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Are you a sustainable PM? - RICS Article


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Project managers are well placed to ensure projects are sustainable, say Mark Langdon and Donnie MacNicol, but they need to ask some tough questions

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Are you a sustainable PM? - RICS Article

  1. 1. 14 Construction Journal November-December 09 Sustainability – Project management Are you a sustainable PM? uilt environment projects and the way they are managed make a significant contribution to the heavy, inefficient and wasteful use of resources. In a recent supplement on sustainable buildings (27 April 2009), the Financial Times reported that the construction industry accounts for 8% of the UK’s GDP but produces a third of the country’s waste – more than three times that of the UK’s households. Anecdotal evidence from client studies have also shown that on some projects up to 50% of man- hours worked on sites are wasted, and less than half of the work that is planned each day gets done. This is clearly unsustainable. PMs are well placed to make a significant contribution to ensuring projects are sustainable as they are experts in maximising human potential as well as optimising the use of natural resources. It is therefore vital that PMs develop and subscribe to certain principles when working with those who commission and sponsor projects, and latterly when they are scoping, managing and delivering these projects. 2. Does the team sufficiently understand sustainability? Individuals will have different levels of understanding and experience of sustainability. These variations must be identified and ironed out, especially if they exist within the core client advisory team whom others will look to for direction, e.g. there may be deeply held opinions regarding contractual arrangements, dealing with members of the supply chain or using innovative products. The PM must seek to establish a consistent level of understanding across the team, even if only to a basic level, potentially using external advice to achieve this. 3. Has a ‘triple bottom line’ set of objectives been defined? Typically, project objectives are defined using a limited number of financial measures. Sustainability requires a broader view, requiring an optimum balance between social, economic and environmental factors. These must be considered at the earliest opportunity, ideally at pre-feasibility/inception stage where concept options are being considered. This requires the client to make decisions distinguishing between cost and value (guided by the project policy). For example, a building could be viewed as merely meeting short- term accommodation needs, whereas with additional thought and investment it could become a long-term representation of the organisation’s brand. The project could potentially ‘cost’ more, but its longer- term ‘value’ could be considerably greater. 4. Have the whole life costs of the project been considered? Where necessary, the PM should challenge the strategic budgetary allocation for the project to ensure it adequately supports a funding model based on whole life costs. Capital expenditure will often be higher to realise longer-term benefits and reduced costs but, given the current economic challenges, a short-term cash flow-driven approach will be tempting for many clients. The PM must ensure the client understands the implications of their decisions, B Project managers are well placed to ensure projects are sustainable, say Mark Langdon and Donnie MacNicol, but they need to ask some tough questions Innovation may not only be in the fabric of the final deliverable but also in the way the project is contracted… or the way the building is considered as a ‘system of systems’ The following 10 questions are meant to provoke readers into considering their role in both managing sustainable projects and managing projects sustainably. Given the complexity of the sustainability arena, the questions are deliberately generic as it is critical that whatever actions are taken, they are done in context of the specific project. 1. What is the client’s policy on sustainability? Much of the terminology around sustainability is new and the meanings have not yet been fully established – but team members will have their own views and will have already made certain assumptions. It is therefore critical that the client defines what sustainability actually means in the context of the specific project and sets the spirit and policy by which the team will work to, e.g. using sustainable products only in public areas rather than across the whole project. This policy should be guided by the PM and challenged by the team to ensure robustness. ©
  2. 2. November-December 09 Construction Journal 15 Sustainability – Project management especially given the uncertainty of looking many years ahead. Take for example the real-life case of choosing a sustainable car. Research has been produced to show that over the whole life of a vehicle such as the Hummer, the total greenhouse gas emissions may be lower than a Toyota Prius. The outcome of the research was highly dependent on assumptions made and the relative importance put on different factors, but it highlights that this is a complex area and that assumptions must be challenged. This demonstrates that context is critical to consider before any decisions are made. 5. Is there an integrated procurement strategy in place? The PM must ensure that the procurement route chosen and the level of integration between supply chain members are compatible with delivering a sustainable project. Teamwork, contracts, knowledge sharing and communication are all crucial and should ensure that the expertise of all parties is used to maximise the project’s value, e.g. the benefits derived from the effective interconnection between the design delivery and maintenance of the resulting assets. 6. Has a robust business case been created and tested? The PM should provide the structure and process through which the team challenges the basis for the project and whether it will meet current or future client needs (financial and triple bottom line) remembering that the most sustainable project may be the one not actually done. The PM must ensure that a robust and comprehensive business case is produced and ensure the client fully appreciates the levels of uncertainty and any underlying assumptions. 7. Is there a positive attitude towards innovation? As the sustainability landscape is not fully mapped out, it is important that the team has a positive attitude towards innovation and accept that risk is inevitable. Innovation may not only be in the fabric of the final deliverable, but also in the way the project is contracted, how the supply chain is engaged or the way the building is considered as a ‘system of systems’. From the beginning of the project, this innovation/risk balance must be identified and managed, ensuring that all project participants accept a proportionate share of the risk, e.g. if designers are encouraged to use new approaches, the client must accept a proportion of the risk, remembering that ‘If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got’. 8. Does the team understand the technical complexities? Some sustainable technology solutions are simple and straightforward. Others, however, have many facets and need more careful consideration and assessment by the team. Many technologies are new and their relationships with other products and systems may not have been tested over time and will result in some unknowns, e.g. the BRE’s concern that specifying materials or products solely on one criterion, such as embodied carbon or recycled content, can lead to sub-optimal overall sustainability choices. BRE has also noted that materials or products not getting A or A+ ratings in its Green Guide can still be, and already are, part of buildings achieving high levels in the Code for Sustainable Homes or BREEAM. It is important to resist fads, fashions and tokenism and to consider each potential solution on its merits. All project participants can make substantial contributions to this debate using their particular perspective and expertise. Related competencies include: M009, T013 It is critical that the client defines what sustainability actually means in the context of the specific project 9. Is the human potential on the project being maximised? People are the most important resource on any project and their energies, skills and enthusiasm must be harnessed and rewarded to ensure their continued support. Choosing and developing the team to deliver a sustainable project, and manage it sustainably, should be a core competence of a PM and is essential to successful delivery. The PM should involve the team in the decision-making process to improve engagement, e.g. running forums to discuss how the client’s sustainability objectives can be met. 10. Are you modelling the behaviours you wish to see from others? When leading a project, a significant contribution can be made by modelling the behaviours you wish to see on the project. Small things, done consistently, will show the importance given to sustainability on the project, e.g. sourcing materials for the project from sustainable sources (such as paper), ensuring that a green travel plan is implemented and using conference calls where possible (keeping in mind the importance of building relationships through face-to- face contact). Sustainability, what it means and what it influences is having an impact on the world of surveying and the PM’s role is key in educating, challenging and providing direction for the future. Those willing to have their attitudes and knowledge challenged, and who can adapt to the opportunities being presented, will position themselves as leaders in this evolving/developing field. Mark Langdon is an architect and contributor on sustainability with the Association for Project Management (APM). Donnie MacNicol is a Director of management consultancy Team Animation and Chair of the APM’s People Specific Interest Group