Can We Afford Not To Invest In Project Management Skills?

project management

By Neil Dunkerley, Director at Equib

A recent report has revealed the real value of project management to the UK economy, and with demand for these skills forecast to grow employers should be doing more to safeguard them for the future.

Entitled ‘The Golden Thread’, the report by the Association of Project Management and PwC states that project management contributes £156bn to the UK economy each year and is responsible for the employment of almost one in 12 workers. To put this into perspective, the economic value generated by project management professionals far exceeds that of the marketing industry and legal services industry.

With a Brexit-related skills shortage looming, employers in the construction sector need to understand the importance of project management skills and prioritise investment in training and development. Failing to do so now could lead to a serious shortage of vital skills at a time when demand is growing.

Project managers perform a critical role in the delivery of many of the UK’s major-scale infrastructure programmes, from HS2 to Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Their work spans many different functions and involves coordinating diverse teams and this has added considerable complexity.

The sheer scale and complexity of many infrastructure programmes has further increased demands on project managers and specialist skills in some areas, such as risk management, are in danger of becoming diluted.

For the project partners involved, a loss of skills in this area could equate to a higher risk exposure. To illustrate, project managers sometimes run risk assessment workshops to gather the views of people involved at all levels of delivery.  This is an important process, which will identify and assess the probability of scenario-based risks, with the outcomes being the development of robust risk registers and effective mitigation strategies.

In order to run these workshops effectively, project managers need strong facilitation skills to draw out and challenge judgements and assess their probability accurately. Without these skills, project managers could reach the wrong conclusions and if risks are understated, this could lead to a significant project overspend.

One common scenario discussed during risk assessment workshops is the reliability of specialist / critical plant or machinery. When seeking the views of operators, it is not unusual for individuals to overstate the risk of it breaking down. For example, an individual might comment that the fault ‘always happens’, when in fact they may only have experienced this once and further analysis of project team data might reveal that the actual probability of this happening is 1:20. In this instance, a lack of facilitation and analytical skills could result in higher cost expectations than are necessary.

Another important area of opportunity is Building Information Modelling (BIM). Project managers have an important role to play in researching the capabilities of BIM-enabled technologies and securing senior-level buy in. BIM can improve project outcomes significantly, but project managers need a clear understanding of the benefits and the investment in BIM will provide better integration of the project to come together more effectively that reduces the risk or errors and costs. BIM can also enhance cross-project collaboration, so project managers need training in effective communication methodologies.

To tackle the culture of cost and time overruns, specialist skills in areas such as risk management and BIM must be retained and nurtured for the future. The UK construction industry must take responsibility and invest in the development of the current and future talent pools.

Neil

Neil Dunkerley is a director at risk management consultancy, Equib. He specialises in advising organisations on how to manage risk when financing or delivering large-scale infrastructure programmes.