation or independently involved. The principal reason is that the project manager also manages the other consultants and that is a very important issue. It means that sensible decisions can be made and issues can be prioritised properly. In my experience contractors generally prefer a project management approach.

Do designers prefer this approach too?
That’s an interesting questions because effectively what is happening is that there are design organisations who purport to provide a project management service, and that essentially means that they end up managing themselves. It is very difficult for the same body to manage itself on the client's behalf. It is generally better to have an independent specialist organisation to manage all aspects of the project. This is why some design organisations might not enjoy working with a project manager, but the majority of design consultants I have worked with or are working with realise the benefits of a separate project manager, and as far as I am aware they enjoy the experience. Interestingly, one of the first questions a lot of the international design organisations will ask a client is who is the project manager is because they are used to that kind of arrangement.
With the size and complexity of projects coming up in Dubai a lot of the bigger international designers are becoming increasingly more involved in the local market. They expect to be a part of projects where a project manager is in place so they are very happy working in that environment.

Where does Dubai fit in globally? Is it lagging behind the UK for example?
It’s the opposite. When I left Kuwait in 1990, I had the opportunity to return to the UK. One of my concerns professionally at that time was that I wanted to get back to the UK to be sure I was up to speed with all the latest best practices and make sure that nothing was happening that I am unaware of. What I discovered was that in many areas the Middle East was then, and possibly still is, ahead of many of the approaches used in Europe. Where this market does need to develop is in the acceptance of procurement approaches other than simply "fixed price lump sum", which is suitable in many situations, but not all.
The opportunities that architects in particular get in Dubai are generally not available anywhere else. There is a strong can do attitude here. Somebody can have an idea and see it become reality very quickly. Many of the things being built in Dubai would almost be impossible elsewhere. I'll give you an example, The Autodrome. The land was allocated in January 2003, the design was complete by June that year, and enabling contracts were in place that month too. Phase 1 of the project will be finished at the end of March this year. The decision making process is very quick. The land was allocated, the project was cleared, the requirements were clear, and we could get on with it. We were able to assemble a top class design team very quickly. We have top class contractors working on that project and I would say that what they are doing in terms of quality, speed and approach is as good or better than could be done anywhere in the world. The end result is that a world-class project is delivered at very good prices in record speed. It is a two-edged sword though; every time you set a standard you have to beat it next time.
The capabilities in Dubai certainly exist, but because of the ongoing boom, the better designers are either expanding or entering the market, and the better contractors have full order books. The market needs more of both. This is simply because of the amount of work that is coming up.
I took a conscious decision to stay here three years ago. On a profession level I can look out of this window and see five or six projects that I have been involved in, and I would be lucky to be involved in just one of those in the UK.

Is Dubai a good place for project management?
There is so much going on here. It's a fantastic business to be in right now. One of the most exciting things is that for each project you put together a different group of companies and people, and over the following two years or so you effectively start a new business, build it up, and wrap it up. During that time you design and build a prototype every time because although there are common features, every project is unique. I think project management is one of the most fascinating businesses around.

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