From architects’ and engineers’ dreams to the final coat of paint, construction is responsible for many of our noblest works — and for some of our most humble(see next ppt. ). Designers and constructors from history left us the Mayan and Egyptian pyramids, the Gothic cathedrals, the Great Wall of China, and, quite literally (really), the physical (of material things, eg. The Great Wall) as well as the technological foundations upon which many of our modern structures are built.
The scope of the industry today is immense: from suburban homes to 100-story skyscrapers; from city sidewalks to dams and tunnels for irrigation and hydroelectric power; from recreational marinas to complete harbors and even structures in the deep open sea; from bicycle shops to aircraft factories; thermal power plants, petroleum refineries, and mining developments; bridges, highways, and rapid transit systems that not only span physical spaces, but bring people together in their social, political, and economic endeavors(efforts).
For better or worse, the construction environment is among the most ubiquitous and pervasive factors in our lives. Construction Contractors Builders who supervise the execution of construction projects are traditionally referred to as contractors, or more appropriately called constructors. The general contractor coordinates various tasks for a project while the specialty contractors such as mechanical or electrical contractors perform the work in their specialties.
Material and equipment suppliers often act as installation contractors; they play a significant role in a construction project since the conditions of delivery of materials and equipment affect the quality, cost, and timely completion of the project. It is essential to understand the operation of these contractors in order to deal with them effectively. General Contractors The function of a general contractor is to coordinate all tasks in a construction project.
Unless the owner performs this function or engages a professional construction manager to do so, a good general contractor who has worked with a team of superintendents, specialty contractors or subcontractors together for a number of projects in the past can be most effective in inspiring loyalty and cooperation. The general contractor is also knowledgeable about the labor force employed in construction. The labor force may or may not be unionized depending on the size and location of the projects.
In some projects, no member of the work force belongs to a labor union; in other cases, both union and non-union craftsmen work together in what is called an open shop, or all craftsmen must be affiliated with labor unions in a closed shop. Since labor unions provide hiring halls staffed with skilled journeyman who have gone through apprentice programs for the projects as well as serving as collective bargain units, an experienced general contractor will make good use of the benefits and avoid the pitfalls in dealing with organized labor.
Specialty contractors include mechanical, electrical, foundation, excavation, and demolition contractors among others. They usually serve as subcontractors to the general contractor of a project. In some cases, legal statutes may require an owner to deal with various specialty contractors directly. In the State of New York, for example, specialty contractors, such as mechanical and electrical contractors, are not subjected to the supervision of the general contractor of a construction project and must be given separate prime contracts on public works.
With the exception of such special cases, an owner will hold the general contractor responsible for negotiating and fulfilling the contractual agreements with the subcontractors. Material and Equipment Suppliers Major material suppliers include specialty contractors in structural steel fabrication and erection, sheet metal, ready mixed concrete delivery, reinforcing steel bar detailers, roofing, glazing etc. Major equipment suppliers for industrial construction include manufacturers of generators, boilers and piping and other equipment.
Many suppliers handle on-site installation to insure that the requirements and contractual specifications are met. As more and larger structural units are prefabricated off-site, the distribution between specialty contractors and material suppliers becomes even less obvious. The Role of Project Managers In the project life cycle, the most influential factors affecting the outcome of the project often reside at the early stages. At this point, decisions should be based on competent economic evaluation with due consideration for adequate financing, the prevalent social and regulatory environment, and technological considerations.
Architects and engineers might specialize in planning, in construction field management, or in operation, but as project managers, they must have some familiarity with all such aspects in order to understand properly their role and be able to make competent decisions. Since the 1970’s, many large-scale projects have run into serious problems of management, such as cost overruns and long schedule delays. Actually, the management of megaprojects or superprojects is not a practice peculiar to our time.
Witness the construction of transcontinental railroads in the Civil War era and the construction of the Panama Canal at the turn of this century. Although the megaprojects of this generation may appear in greater frequency and present a new set of challenge, the problems are organizational rather than technical. It is customary to think of engineering as a part of a trilogy, pure science, applied science and engineering. It needs emphasis that this trilogy is only one of a triad of trilogies into which engineering fits.
This first is pure science, applied science and engineering; the second is economic theory, finance and engineering; and the third is social relations, industrial relations and engineering. Many engineering problems are as closely allied to social problems as they are to pure science. As engineers advance professionally, they often spend as much or more time on planning, management and other economic or social problems as on the traditional engineering design and analysis problems which form the core of most educational programs.
It is upon the ability of engineers to tackle all such problems that their performance will ultimately be judged. The greatest stumbling block to effective management in construction is the inertia and historic divisions among planners, designers and constructors. While technical competence in design and innovation remains the foundation of engineering practice, the social, economic and organizational factors that are pervasive in influencing the success and failure of construction projects must also be dealt with effectively by design and construction organizations.
Of course, engineers are not expected to know every detail of management techniques, but they must be knowledgeable enough to anticipate the problems of management so that they can work harmoniously with professionals in related fields to overcome the inertia and historic divisions. Paradoxically, engineers who are creative in engineering design are often innovative in planning and management since both types of activities involve problem solving.
In fact, they can reinforce each other if both are included in the education process, provided that creativity and innovation instead of routine practice are emphasized. A project manager who is well educated in the fundamental principles of engineering design and management can usefully apply such principles once he or she has acquired basic understanding of a new application area. A project manager who has been trained by rote learning for a specific type of project may merely gain one year of experience repeated twenty times even if he or she has been in the field for twenty years.
A broadly educated project manager can reasonably hope to become a leader in the profession; a narrowly trained project manager is often relegated to the role of his or her first job level permanently. The owners have much at stake in selecting a competent project manager and in providing her or him with the authority to assume responsibility at various stages of the project regardless of the types of contractual agreements for implementing the project.
Of course, the project manager must also possess the leadership quality and the ability to handle effectively intricate interpersonal relationships within an organization. The ultimate test of the education and experience of a project manager for construction lies in her or his ability to apply fundamental principles to solving problems in the new and unfamiliar situations which have become the hallmarks of the changing environment in the construction industry.