Lessons from Oman in construction during this Covid-19 pandemic

Friday, June 5th, 2020 00:00 |
Robert Oboch is Project Manager at Atkins, Oman, a founding member of the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya and a member of Oman Project Management Chapter. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Harriet James @harriet86jim   

What roles do construction project managers play and how has this evolved  during this pandemic?

Construction Project Managers (CPMs) play a key role in steering, on behalf of the client, the entire lifecycle of a construction project, from inception to completion.

This role initially involves advising the client on the suitability and feasibility of a proposed development.

If deemed feasible, the CPM then oversees the procurement of design consultants then steer the design and construction phases of the project. 

During the entire process, the function of the CPM is to ensure that quality, cost and time are effectively managed and that the client’s desired benefits and requirements are achieved to guarantee project success.

With the current coronavirus pandemic, project managers and other consultants are forced to adjust to a new way of service delivery.

Restrictions preventing physical interactions such as weekly progress meetings necessitate the use of digital conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype and Teams to prevent service interruption.

(Microsoft Teams is a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings and file).

While site supervision services still require physical presence, additional safety precautions are necessary over and above the tradition construction health and safety requirements.

Though construction has lagged behind on remote supervision technology, some organisations have developed remote supervision tools that do not require physical presence on sites. 

What lessons can we learn from Oman’s construction industry?

Construction in Oman is well regulated. Local authorities play a key role in defining the quality standards of proposed developments such as housing, hospitality, infrastructure or industrial buildings.

The culture of the people of Oman promotes a strong adherence to professionalism, which means collapsing of buildings or structural failures are largely unheard of. 

Organisations responsible for approving contractors are strict and only qualified contractors with a demonstrated track record can make it to the top tier. Moreover, the level of specialism amongst design consultants is high. 

In Kenya we are traditionally used to the Big 5 (Architect, Civil/Structural Engineer, Mechanical, Electrical and Quantity Surveyors) as the main consultants.

In Oman, a hospitality project will on average have 15 other consultants specialising in various elements of work that would typically be done by the Big 5 in Kenya.

Though it makes coordination more complex, this elevates the level of quality and opens alternative career paths for others.

Tell us more about technologies that project managers can use

A project manager’s ultimate objective is to integrate the project team such that works progress smoothly.

This means effective communication remains a key determinant of an effective project manager.

While there are specific project management softwares being used such as Microsoft Project and Primavera, these remain unaffected by the Covid situation.

 Physical meetings have been interrupted and the uptake on remote communication tools has increased.

This has been witnessed in private, but more interestingly on government/public bodies where virtual conferences have not been the norm.

What challenges are project managers facing during this period?

Given that most team members are forced to work from home, efficiency levels reduce when it comes to design co-ordination.

Resolving design issues is much easier and accurate on face-to-face meetings. Also, because the physical engagement is cut off, elements of communication that relies on gestures for example are lost.

But the main problem is the amount of time spent attending virtual meetings while actual construction also need to be done.

This forces team members to work beyond normal working hours to focus on actual productive work.

A brief background of yourself ? 

I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management from the University of Nairobi and a Masters degree from the University of Reading.

Project Management has been my passion since college; steering a construction project to success makes me passionate amount my work.

I am a founding member of the Association of Construction Managers of Kenya and currently a council member of Oman Project Management Chapter.

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