This paper is a slightly updated version of a Feature Interview published on line by PMWorld Today in October and November 2007.

Published here July, 2008.

Introduction | Project Management | Construction Management
Heavy Construction | Project Manager | PART 2

Project Manager

PMWT: When did you come into contact with the term "Project Manager"? When did you first get interested in project management, and how did that happen?

Max: Surprisingly, this question is a little more difficult to answer. It was an evolutionary process rather than an inspiration. When I first became involved in construction, in the UK, there was no such position as "project manager". The label "manager" was reserved only for people who managed people, mostly in the business world. Today, everybody and his uncle seems to have the label manager, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are in charge of other people or indeed have anyone to help them. They may just be a manager of things. I always wanted to be in charge of people and then along came the matrix organization where everybody is in charge of everybody, so that is not much of an improvement. You have to go and ask!

However, back on the construction site, when you rise to the top, in the UK you don't become a manager where I first practiced, you become an Agent or a Resident Engineer - depending on which side of the construction contract fence you're on. So, I've been both of those on large and difficult projects. By difficult, I mean both technically challenging and working with a difficult work force.

When I first came to Canada, the pinnacle of construction site responsibility was to become a "Project Engineer", although the person who was really in charge was the site Superintendent. It was not until I scaled down to much smaller projects in non-construction fields that I had a chance to become a project manager!

So, becoming interested in project management followed a somewhat different path. As an owner's project director, I found it necessary to get involved in the legal aspects of contracting and soon discovered that in the standard construction contracts of the day, there was a woeful lack of "managers" of any sort to exercise leadership on behalf of the prime interest, the owner. It seemed that the project was either run by the consultant architects or engineers or, of course, the lawyers.

So, I drafted my own set of contracts, but it took weeks of negotiation to get them accepted by either the legal boys or potential contractors. Everyone wanted to maintain the status quo where they knew where they stood. To be fair, it is not an easy problem to introduce the authority of a project manager into the standard construction relationship. And even today it is difficult to get liability insurance as a project manager in the construction business unless you are a registered as a professional architect or engineer - they just don't trust those other "project management guys".

And maybe, just maybe, they have some justification when they look at all those "ins and outs" in the latest PMBOK document.

Coming next

In Part 2 of this Feature Interview, Max will answer questions about how he got involved with the Project Management Institute, how the West Coast BC Chapter of PMI got started, and Max's experience on the PMI Board of Directors then as PMI president and changes that he has seen in the PM world over the last 30 years.

Heavy Construction  Heavy Construction

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