Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution
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Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution

An Evidence-Based Project Success Model

F.H. (Bud) Griffis, Frederick B. Plummer, Francis X. DarConte

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eBook - ePub

Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution

An Evidence-Based Project Success Model

F.H. (Bud) Griffis, Frederick B. Plummer, Francis X. DarConte

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About This Book

Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution provides a masterclass in the project and people management skills that set apart the most accomplished design and construction professionals. This textbook for graduate and advanced undergraduate students distils the insights gleaned over the authors' decades of experience in academia and industry into actionable principles for success in a notoriously demanding field.

Combining real life case studies with original research, Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution points the way from the classroom to the jobsite. Interactive exercises allow readers to take the role of junior project managers and other emerging professionals and reason through the ethical dilemmas surrounding building projects from the initial bid to completion. Chapters on stakeholder alignment, productivity, and project success ensure that aspiring leaders' business decisions are as economically sound as they are ethically correct.

From its accessible, conversational tone to the lifetime's worth of construction wisdom it shares, Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution offers an extended mentoring session with three giants of the building industry.

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1 Introduction to Leadership, Ethics, and Project Execution

DOI: 10.1201/9781003129943-1

1.1 A New Paradigm for Project Delivery

Consider the following: a client, well-known and strategically important to your firm, has just asked you to undertake a critically important project for his organization. The client advises you that this project has no option for failure. The project must be delivered with the organization’s highest performance expectations of quality, time, and cost. Failure to do so will have catastrophic consequences for his organization, and in turn, your firm’s reputation—along with any financial implications. As the project executive, you are responsible for assessing the risks and strategic planning options associated with delivering this project. It is a difficult task, but you believe the delivery team is ready for the challenge and that the project objectives are achievable.
Now “fast forward” one year. The project delivery team has just successfully completed this critical construction program. Not only were the desired project performance outcomes achieved, but each of the project stakeholders also sensed that they had been a part of something extraordinary. Upon reflection, you find the project stakeholders had optimized the procurement process and transformed themselves into a seamless, high-performance team. The key takeaway was their ability to move beyond the traditional roles and “operational silos” typically occupied by project owners, design consultants, and contractors—which they achieved by coming together and executing within a shared vision for project success.
We, the authors of this book, have seen this outcome happen time and again—when the project is critically important, and the consequences of failure are so dire, that the project stakeholders share a heightened sense of urgency to unite and get it done. As a result, two ideas have crystallized for consideration:
  • First, for every successful project, a shared vision of project execution existed that inspired delivery team members to work with one another for a common goal.
  • Second, an ideal set of project delivery conditions were established that permitted the team to function as a high-performance team.
The authors’ decades of varied industry experience have brought these two ideas into focus, with the belief that a theoretical framework for an optimal project delivery environment is possible. Key ingredients of our methodology are underpinned by the constructs of leadership, ethics, and aligned project delivery. The ingredients consist of strategies and best practices that can be understood through the exploration of the following:
  • Identification of the underlying systems and issues within the practice of project execution—in other words, the real reasons for project success and failure
  • The adoption of a theoretical project delivery alignment framework for consistently and successfully executing projects of all types and sizes
Throughout the book, we will connect our industry experience with the findings of practical applied research, informing the student about the conditions, methods, and perspectives under which an optimized project delivery system can be found. This results in an overall methodological foundation and vision for project execution.

1.2 Why Can’t All Projects Be Successful?

Why is it that even with the best construction management education and training available to the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, most construction projects today continue to experience time delays, exceed their budgeted cost, or simply fail to meet project objectives and the sponsor’s expectations? In recent decades, throughout the world, cost and schedule overruns in both the private and public sectors have remained consistently high, with only one or two out of ten megaprojects being completed on budget and schedule (Flyvbjerg 2017). Performance data for several megaprojects speak effectively to the real terms of project failure. Table 1.1 presents a snapshot of some of the best-known project cost overruns.
Despite all the latest technologies, tools, and resources that owners, designers, and constructors have at their disposal, project success may take much longer to achieve. In the worst of circumstances, success may simply never arrive. According to Flyvbjerg (2017) (whose extensive research focus has been on the delivery of megaprojects), performance shortcomings can be traced back to a host of issues, including the project type, complexity, challenges of scale, uncertainty, poor front-end planning, a lack of mechanisms that force accountability, quality of initial estimates, clear project objectives, ineffective decision-making, inconsistent involvement with project leaders, ethical and political issues, and misalignment of interests among the project stakeholders. However, the success or failure of any project is never clear-cut, partially because the perspective of success varies with each of the stakeholders. Also, there are many types of projects that fail—not only complex megaprojects but also everyday run-of-the-mill projects. If you have been involved in construction project management for a long time, you know exactly how this goes—but why does it happen?
Table 1.1 Megaproject Cost Overruns
Project Cost Overrun%
Sydney Opera House, Australia 1,400%
Montreal Summer Olympics, Canada 720%
Boston’s Big Dig, USA 220%
Denver International Airport, USA 200%
Channel Tunnel, UK, France 80%
Source: Excerpt from Flyvbjerg 2017, 9–11, Table 1.2
We would suggest that many of the functional elements described by Flyvbjerg are not root causes of the difficulties linked to failure, but that many are only symptoms. As Dr. Griffis is known to regularly espouse in his class lectures:
We have a secret to share with you! Project delivery is a people business, and it is easy to forget that projects succeed—or fail—because of people. More alarmingly, most project stakeholders do not understand the engagement conditions or delivery environment connected to the creation of high-performance teams and project success.
Find a successful project, and chances are you will discover a delivery process that created value for each of its stakeholders. You will probably also find a collaborative team culture that is defined by an optimal set of delivery conditions designed to ensure project success.

1.3 Project Execution

Before going any further with the purpose of this book, it is appropriate to make sure that everyone understands what we mean when we refer to a “project.” It is also important to note how one might fit into the delivery process after he or she graduates from college. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a “project” as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result” (PMI 2004, 5). A result could be a product, service, document, capability, a deliverable, or an outcome. Peter W.G. Morris (2013) writes that a project is an undertaking to realize an idea. Projects follow a consistent development sequence when serving as organizational entities. No matter the complexity or size of the project, Morris suggests that the following development sequencing remains the same: (1) an idea; (2) outline concept and strategy; (3) detailed planning; (4) execution; and (5) completion/closeout (Morris 2013).
The project itself might be a construction project or, as is often the case, it could also be a manufacturing project or a product development project. It could be a software development project or a project to implement cloud computing to replace a company’s legacy software. It could be a research project or merely cooking our dinner. It could be designing and building a ship in a shipyard. It is a job to plan and do almost anything that follows the same development sequence Morris outlined previously, from idea to completion.
For thousands of years, projects have existed. This fact is evident in the building of the Giza pyramids, Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, or the aqueducts, roads, and bridges of Rome. However, it was not until the Age of Enlightenment and well into the eighteenth century that humankind started to think of project delivery, project management, and project execution in a more formalized framework. Projects began to transition from the concept of the “master builder” to the beginnings of modern project execution with the interconnected roles of architecture, engineering, and construction.
Figure 1.1 illustrates an overall project execution framework. The framework shown is for a large capital construction project (such as those mentioned in Section 1.2) or a large industrial project. Project execution is defined as all the activities that have to do with planning the work and then actually performing the work.
There are two distinct parts of project execution—project planning and project implementation. This reflects how major projects have a definite point in time when the project is approved and funded (clear goals and objectives).
Figure 1.1 Overall Project Execution Framework
Project planning (see Figure 1.1) consists of evaluating various options and selecting one of those options. The preferred option is then further defined. This planning phase is when the owner’s organization can determine what they want. Figure 1.1 shows crucial planning activities that will take place for the concept that is ultimately selected:
  • Project Delivery Method (PDM): The approach for delivering the project, e.g., design-bid-build (DBB), design-build (DB), or construction management at risk (CMR)
  • Procurement Method: The approach for bidding the project, e.g., lump sum low bid, best value selection, or cost-plus
  • Technical Definition: Sufficient programming, design, and engineering to develop a funding basis and to bid the job
  • WBS, Contracts, and Purchase Orders: Development of a work breakdown structure (WBS) and model contracts (and model purchase orders, if needed) for bidding the job
  • Execution Planning: Sufficient planning to identify major activities, bid the job, and develop high-confidence cost and schedule bases
  • Schedule and Cost Estimate: Develop a high-confidence schedule and a high-confidence cost estimate
Once the project is approved and funded, project implementation begins. The exact timing and sequencing of the major implementation phases shown will largely depend on the project delivery method (contracting strategy) that is selected. Those will be covered later in the book. Architecture and engineering groups will design what will be built or made during the project. If there is a significant component of engineered equipment on the job, procurement may be done along with the engineering. Otherwise, procurement may be done by the construction contractor, as shown here.
Manufacturing is a major phase only if the project needs a lot of engineered equipment, prototype equipment, or first-of-a-kind equipment. The project completion activities (commissioning and operations support) and any after-market opportunities available to the contractors, such...

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