Arrowsmith Project Management Limited

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Assessing the complexity in manufacturing systems is absolutely necessary for gaining a thorough description of the system and an awareness of the extent of the problems, or their causes and effects.

The construction industry is more complex than it might seem at first glance. The many disciplines involved depend on the successful completion of the others, and, like an onion, there exists layer upon layer of complexity. Focusing on the basics can make a big impact on a company and on the opportunities that it can take advantage of. 

In addition to these characteristics, as construction projects have become larger and more complex due to the rise in urbanization, megaprojects, and smart cities Assessing the complexity in manufacturing systems is absolutely necessary for gaining a thorough description of the system and an awareness of the extent of the problems, or their causes and effects.

One of the more important layers involves people. It takes skill, knowledge and foresight to be successful in the construction industry. A characteristic of an effective construction company is being able to attract and keep the right employees – people who understand both the industry and the customers, whether those are the project owners or the job subcontractors. Skills can be learned, but a good work ethic and good character are two traits that can’t be taught or bought. Successful recruiting includes clarifying the things your company stands for and bringing in talent that fits into your company’s mission and goals. Investors, too, need to be knowledgeable about the industry they are involved in.

A second layer involves the potential for greater productivity in the industry. Construction productivity has been an area of research interest since the last 4–5 decades. It is very difficult to set up a benchmark for productivity and standard productivity measures to increase output. The projects are usually planned and calculated based on the historical data and experience. It is important to take into account the differentiator and the variables that we need for the project. There are processes that could be enhanced to increase productivity, and more and more companies are looking into adopting them. There are new workflows that can revolutionize the way business gets done. The industry is ripe for new ideas, tools and disruptive technologies.

 The various factors in construction include:

  1. Size of the project undertaken
  2. Project design complexities
  3. Wearing site conditions such as soil drainage topography
  4. Weather conditions such as rain, summer, winter, etc.
  5. Seasons changes
  6. Manpower and labour conditions such as skilled and unskilled labour
  7. Government or regulatory requirements
  8. Material source supply and IDs
  9. Complexity to transport and logistics
  10. Design changes

Fortunately, the industry is also full of resourceful problem solvers who can come up with solutions to unexpected issues and problems – and often need to do so on-the-spot. A construction job involves a fluid alliance of small and medium-sized businesses all working in partnership toward a common end. Even on the largest jobs involving the largest companies, many decisions are by necessity made on the project level by the project manager.

Evidently it is not easy to determine a value for project complexity. A tested approach to such problems is to divide the overall problem in a sufficiently large number of sub-problems and to evaluate these individually. By our bounded rationality we will most often be a bit off the target. If no bias exists (i.e. we deal with a normal distribution of errors) then we will at times overestimate a value and underestimate another one. Overall these have a tendency to cancel each other out. This approach is for example used on a daily basis in estimating the price of construction projects around the world.

Another layer of complexity involves technology. Although there has been a dialog around the perception that companies within the industry are afraid of or resistant to technology, that is not necessarily the case. There are specific rational and logical reasons why the industry has been slow in adopting technology. But, again by necessity, the dynamics have changed and continue to change. In the past, companies kept their software tools and workflows as closely held secrets in order to gain a competitive edge. These days, for the betterment of the industry and to propel it forward, companies are more willing to share information about their software, tools, successes, and processes, elaborating on what works and brings value and, conversely, what doesn’t. Everyone benefits from this exchange of lessons learned.