3 Essential Steps to Project Management Success for A/E/C Firms

Published by Matt Brady | August 17, 2017

By many accounts, project management is the most commonly misunderstood and under-appreciated profession within the professional services world. Other people focus on ‘doing stuff’, but project managers focus on the ‘getting to the doing’ part. Ignoring project management is a perilous path, though, because in the world of architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C), the evidence shows that the number one area in which revenue is unnecessarily lost due to poor execution is in…project management.

Here are three essential steps you can take to tighten up your project management ship and make the process count toward profitability in your A/E/C firm:

1. Invest in the Three P’s of Project Management

In order for A/E/C project management to succeed, you need to commit to a significant investment in the overall effort. This means bringing together three key components: people, processes and products. The people are your project managers. From a talent development perspective, a health project management team will include individuals who are trained in project management first and foremost (such as PMP certified professionals or those who come from a Lean Six Sigma background), as well as those whose first discipline is in the company’s field of expertise but who have shown an aptitude and passion for making the engagement itself a success, not just the end product.

The processes are the detailed policies, procedures and workflows at the heart of your projects themselves. It’s incredibly important to understand that processes must be at the center of your actual projects. Put another way, processes don’t exist to serve project management — processes exist to serve the project itself. Period. This means you have to prevent your non-PM personnel from turning your PMs into “process cops” or “documentation donkeys” who are stuck doing after-the-fact alignment between the formal process and what’s actually happening.

Product refers to your project management applications (databases and workflow software) that will guide and align your projects. They will also provide the foundation for alignment between project management and proposal management. It’s critical that you carefully and thoughtfully select, implement and manage your project management database as not only a technology investment, but as a customer delivery asset as well.

2. Put project management on the proposal team.

Remember that your proposals represent the interface between sales and delivery. That means that project management needs a seat at the proposal development table. You might assume that this will create a ‘can’t do that’ mentality rooted in project management’s hesitation to overcommit resources or risk failing to deliver on time. In fact, however, most PMs will actually be more than happy to stretch the firm’s capabilities forward to meet a client’s needs…if they are confident that project management (the people, processes and products) are up to the task.

This gives project management the added ability to hold delivery teams accountable for success even before a proposal is put on the street, by ensuring internal commitment to processes and standards vital to a potential engagement. Finally, this step will help ensure that cost proposals are built with real-world estimates and achievable budgets from the start.

3. Remember that everyone is a project manager.

Project managers are not the only project managers on your projects! Project managers are the trained, certified and dedicated leaders of the project management effort, but to be clear, their job is to facilitate the entire team’s project management process as a whole…not to be the only people managing the project.

The best way to gain control over projects and ensure reliable and repeatable results is to train your entire client-facing team in project management principles and practices, and to require single-minded commitment to information accuracy and transparency in communication, task management and the use of the project management software. For example, just one team member skimping on time reporting or inaccurately updating task records can result in incomplete client billing or unusable dependent scheduling plans for the rest of the organization.

That’s why senior executives — not project managers — must lead by example and enforce project management discipline upon the organization. Once senior management achieves these two goals, then they have effectively empowered the project management staff to do their jobs successfully.

Project management is the operational glue that holds together every client engagement you execute in the A/E/C marketplace. Doing your best work is only as good as your ability to deliver your best project — one that is on budget, on time and on specification from beginning to end. Commit today to a complete, company-wide investment of time, money and resources in project management excellence and see your business achieve new levels of success as a result.

Image Credit: MTA (Flickr @ Creative Commons)