Dr Hani Fidawi, country manager Projacs discusses the importance of project management.
Qatar is maintaining its economic edge within the Gulf region and, despite a tightened budget, its infrastructure spend nevertheless remains intact, with a whopping QAR261bn ($72bn) on infra-structure development with special focus on transport, water, electricity and sewage, besides a num-ber of road expansion projects.
While smaller projects have been stalled, put on hold or cancelled in entirety, with cut-backs the order of the day, the government has assured that the major projects will continue unabated.
However, companies are ‘consolidating’ during this down turn and included in austerity measures is the trend to remove positions that are seen as ‘unnecessary’ or excessive. Within this, comes project management, an already oft times contested role within the sector. Sometimes perceived as a super-fluous role, it is one of the first positions to come under the knife when budgets are winnowed.
With four years in Qatar as country manager for Projacs International, Dr Hani Fidawi, has an inside track when it comes to the challenges around project management in the country, given the focus of Projacs International, a project management company.
Commenting on the perceived trend, he points out that there is a need to differentiate between small and big investors. “Small clients either don’t know of or don’t make use of the project manager’s skills as they deal directly with the contractor, for example constructing a small villa, and see no reason to add what is seen as another layer of cost,” he says. Whereas,” he continues, “the bigger clients are fully aware of the importance of the PM’s role on their project and see it as crucial. They see the pro-ject management company as a neutral third party, serving as a ‘bridge’ between the client and con-tractor, ensuring the scope of work is completed to deadline and within budget.”
The project management role
While the project management company works for the client, it also works to the benefit of the project over all, Fidawi explains. “We are professionals, we have no bias towards either client or contractor,” he stresses.
Fidawi said that project management is crucial and points out that “as a third party, we have no vested interest to increase costs as we have a fixed fee. The contractor on the other hand can benefit by increasing fees. So, during the design stage, we intervene with the consultant to control the design in such a way that it does not exceed the budget. We do continuous value engineering and assess-ment before we put it out to tender, ensuring that the design is doable within budget and specifications.
“We offer a professional assessment which we put forward to the client, who then has the choice of following the recommendation or disregarding it. It is our duty to advise with integrity.”
He says with a smile that to date, Projacs has not had to face the issue of a client not taking the advice offered. He attributes this success to early involvement on the projects that the company handles: “We start with the clients from day one, from the day they decide to make an investment, from con-cept. Ideally, we would like to be involved from the feasibility study of the project – and sometimes we are – and we advise on the type of project would result in the best ROI for the client. We care about client expenses, the doability of the project, the deliverables and that the project is completed on time. We convince through our evidence, our calculations and this is underscored by what the banks are ultimately prepared to finance.
“At the end of the day not all clients have the money to finance their ideas, their projects; they have to find financing and the banks in turn, require a feasibility study to make their decision on viability.”
In the present climate companies are cutting back on personnel working on projects, often with the PM the first to be cut to bring down costs. The belief is that it’s just a management role, easily duplicated by anyone else on the project, whether it be the resident engineer or the architect. However, the PM’s role is more complex than that and cannot simply be shared over a group of people or a team already working on the project. Fidawi emphasises that this is false economy, as the project management cost of any project is a relatively modest fee. “Compared to the consultant or contractor’s fee, the project management company’s fee is the lowest,” he shares and adds, “unless it’s a highly specialised project that requires very specialised people.” He stresses that sharing the role is “not right” and continues “they cannot replace a third party company that is neutral, with someone (or more people) working within the project, representing the architect or the client, who is not unbiased. Where is the benefit of this tactic?” he asks. Fidawi emphasises that project management should not be seen as an ‘add-on’ to a project but a crucial consideration if a project is to be completed successfully. He draws attention to another growing trend common in Qatar, that of companies selecting the cheapest solution, whether it be materials or skills and here Fidawi is adamant that this mind-set must stop: “Don’t go for ‘cheap professionals’ as there is no such thing,” he says with emphasis and adds: “Make sure you select the right people and the right companies to take on this crucial role.”
Characterists of a good PM
Project managers often face sharing a view that is not necessarily what either side (consultant or contractor) would like to hear, and this is one of the skills of this position: the ability to say ‘no’ in such a way that no-one feels offended or put out.
Commenting on being asked what the main characteristics of a good project manager are, Fidawi is pensive. While ultimately the PM should come with an engineering background, he says there is a balance between soft and hard skills needed: “Fifty percent should be technical and fifty percent should be personality. A good PM must be collaborative. He must be able to persuade a client through logical reasoning and be able to manage a diverse group of people and skills sets. He has huge responsibility from costs and budgets, to handling different personalities and suppliers.
“He has to ensure the scope of work is achieved within a multitude of constraints and he has to be a team player. The PM and his team ultimately takes the headache out of the project,” he says in conclusion.