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Process Vs SME Project Management – Who Wins?

Process Vs SME Project Management – Who Wins?

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 63) – All IMHO:

Should a project manager be a Subject Matter Expert (SME) or a generic project management Process Expert (PMP)? For the property industry I think this is a RICS Vs PMP discussion. 

To start we should define projects and project management. A project is a temporary, normally complex, endeavour undertaken to produce a unique outcome. Project management is a set of principles and tools for:

  • Defining
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Controlling  . . . and
  • Completing a Project

It can be said that the purpose of project management is prediction and prevention, NOT recognition and reaction. Project management should reduce risk by making things as predictable as possible.

Using the 80 / 20 rule. IMHO, an experienced project manager should be able to anticipate 80% of the expected issues and have risk mitigation in place early. The 20% of unanticipated issues require soft skills, technical skills plus agile and rapid responses. It is the unanticipated issues that test the effectiveness of the project manager and project organization. Project Management is an outcome based phenomenon. A project is successful if it is:

  1. within budget
  2. on time
  3. to specification and quality

Large property development projects such as P3 are complex and technical in nature with massive capital requirements and multiple risks. P3 projects are high risk, high reward i.e. potential EBIT of 5% Vs traditional Bid Build EBIT of 1-2%.  Therefore to miss-quote Spiderman, “with great rewards comes great risk”.

To understand the state of play in the world for delivery of property projects and project management outcomes, consider the snippets below from two distinguished, learned institutions:

A 2001 BRE (UK) building defects investigation* found:

  • 50% of construction defects are design related – Project management issue
  • 40% of construction defects are construction related – Project management issue

A 2002 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Survey of 60 Buildings in USA^ found:

  • 50% had building control problems – Project management issue
  • 40% of HVAC system did not function properly – Project management issue
  • 15% had missing equipment!!! – Project management issue

I have never met a client who has said they are OK with building defects and snags on completion. Yet owners always get them, IMHO this a project management issue. When you are in the midst of a high pressure project you can miss the signs of failure but they are there if you look. Bad projects and project managers exhibit certain characteristics and facilitate the “blame game”. You can tell if you are in this environment if you notice:

  • Conflict in meetings with management by shouting (MBS) or bullying
  • Blizzards of “cover your ass” e-mails copying everyone in from the president of the country downwards. 
  • Fixes that fail, followed by scope creep
  • Shifting of burdens, responsibility and blame
  • Reactive rather than proactive management
  • Accidental, covert and overt adversaries
  • Unrealistic planning and scheduling  

IMHO a generic project management Process Expert without Subject Matter Expertise does not cut it in the property development world. We have all seen the generic project manager; nice haircut and suit, a professional meeting attender and minute taker, generating e-mail blizzards. But little leadership, no input to solutions or foresight on problems. 

The genius of the Project Management Institute PMP has been to codify and make the project management skill set generic and therefore multi sector. However the generic nature of the PMP is also its greatest weakness, it has no depth of sector knowledge. What is the evidence for this? Empirical evidence only but, over the last 35 years I have seen many project managers who are not SME’s, fail to deliver. In comparison the RICS specialize in the land and property sector. A RICS Chartered Project Management Surveyor is a highly qualified project management and property sector specialist.

If it where my billions invested, the project manager MUST be a subject matter expert with exceptional soft skills, preferably a RICS Chartered Project Management Surveyor. Yes they are hard to find and yes they are expensive but they are a key appointment and IMHO, value for money!

Related posts:

# 33 – Commissioning KPI’s ( )

#54 – P3, unicorns and rainbows – the 2 biggest issues ( )

#61 – Too Big to Succeed ( )


  • *M Billington. (2001). Defects in Buildings: Symptoms, Investigation, Diagnosis and Cure.
  • ^LBNL. (2002). Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Survey of 60 Buildings in USA.

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