The Construction Project as a System
The Project Management Institute defines a project as “an endeavour with a definite beginning and a definite end undertaken to create a unique product or service”. A construction project falls in this definition, as it involves a temporary endeavour which is the putting up of a structure within the specified duration which is defined by the contract. It consumes resources such as materials, finances, time and human resource input.
A construction project involves a large number of individuals or organizations coming together for a definite period of time, sharing project goals and objectives. These teams are drawn from different areas of specialization and each plays a role that depends on the role of the other party for the overall delivery of the project. In fact, Dainty et al. (2006) refer to the project based interaction as being “characterised by unfamiliar groups of people coming together for short periods before disbanding to work on other endeavours.”
To better understand the construction project setting, it is wise to view a construction project as a system. According to the general systems concept, a system can be described as an assemblage of things interconnected and interdependent so as to form a complex unity. Taking a holistic view, the construction project setting can be seen as a whole unit with inputs from the various participants which then undergo a transformation process to produce the building which is the output. On taking a reductionist approach to a construction project setting, the emphasis will be on examining and analysing the individual parts of the whole systems; these parts are the various individuals and organizations that come together for the purpose of the project.
The construction project can then be seen as an open system made up of sub-systems that are interdependent and conscious of the external environment in which they operate. These sub-systems are the project participants who are discussed below.
The design and construction of buildings is a complex operation that involves different professions, organizations and individuals of varied qualifications, experiences and skills coming together. This section explores the various parties that play a role in a construction project, including what roles they play and their responsibilities.
This is the person who initiates a construction project. Clients are the owners of the project and provide funds for the undertaking of the project. They also have the role of communicating their needs and requirements to the design team in sufficient detail to enable them to make decisions on the most viable solution while considering the constraints set by the needs of the client. Clients can be grouped into the following types:
These are individual parties who would like to undertake the construction of a building either for their occupancy or for renting out to tenants. It includes individuals who have a house would like their house built, altered, extended or maintained.
These are businesses or legal entities such as private and public limited companies and non-governmental organizations that initiate and fund a construction project. A company may want to put up an office block for its employees and the managerial staff or build for either selling or renting purposes.
These are governmental organizations, mostly referred to as corporations that are in the construction business with the aim of satisfying the welfare of the citizens. These organizations include the various county governments (e.g. Nairobi City County), corporations such as Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC). These will initiate construction projects depending on the needs and obtain a subsidy for funding the projects from the government. Their main aim is not to make profits but may collect money to facilitate seasonal maintenance and repair of the structures put up whether rented out to the public or being used by these organizations to offer services to the public.
The government may initiate and fund construction projects with the aim of offering basic services to the citizens of the country. These may include the construction of schools, hospitals, roads, and the installation, maintenance and repair of public utilities such as water, gas and electricity. In Kenya, the work is usually issued through the various government ministries such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Technology, Ministry of Defence, etc.
The members of the design team are sometimes referred to as the professionals. These are the construction consultants who are concerned with the design of the buildings and the supervision of the construction process to ensure that the designed quality of the project is maintained throughout the construction process. The team is composed of the following parties:
The architect is the person who is responsible for the design of the building. He/she is tasked with the duty of transforming the client’s needs and requirements communicated to him during the briefing stage to sketches, drawings and models which are important information that will help the builder in making decisions of how much materials to be purchased for putting up the building. In Kenya, the architectural profession is regulated by Cap 525, Laws of Kenya.
These are the designers who are tasked with the responsibility of designing part or components of the building. They rely on the information generated by the architect to make decisions on the appropriate detailing that is required to produce meaningful and useful information to the builders (the construction team) for the purposes of erecting the structure.
- Civil/Structural Engineer: is concerned with the stability of the structure. This professional uses mathematical concepts to detail the foundations, columns, beams and slabs in order to ensure that they are stable and able to support their weight and the weight of the building occupants. The aim is to ensure that the constructed facility is safe for use by the building owner/occupants.
- Building Services Engineers: this refers to the mechanical and electrical (M & E) engineers in the building industry. Mechanical engineers design the layouts for the plumbing installations, hot and cold water supply systems, lifts, ventilation and air conditioning components. The electrical engineer is concerned with the design of electrical installations and telecommunications services etc. to be installed in the building.
This is a professional in the construction industry who is responsible for the estimation of the quantities of materials to be used and the costs to be incurred when putting up the building. The Quantity Surveyor (commonly referred to as the QS) relies on the information generated by the architect and the engineers in the form of drawings and specifications to measure quantities for the purposes of preparing tender/contract documents (e.g. bills of quantities) in accordance with a published standard method of measurement. These contract documents are then used to select a suitable contractor for undertaking the construction works in a process called tendering.
The QS also evaluates the design decisions of the architect and assess the available options with the aim of providing the client with comprehensive information on which to base their investment decisions.
Project Manager (Construction Project Manager)
The construction industry is increasingly appreciating the role played by the project manager due to the increase in the complexity of construction projects and the need for delivering quality projects within short periods of time as demanded by the modern day clients. The project managers work in a construction project revolves mainly about the balancing of time, cost and scope constraints to achieve quality according to the specifications capturing the requirements and needs of the client that must be satisfied.
When appointed by the client, the project manager may be tasked with the duty of coordinating the general flow of the project, coordinating site activities, ensuring quality of workmanship and materials, ensuring good health and construction safety practice, etc. this party plays a key central role in the facilitation of the flow of information between and among the other construction project participants and therefore can be seen as the managers of the project communications and information sharing. They play an important role in ensuring that the right information is sent to the right person for the purpose that is intended for their rightful use in making construction project related decisions.
The members of the design team have since in the past organised themselves in professional associations that are aimed at promoting the advancement of their careers and practice of their various professions. In Kenya, construction-related professional organizations include the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), Institute of Quantity Surveyors of Kenya (IQSK), Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) and Institution of Construction Project Managers of Kenya (ICPMK).
This is the team that is concerned with the physical execution of the construction works. They rely on the information produced by the members of the design team to execute their works. It is composed of the main contractor and the various sub-contractors. On the site, where these parties work, the main activity is to derive the meaning of information supplied to them in the form of drawings, specifications and site instructions to make decisions on the best actions to be taken in order to come up with the designed building.
Construction projects are not undertaken in a world of isolation. Construction as a business operates in a world of regulations; from design to actual construction and maintenance of the structures, there exists a legal framework that dictates how things are to be done. There are building bylaws, environmental sustainability requirements, professional codes of conduct and standards, safety requirements, zoning bylaws and other policies that regulate how buildings are designed, constructed and operated.
The regulatory team refers to the various government authorities and professional organizations that set standards and codes that should be followed during the design and construction of buildings. These include the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors (BORAQS) that regulates the practice of architecture and quantity surveying in Kenya, Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) that regulates the engineering profession, the National Construction Authority (NCA) that regulates the registration and practice of contractors, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), the various County Government Development Boards and planning authorities, among others.
There are other important construction project participants that have not been mentioned in the above classification. These include the financial/banking sector, manufacturers, suppliers, educational and learning institutions and research and development institutions.
The financial and banking sector can participate either as clients or as financiers of the project. Banking institutions provide loans to clients, building developers and contractors. The insurance firms get involved by way of providing insurance for the construction works, surety undertakings in the form of performance bonds, etc.
Manufactures and suppliers of materials and building components, equipment and appliances are also an important party. They are involved in the generation of information on the installation of the equipment, material preparation and application techniques (e.g. paint application instructions), maintenance notes and performance specifications. This information becomes useful to the designers, builders and the users of the buildings and influences their decisions on choice of materials, investment decisions and maintenance schedules.
However, the system cannot be complete without making a mention of the educational, research and development institutions that train the various professionals, apprentices and tradesmen that get involved in construction projects. These include the institutions of higher learning such as colleges, universities and vocational schools. Other important parties in the construction project information systems include the research laboratories for material testing.
I’m a quantity surveyor, content creator and the founder of QuantBuild Academy, the fastest-growing technology-focused YouTube channel online. I teach CAD & project management software to beginners and share residential design ideas and real estate property reviews with my viewers online.