Saturday, November 18, 2017

Project Management

Success of a project lies in managing the quality of deliverables

 

Hi-Point Project Management Solutions Private Limited has emerged as an important player across India’s project management space landscape. The firm set up in 2012 is advising several construction and real estate firms on managing their projects efficiently. MATTHEW GRANT, DIRECTOR, HI-POINT PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS PRIVATE LIMITED, spoke to SHRIKANT RAO on the challenges of the work site and the future of project management.

 

Briefly give us an understanding of your academic qualifications and work experience prior to the founding of Hi-Point?

I have a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Plymouth in the west of England. After my education I spent a couple of years in project management before joining a company called Buro Happold in the UK where I worked for 15 years. Their mainstream work is in specialist structures like the O2 Arena in London, The British Museum. I got involved in specialist areas like structural engineering worked on a lot of projects like the University of London, Kings College and the college next to Hyde Park. We designed the Olympic Stadium in London for 2012. I was with them at their London office for eight years during which time I was associated with projects like the Millennium Dome. I also later worked with them in the Middle East. The last project I worked for them was the Pune International Stadium, the Subrato Roy Cricket Stadium. The design was done by Sir Michael Hopkins who is based in London and AKT were the structural engineers for the project. We were employed as the project managers for that job and on responsible for the design and programme management. I brought the detailed design over to India five years ago. We soon got a contractor on board - Shapoorji Pallonji – who was finally awarded the contract. We basically supervised the construction over here in India. Whilst I was here to supervise the work I grew the Buro Happold business to a team of about 40 people starting up Hi-Point. We were then working with clients like Reliance, Sahara, the Lodhas for their One World Towers and Omkar, for their twin towers in Worli. Since then it has been very exciting times for us as a firm.

 

Tell us about High-Point and what led you to set it up here in India? What is the role played by your organisation in the project management space?

Since 2009 there is no doubt that the real estate industry in India has been growing from strength to strength. The projects have been getting bigger and client becoming more ambitious and with that there has been a greater need for project control than used to be earlier.  Even the end users and the clients are becoming more sophisticated and have higher expectations. And that is why in Mumbai and other metros they are looking for more and more project managers to provide services they need to bring projects on time, with quality and discipline which is one of the biggest issues I find working on projects in India. We started High-Point two years ago. We are four directors – myself, Jeffrey Malcolm West, who is our Managing Director, Ravi Shankar Rallapally and J G George – who all came together to set up the firm. All of us had the experience of working with international consultancies – I had met them in business previously – and asked ourselves why work for somebody else when we could start our own firm. So at that point in time I decided to split off from my previous organisation. We were fortunate enough to bring two great projects – the Ahuja Towers in Prabhadevi which is a 270 metre high end residential tower and another medium range but high rise development in Andheri West – which laid a foundation and were in a sense a springboard for subsequent business. Since then we have built on further with other projects. High Point is an India registered firm not an international firm. I always tell our clients because the firm has two expats and two Indians for directors our services are delivered with international average grounded in Indian reality.

 

That is a very interesting observation?

Yes it is important to tell that because India is a very different country – it has a unique construction industry with a lot of challenges that we don’t necessarily have elsewhere in the world. What we do is to provide the international average but one which is grounded in the reality of Indian conditions, and an understanding of what the issues are. What sets us apart from other firms is that all of us are working directors. We don’t sit in the office directing other people. We only take projects on if the directors can be directly involved – it is as simple as that. The reason for that is each one of us wants to add value to all our projects. We train our staff properly. Because we are hands on directors we get involved in all our projects. We provide discipline and honesty and vigour to all our projects and that is evident from the way we work. Those are our most important qualifications.

 

How important are professional qualifications when it comes to project execution? Tell us about the qualifications of the people you employ?

Professional qualifications become very important to your work – it is so in the UK and that is something India is now trying to embrace and will become increasingly important in the coming years. It gives clients a certain confidence to know you have professional qualifications. They are assured of a certain standard of work. I think all across industry whether you are a structural engineer, an MEP engineer or an architect, qualifications will become important. We employ a variety of people. Some of them are project managers, architects, engineers – it all depends on the skill sets we are looking for. Project management covers a huge array of disciplines and clients have differing requirements that we need a mixture of people. Some contribute to discipline, some to creativity while others offer quality.   

 

High-Point’s forte seems to be high rise?
High rise structures are just one of the areas in which we specialise in. We are also into stadiums, hospitals, commercial and industrial structures. My main experience in high rises was in the Middle East where we did the Kingdom Trade Centre and the Al Faisaliah Tower – those are significant buildings. Even my colleagues have been working on high rises here in India.


High rise is where you find synergies with construction players like the Capacit’e Group?

Yes Capacit’e has been a good client for us and it is great to be with them. Basically they were the contractors on one of the buildings that we did earlier and they liked what we were doing on the project. So much so that they employed us as a project management expert to help them develop a construction efficiency programme with them and also for implementing project management techniques and systems within their company.

 

So what exactly do you offer for your clients?   

In terms of project management it is my belief that unless you get under the skin of the work at hand you are not adding value to the project. The important thing is to roll up your sleeves and get involved. You’ve got to be at the site resolving problems, seeing where the issues are and how you can improve programme detailing etc. So A) you are learning as you go and B) you are adding value to the project. I tell all the guys we mentor and associate with unless you are adding value to the project Mumbai is not going to be up there. So the bottomline is to get involved and anticipate problems before they come up. As a project manager you have got to be looking ahead at helping resolve problems.  

 

What are the challenges you face in the project management space in India’s construction sector?

India’s construction industry is very unique in its approach and the way it is set up, also in terms of variously demanding clients, and having to deal with a migrant work force and issues of culture. All of those things have to be taken in balance and it is very important to understand as a part of good project management techniques. But at the same time it is also imperative to understand that an international average – best practices, if you like – can speed up contribution and contribute to quality. That is where my experience and that of my partners becomes so important.

 

You are suggesting a smart weaving of Western techniques with the Indian construction environment?

Yes what we do in Saudi Arabia or London doesn’t necessarily work in India. We have to Indianise things because we are dealing with different scenarios. We may have a very good idea but it is important to put it in the Indian context and say: ‘This is going to work but we would have to change things slightly because the industry here is not as technologically geared up as the one in London.’ We probably don’t have the same level of skills as the man in New York or Tokyo. Therefore we won’t try to implement 100 per cent of the original idea but if we can get 75 per cent that is great.

 

Could you offer an example of that?

If you look at high performance technology for instance a climbing form system is not common in India, we are not used to them. What we have to do there before starting work is to understand the qualifications of the workforce.  The workforce will have to be trained. We may still not be able to operate this as quickly as say the man in the Middle East because we are not used to doing it.  So there is a case for providing training.       

 

What is your assessment of the current levels of project management techniques employed in India’s construction sector?
I think it would be safe to say there is a lot of room for improvement. Generally I would say the quality across the industry is now picking up due to advancements in construction techniques. Clients are willing to invest in high performance formwork systems and that helps in the construction a lot. I think timelines and programmes are the biggest focus for the industry at the moment in terms of bringing in projects on time and on budget. Certainly within the real estate industry here a few years ago developers weren’t interested in project programme because they felt the longer the project went on the more the cost went up. Those days are gone now and the real estate industry is now becoming more competitive. Early return on investment is becoming more important for developers and even clients are becoming more demanding. They are not willing to wait for their projects any longer for their investments – they want their apartments on time.

 

So you are saying there is a perceptible increase in sophistication in the Indian building business?

Oh yes, without a shadow of doubt. I think the industry is becoming more demanding. They want the same product in India as they would get in London or in Dubai. And it is safe to say that is also what developers now want to provide. Pan India we are experiencing demanding customers. People want quality even at the low end of the market; they want better value for money.

 

 

How evolved are Indian project managers in terms of their abilities? Could you talk of their strengths and the areas in which they are laggard?

Indian project managers are very good at getting into fine details but generally it is the bigger picture issues on which they struggle with. They need to understand how they can improve programme timelines, what are the issues that require to be resolved to prevent the project from grinding to a halt three months down the line. As project managers we certainly like to get involved at the design stage so that we can help manage the team and make sure the drawings are delivered on time as per quality. Ultimately the success of the project is all about managing the quality of the deliverables. The project is only as good as the drawings.  If those drawings are not co-ordinated then we will have problems on the side. So you have to make sure that the project is buildable. Can the contractors build is the first question you need to address. The second issue would be of finding out what are the finer details he is going to struggle with. The concept of detail in design is extremely important. All clients these days want a quick turnaround. We always talk of floor cycles and everyone wants a 7 day floor cycle. Now if it is a very complicated structural design you won’t get a 7 day floor cycle. We always like to simplify the design and prefer slabs because they are quick to build. Typically a lot of the structural engineers in India use beams within the floor plates which makes it very complicated to construct. Therefore the detailing of reinforcements, coordination with the architecture and the MEP – all of these require quick resolution at the drawing board itself. Once it travels to the site is becomes a headache and you cannot do anything. I would say not enough time goes into the planning of projects.

The success of any project lies in its planning. Too many clients and developers want to start their construction very quickly. They rush the design and planning of the project and suffer for it for the next 5 years of the construction period. Our advice to them is: Don’t start construction immediately, wait for another 3 months, plan it all properly and finish work 18 months earlier.

 

 

Tell us about the companies with which your firm is currently engaged as a project management consultant?

Ahuja Construction is one of our main clients.  We are offering our expertise in the case of two of their high rise tower projects. We are also offering them strategic advice to them in the case of a 50 acre high rise, ‘low cost’, project in Ambarnath. High-Point is also associated with Shapoorji Pallonji on a commercial project; also with the Capacit’e Group who are on doing projects worth about Rs 3000 crore across the country, which are largely high rises. They want us to improve efficiency at their construction sites and we have rolled out a programme for them. What we do is we visit each of their work site, spending between 5-10 days mentoring the staff on how to make the site and construction more efficient and that has been very successful for us. We are going to work with them for 12 months.

 

What is the feedback you have obtained from the Capacit’e site in terms of absorption of the techniques suggested by you?

We have been working with them for more than four months now on a number of sites and are already witnessing a transformation. We are seeing better management of materials, improvement in housekeeping, the sites are getting more organised. They are getting better quality and better cycle time working with slabs. The other advantage, of course, is that clients are very happy with them because their product is improving, the sites are looking good and they are already getting repeat business.

 

India faces a huge project management skills deficit? How do you think we should resolve that problem?

It is not something that can be addressed immediately. India is still at the learning curve and there is a lot of work to do. We need to look at project management skills as a long term need. We have to look at closer engagement between industry and academia.

There needs to be a higher emphasis on professional training. That will force managers to continually develop through on the job training and through taking external courses. 

 

 

 




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