Project Management in high rise construction

Mr. Chionh Chye Luay, Project Director SEP Consulting Pte Ltd

Essentials of Project Management What is Project Management?

What exactly are Project Management and Construction Management? These two terms have been used inter-changeably in the local context that over time, there has been a lot of confusion when performance expectations kick in. This is more so when foreign consultants are involved.

Project Management in the local context, normally involves the site management team (Project Manager) in managing the Works Contract, ensuring full compliance with the terms and conditions of contract by both the Contractor and Employer. Project management should ideally begin with the inception of the project, meaning, commencing from the masterplanning right through to sketch design, detailing, contract documentation, contract procurement and construction. In so doing, the Project Manager has to manage the tasking and scheduling of the design and documentation phase of the project and subsequently, control the quality of the Works as specified in the Contract, monitor the completion schedule and assisting the Contractor to manage the time schedule. The Project Manager should also be in a position to advise on the appointment of consultants and site staff, and recommend contractual arrangements and certify entitlement of cost variations and time claims by Contractor. These tasks can only be accomplished successfully with the able assistance of the other key Consultants, such as Architects, Structural Engineer and MEP Engineers and also the Site Supervisors.

Construction Management, as is widely practiced locally, involves the construction management team (Construction Manager) calling and managing the various sub-contract Works such as RCC structure, brickworks, plastering, etc. The Employer normally has its staff perform the role of Construction Manager, but of late, has out-sourced such services. In theory, the Construction Manager not only has to appoint sub-contractors but also has to manage and coordinate their works and ensuring completion on time and with good quality. In reality, time factor often override the quality factor.

Aspects of Project Management

Project Management, therefore, is a more holistic approach towards management and is only possible when the contractual arrangement calls for only a main contractor performing all the works in the project, whether by their own workers or sub-contracted out to specialist sub-contractors. The Project Manager’s main responsibilities are to manage and supervise the project and Works such that it is completed on time, with good quality and within reasonable costs. The Project Manager therefore must have the pre-requisite knowledge and experience to plan the pre and post construction activities, as well as monitor the construction schedule and work closely with the Contractor to re-schedule or expedite works when necessary. The Project Manager must also have considerable knowledge of construction details and methodology in order to prevent poor workmanship from cropping out. The Project Manager must also possess the knowledge of appropriate use of materials and finishes and good detailing and construction methods to assist the Employer and Contractor to rein in unnecessary cost over-runs.

It must be borne in mind that good quality and workmanship do not mean that it will result in more costs or that you need more time to complete the Works. Quality works, timeliness and reasonable costs are not mutually exclusive. All you need is better planning, better detailing and better supervision. A good Project Manager will go a long way in delivering a quality product within reasonable time and cost. And only if the top management has the will and conviction in carrying out whatever is necessary for delivering that product.

Time Management

Project Management in high rise construction
Time is always of essence. Time is money. More time on a project means more money spent on personnel, facilities and equipment. More time on the project would also mean more bank interest payment by both developer and contractor. It is therefore important that good project planning and implementation be emphasized, especially so for high-rise construction. A good contractor, experienced in high-rise construction would be able to competently schedule the project completion, but equally important would be a competent Project Manager to manage and check the contractor ’s sequencing of works and methods of construction. If the contractor errs in certain aspects, this can be picked up and rectified by the Project Manager. It would be difficult if the Project Manager is poor in knowledge in high-rise project and construction planning and execution, but disastrous if it is likewise for the Contractor ’s staff. To manage a project to its timely completion is certainly more difficult for a high-rise construction as there are more works concentrated on a square metre of built-up area, meaning there is a higher concentration of people, activities and equipment per building block. There are certainly more critical events requiring more precise sequencing of works. The Project manager can assist the Contractor and Developer in the timely completion of projects by advising on the following aspects:
  • Machinery – Use of tower cranes, gondolas, materials hoists and passenger hoists. The deployment of the right equipment at the right place will not only help to expedite works, but help in the supervision and management of works.
  • Planning – Proper advance planning of activities and its timings can ensure speedy construction and an experienced Project Manager can assist and fine-tune the planning and scheduling with on time site input. They can often give different dimensions to the plans and schedules.
  • Construction Methods – Construction methods are always being up-dated and improved. It need not be the ground shaking leap of technology, but sometimes the simple incremental improvement that can increase the speed of construction or allow concurrent activities to be carried out. Such innovations include working platforms and extended gondolas.
  • Materials – The use of appropriate materials such as steel construction and precast concrete can speed up construction and the Project Manager can help the developer to make an informed choice.

Quality Management

There are two aspects or components of management that affects quality. They are the quality of the system and quality in personnel. In striving for quality in the Works, it is imperative that there must be quality in both aspects mentioned above. In the management system, an organizational structure must be put in place to move the projects from implementation to completion. These would entail a comprehensive understanding of the works and processes involved and the subsequent detailed documentation of these processes into a workable system. Different projects will demand different priorities but the management system should remain consistent in its approach, meaning that the system must be able to accommodate all the project types, with only minor fine-tuning for each project. The system would probably evolve with the new management ideas, technology and regulatory requirements. The second aspect is that there must be capable staff to manage the system and implement it.

There are two distinct phases in the development of a project. The first is the planning phase involving design and plans approval by the authorities. The second would be the procurement/construction phase in which there would be tender(s) and the actual construction. It is imperative that the personnel in the management be organized and deployed not only according to their capabilities and experiences, but woven into a formidable team that is capable of pushing the project smoothly, from the planning phase to the construction/ completion phase. The thought process at each phase must be congruent and consistent with each other. In the construction phase, proper supervision of works would invariably result in satisfactory if not good workmanship and quality. However, there must be a systematic method of supervision which should be well documented and implemented throughout the construction phase. There must be a system of review and feedback of the site problems hindering good workmanship. Such feedbacks should filter down the site supervision team and also the Contractor site team. supervision, at times standing supervision is imperative if quality is not to be compromised. If the management is not on its toes, the Contractor definitely will not be on theirs.

Quality of works not only depends on good workmanship, but is also dependant on the following:
  • Detailing – You can have the best workers, but poor detailing will inevitably result in poor workmanship and poor finishes such as leaking windows, unsightly service ducts and poor external joints.
  • Equipment – Frequent use of simple equipment such as leveler and theodolite can achieve better verticality required especially in a high-rise construction.
  • Methodology – Very often, the work methods are often not carefully thought of and as a result, much is left to the workers to do what they thought is the best. Good and thorough method statements can go a long way in making sure the right sequence and timing is being adhered to, resulting in no confusion and speedy execution of works.
  • Supervision – The Project Manager must deploy suitable supervision staff to ensure good workmanship. They must be provided with the right equipment and a safe environment.
Only with the basic pre-requisite of quality in management system as well as personnel in place, can an organization be confident in delivering quality products. The management and personnel are the core ingredients in Quality Control, without which the taste of success can never be savoured. A good Project Manager will go a long way in delivering a quality product within reasonable time and cost.

Cost Management

Cost has always been a major concern to Developers and in many a times, comes at the expense of quality. However, it need not be the case if there is good design, planning and execution, with the help of good project management. A good management system and competent personnel, including supervision staff, can rein in project cost escalation in the following ways:
  • Abortive Works – Can be minimized with good design and planning.
  • Rectification Works – Can be prevented with vigilant supervision.
  • Materials – The use of the right material, especially for the external façade is important, especially when the installation the method requires more manpower, machinery/equipment or specialist attention. Steel may be costly, but there are savings in foundation costs and construction time. Careful planning can achieve an optimum approach.
  • Alternative Materials – Once it is apparent that cost over-run is inevitable; the problem can be alleviated by judicious substitution of materials without sacrificing much of the quality in materials.
  • Innovative Methods – Innovation comes with experience and once the industry matures, innovative methods of construction or installation will naturally follow through, especially in this inter-connected world where knowledge transfer is swift.
  • New Technology – More efficient ways of construction, such as prefabrication and precasting can increase the construction speed as well as achieving good quality.

Project Management Approaches in India

Traditionally, the Project Management is primarily part of the Developer’s organization, that is, it is an in-house management. Some developers do employ Project Management firms to undertake the task, whilst some prefer a hybrid team, a mix of professional managers and own staff.

In-house Management

This is the most common approach taken by local developers, in which all the staff required for the implementation and completion of a project are sourced within the company or employed specifically to perform designated duties. It has its advantages and pitfalls, but the disadvantages seem to out-weight the advantages. The main advantage to this approach is that the developer has full control of all the staff, both at the head office and on site. It has full control, from the managers to the supervisors and store men. The developer has the opportunity to set up a good team of managers to set the pace of development. If successful, such in-house management can mean quality projects and costs savings. Unfortunately, with a vast set of problems peculiar locally, this is a formidable task.

It is only in the last 6 or 7 years that India ’s real estate sector started to boom and that mega projects started to spring up in major cities. However, in these years, the preference of education and profession was in the IT sector. There is thus a dearth of experienced and technically competent professionals to power the construction industry. To make matters worse, the buoyant market resulted in frequent job hopping for better pay and many site staff does not see their projects through to completion. How much experiences can one gain with frequent job hopping? With such a scenario, it is difficult for the developers to assemble a decent team, much less a good one.

It is also observed that promotion within an organization is often based on friendship and unfailing support of the subordinates and much less through merit. It is difficult to find good staff and equally daunting to retain them. Good staff is hard to come by, what more those with high-rise and complex projects experience?

Out-sourced Management

Many developers have now employed professional managers to manage their projects, especially the commercial or special projects. There are some good entities providing such services. These professional managers will employ the necessary staff to call for tenders, recommend award and eventually supervise the construction, recommend payment and compile the final accounts. In this system, there is less politicking involved, but there is always the problem of flow of instruction or information from the developer to the managers. But out-sourcing does not solve the problem of finding experienced and competent staff. The staff is also as good as their managers. The main failing of this system is that the developer does not really experience the learning curve as its staff is not involved in the micro management.

Hybrid Management

Here, the developer employs the professional managers for the top posts, the numbers of which depends on the complexity of the project. In this instance, the developer can employ the best in the field and may source from outside the country if the need arises. As the employment is on a contract basis, the cost of such employment can be factored into the project without any subsequent baggage. If the right caliber of manager can be sourced, then the rewards in time, cost and quality can be tremendous, though it may cost a little more. Moreover, the junior staff employed by the developer in support of the managers has the opportunity to learn and the promising ones can be inducted as senior managers in the long run.

Contractual & Management Problems
Contractual Issues

Project and construction managers can only manage and supervise a project in accordance to the Contract specifications and requirements. They do not have the authority to impose or instruct the Contractors outside of the contract. It is thus paramount that the drawings, specifications and other contractual documents must incorporate the good practices of each trade and detailing. Secondly, the contract must empower the Project Manager/Superintending Officer to take the contractor to task for poor workmanship or dereliction in duty and take the appropriate actions to make the Contractor perform. Otherwise, it would be akin to giving him a gun for firing blanks.

Out-dated Specifications and Standards

The pace of the building industry is constantly changing and evermore faster as building technology advances with the introduction of new materials, products and processes. The construction industry here is very much insular and at times not receptive to changes. There is this noticeable inherent fear of new practices and sometimes a reluctance to adopt new ideas. Only when the developers and consultants start to visit the more developed countries do they realize that they are some way behind in terms of timely delivery of a good project. You will find that many of the Indian Standards are dated back to the 1970s or 1980’s. Many of the specifications are actually detailing construction methods that are used decades ago. Moreover, there are many new products being introduced, both produced locally and from abroad. It is a very slow process to get the local developers and consultants to use these new products and technology.

Traditional Management Practices

India may have world class managers in the finance and IT sectors, but when it comes to the construction and real estate sectors, it is severely lacking. This is primarily due to the late boom in this industry and also the way the design and management of the project is traditionally structured. On one hand, you have the Architects and Engineers executing their design and authorities ’ other hand, there is this management of construction by other managers. In this scenario, there is a potential in lack of co-ordination and proper flow of ideas and feedbacks between the two parties. More disturbing would be that important lessons from poor design, detailing, specifications and contractual deficiencies are not learnt by the designers and drafters of contract as there is not much dialogue between the designers and the managers. Such traditional practices resulted in lessons not learnt and repetitive mistakes committed.

Project Management in high rise construction

There is also an ‘over -staffing ’ of site personnel by the developer to the extent that some duties are duplicated and some are not clearly delineated. It is also observed that some developers do have a habit of employing more staff on site to keep an eye on each other. Such practices only encourage the staff to form cliques and distract them in the performance of their duties in supervising the project.

Inexperienced Site Staff

As explained earlier on the late boom in the real estate sector and the importance of the IT sector, good and experience site managers and supervisors are hard to come by. The industry is left with not much choice but to deploy whoever is available on the platter. Good managers and supervisors can be sourced from outside the country, but the cost is always a deterrent.

Lack of Focus by Consultants

With the advent of the real estate boom, the project consultants are over-loaded with work. They are expanding their offices fast. As with the site staff, good and experienced designers are hard to come by. The urgent need to push out projects fast to be marketed by the developers resulted in not so well thought design and details. Specifications are often left out if not littered with discrepancies. No matter how good is the workmanship, if there is poor detailing, the product cannot work well. All this mad rush resulted in the lack of focus by consultants to produce quality design and details.

Late Appointment of Project Managers

With the anomalies mentioned above that is very much peculiar here, it cannot be overstated that the Project Manager should be appointed early, as early as the design stage. Only then can valuable input on the design and specifications be incorporated into the design and contract to make it more conducive to good workmanship. While interacting with the developer’s staff and cons ultants at an early stage, the Project Manager is able to have a more effective and personal communication with them during construction. For some reasons, developers like to leave it late in appointing the project managers, even sometimes only after the award of contract.


Despite the deficiencies and obstacles faced by the Industry, there are ways to alleviate the problems in achieving reasonable quality, delivery time and cost in projects. The steps taken can include:
  • Adopting the most suitable project management system that suits the organization;
  • Identifying, sourcing and retaining competent staff;
  • Producing a comprehensive set of contract documents which is in line with international practices and standard;
  • Employing competent Consultants and Project Manager, out-sourcing to foreign personnel or companies if the cost allows for;
  • Appointing the key players early;
  • Embracing new technologies and construction methods; and
  • Marrying project and construction management.


The article has been reproduced from the proceeding of 'National Workshop on HighRise Constructions' with the kind permission from the event organizers.
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