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An Unqualified Opinion?

A recent study found that the construction management team has the biggest influence on efficiency and money earned. That same management team relies on information provided by commercial and planning professionals to inform its decision-making at every step. So would the construction industry be in a better position if, historically, these professionals had needed to be "qualified" to a minimum, universally recognised standard?

The Construction Management Team

I recently read a report from Denmark's Aarhus University, which found: "the construction management team have the greatest influence on efficiency, and thereby on how much money is earned".

Interesting stuff. Though it left me curious, given we're often told that the rate of productivity and efficiency in the construction industry is dreadful compared to what it either could or should be.

Because, if management teams greatly influence performance, yet an entire industry is underperforming, what does that say about the players on those teams?

I've spent probably half my career working within the sphere of construction claims, where something has gone wrong during a contract's (typically bloated) lifespan. So a post about the influence of construction management on money earned was just uncomfortable enough to get me thinking:

Who's really managing our projects?

Project Managers, Engineers, and Site Supervisors, sure. But there other voices that have a real influence on projects, particularly those with big numbers attached. Take, for example:

  • The people who control the Project Manager's decisions at a board or strategic level.

  • The people in charge of keeping the downstream supply chain happy (that is, paying them for what they've done).

  • The people monitoring site progress and reporting the likelihood of things starting or finishing on time.

In other words: the people managing project commercial and planning departments. Surely these people also form part of the broader construction management team and, by extension, influence efficiency?

Assuming this is the case (and I'm tempted to believe it is), a thread began to emerge:

  1. How could we know if our construction management team was "good" or "bad"?

  2. How could we improve those teams?

  3. And how would we spot great players we would want on those teams from the outset?

The Importance of Qualifications. Or Not.

And so, I began to wonder what it all means for the commercial and planning professions.

In almost two decades I've worked with, and learned from, some incredible commercial and planning professionals on projects around the world. Though, granted, as is the law of all things, I've witnessed a couple who perhaps weren't so great too.

All of these professionals, good and bad, were from different backgrounds, each having taken different routes into their role. Some had an impressive list of industry-related qualifications, and others had nothing but years of on-site experience. A scenario that remains true to this day:

Ultimately, it depends on the employer as to whether their commercial and planning professionals should be "qualified" and what constitutes that qualification. Which is curious for what, as the study by Aarhus has shown, are positions of great importance to the financial success of a project.

Surely that's an unsustainable way to manage an industry?

Time to Ask the Audience

Suppose we've gotten to this point of poor efficiency using experience, rather than qualifications, as the gold standard of management capability. I wondered: where would the industry be in an alternate universe if the opposite was the case?

Perhaps, I thought, the construction fraternity might want to give its opinion. Hence, I created two polls, one for commercial managers and one for planners. They looked something like this:

Would the construction industry be better off if a BSc or MSc in Quantity Surveying was needed before you could become a Commercial Manager?


Would the construction industry be better off if a BSc or MSc in a construction discipline was needed before you could become a Planner?

  • Would there be fewer disputes?

  • Would programmes be better constructed?

  • Would smaller players in the supply chain be better off?

  • Would there be a different culture?

  • Would our industry be more efficient?

Yes or No. Black and white.

No room for the grey so often encountered on 'well-constructed' contracts.

An Industry Viewpoint

I knew the answer before I even created the poll - or at least I had a pretty good idea of what it should be. "Yes" of course! How could it be anything else?

However, the majority response surprised me, as exactly two-thirds of respondents answered "No."

The overwhelming majority reckon that the industry wouldn't be any better off if there'd always been a requirement to be qualified (in an academic capacity, at least) to work as a commercial or planning professional. To me, that's both completely understandable and, at the same time, absolutely non-sensical.

It's understandable because the construction industry has relied on the passing down of skill and wisdom from generation to generation since time immemorial. It isn't easy to consider - in this context at least - anything different, especially when there are so many excellent professionals around. But it's non-sensical because, if every commercial and planning professional had needed to have some form of minimum academic or professional qualification over those generations, surely the standard of professionalism could only be higher?

Looking to Others

Perhaps, I thought, this is an opportune moment to look at other industries.

Aviation, perhaps? Where would we be if pilots didn't have to study the principles of aviation alongside getting real-world practice?

Or the legal professions? Could we have lawyers who learn on the job and don't see a need to study before practising?

Or, back to construction? What about engineers who oversee the building of structures, without having learned the laws of physics?

Could these professionals learn everything on the job, to the point that their academic effort isn't relevant? Would they be able to do so without making errors in the process? What would those errors look like, and who would suffer at the hands of them?

I'm not sure I like the answers.

Our architects and engineers have to undergo some formal training - often through university. Our forklift and crane drivers need to have licenses, while tradespeople also need to have completed some form training in the past. These requirements are non-negotiable and are there to uphold a basic level of safety, quality, and system of work. It's curious that, up until now, the same isn't always required of all commercial and planning professionals.

Sure, you can and do learn an incredible amount on the job, but classroom learning doesn't pretend to try and replace that. Instead, it creates a foundation for the knowledge you have (or will get) on site. It gives you a point of reference from which to look if specific problems or questions arise in the course of your work, not to mention underlying confidence in yourself as a professional in the field.

In my mind, there's no question the industry would have been better off today had there been a historical minimum qualification requirement for commercial and planning professionals.

Perfect? Almost certainly not.

Better off? Without a doubt


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