Consulting engineering company GIBB Group CEO Richard Vries says the company’s discipline-orientated project management has given it a competitive edge in the engineering industry.
“We focus purely on developing and managing engineering-related projects, as this is where our expertise lies. Our experience and expertise in this area have put us in a strong competitive position, given our understanding of the full value chain of a project,” he states.
Vries notes that discipline-orientated project management has also prevented the company from being affected by the shortage of skilled project managers in the country.
“It is our way of mitigating the challenge as well as the problem that comes with it – not meeting client expectations. We hire employees with years of experience who have worked their way up in the engineering industry.
“If we are hiring a project manager for a power station project, for example, we ensure the person has experience in that particular discipline. Project management at GIBB is not simply about administering software – it is about understanding the value chain of the entire process,” he says.
Vries says that problems arise when companies hire nondiscipline project managers.
“When a project manager is hired to manage a type of project he or she has never managed before, problems arise. For example, hiring an information technology project manager to manage the building of a dam will result in the person not knowing exactly what to do. He or she will then rely on the software, or other people, to try to get by,” he explains.
Vries states that discipline-orientated project management should be a solution not only for GIBB, but also for the rest of the industry.
“When hiring a project manager, companies must ask applicants what experience they have in that particular field [which empowers them] to know what needs to happen on site.
“It is not only about the project management qualification; it is about discipline-related experience as well,” he stresses.
Meanwhile, GIBB says it faces challenges other than skills shortages.
“The biggest problem we face is managing timeframes and budgets, as projects in the engineering discipline tend to be large scale.
“Time and budget management are probably the most important criteria for our clients and large projects make it a huge challenge to ensure we deliver what is promised within the allocated time and budget,” says Vries.
Scoping and packaging the project is another challenge.
“Take the building of a dam, for example. There are so many unknown elements when the project starts. You can never, with absolute accuracy, predict what you might find when digging the tunnel or what other unexpected challenges may arise.
“This makes scoping the project and the budget another challenge for us. This is where our experience in the industry comes in. We can rely on past experience and expertise to help us face the challenges and ensure our client is satisfied,” he says.
Further, Vries points out that GIBB’s clients, particularly outside South Africa, are often also faced with funding challenges.
“The need is there to build the infrastructure but the funds are not.
“On the other hand, we see a lot of financiers wanting to fund infrastructure projects. The challenge for us is to bring the two together,” he explains.
This is an area where he feels the company is develop- ing strong capabilities and expertise.
“We have the industry knowledge to tell financiers where they can spend the money and we can foster the relationship to benefit our clients as well,” he says.
Vries emphasises the importance of project management in the political stability of a country.
“Project management plays a key role in service delivery. A lack of service delivery leads to political instability. We have seen it in our own country.
“We need more project man- agers who understand this role and who can deliver, so that when the politicians make promises, they are promises that can be delivered on,” he says.
Experience, task orienta- tion, strong commercial orientation, industry knowledge and extensive knowledge of project-management delivery techniques are Vries’s criteria for a successful project manager.
“At GIBB, we have a structured process that our project managers must go through to become a project leader or project director. This ensures they are sufficiently trained and experienced,” he says.
Vries says the company is strengthening and developing its project-management sys- tems and procedures for large projects.
“We are aiming to develop our software, internal quality controls and other systems into a real science. With large projects, the work can become very complicated. There are ways and means of monitoring and managing a project in a simpler way than what we are currently doing. We want to find those ways and means.
“We also plan to develop the human capabilities in the company by improving the technical and project-management skills of our people. We also continue to recruit top engineers and project man- agers from all over the world to come on board with us,” he says.