The views expressed in this article are strictly those of Max Wideman. Published here March 2014

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked - the Project Environment
What We Liked - the Construction-execution Approach | Downside | Summary

What We Liked - the Project Environment

Authors Ritz and Levy have assembled a well-constructed book with exceptionally valuable content for both neophyte and seasoned construction project management personnel. The content is both informative and easy to follow where specific techniques are presented. Plentiful bullets, numbered paragraphs, tables and examples from actual projects are used to illustrate the text throughout the book. Thus we find the book is easy to follow, has the right balance between text and illustrations and, from our own experience, provides sound and realistic advice.

At the outset, the authors observe that:

"The 'total' part of this book's title means that we are addressing the application of construction management practices in an integrated systems context. One must apply all the techniques presented here over the life of the construction project to be successful."[6]

Well, maybe not "all" exactly but certainly "as applicable"! Chapter 1 starts out by recounting a brief history of the construction process dating back from the Egyptian pyramids, around 2600 BC to the present day. It notes how the advances in the sciences, especially physics, enabled building technology to advance, resulting in ever more impressive structures and monuments.

Indeed, the authors observe that:

"Today's designers using computer-assisted design create three-dimensional drawings that can actually permit a building to be built without creating one paper drawing ... But in the field, we still seek tests to determine proper soil bearing capacity for our foundations, Erector-set structures of steel or concrete, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems installed pipe by pipe, duct by duct."[7]

Chapter 1 goes on to discuss how much the Construction Industry has grown in value in the last two decades (around 240%), the range of trades and support staff involved, and their relative pay rates in the US as of December 2011.

One topic that always draws our attention is the question of project definition and type or size. However, the authors state categorically:

"It is impossible to define a complex operation such as construction management in one simple sentence. We will have to dissect the term and define its many facets. Throughout this book we will use the term construction manager to apply interchangeably to a construction manager (CM) and a general contractor (GC) where we refer to that construction manager as simply a project manager. Although the CM acts as the owner's agent and the GC is a third-party participant in the construction process, both basically perform the same duties - management of the construction process"[8]

Well, we think not quite. The reader should not interpret this as a duplication of effort. Rather, each is managing those particular project components that serve their respective interests. That is to say, the GC is concerned for profits now, while the owner is looking toward profits in the future. Indeed, the authors go on to describe the differing goals of the Project Team, the Architect/Engineer, the Construction collectively, and the Construction Team personally. Somehow all of these people and their respective incentives have to be meshed together to result in a successful project, see Figure 1 for the number of potential people interfaces for a large construction project.

Figure 1: Construction Manager coordination interfaces for a large project
Figure 1: Construction Manager coordination interfaces for a large project[9] (click to see full size)

The authors also follow their observations with a two-page table that lists projects under two general headings: Process-Type Projects (28) and Nonprocess-Type Project (29). Each of these is then divided into four and five specific types respectively. Finally, each specific type then lists Types of Construction Activities involved, and the Key Craft Labor Used. As well as being of academic interest, this table should be a useful starting point for anyone interested in entering into the world of construction projects.

As to project size, the authors observe:

"The one project variable that needs more detailed discussion is project size. Most people seem to have more difficulty with size than with any other aspect of construction management discussions.
Since a high percentage of capital projects are small to midsize projects, some readers may feel overwhelmed when looking at the numbers for large projects. However, larger projects do come along occasionally, so you should know how to deal with them. We have found that doing a single large project is sometimes easier than running several small ones simultaneously. In many cases because lead times are projected farther out for large projects, allowing for a more orderly acquisition of major components of construction and long-lead items."[10]

Book Structure  Book Structure

6. Ibid.
7. Ibid, p2
8. Ibid, p7
9. Ibid, p10, Figure 1.4 - Construction manager coordination interfaces
10. Ibid, p21
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