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By: Holly Welles on November 20th, 2020

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4 Popular Project Management Approaches for the Construction Industry

Construction project management is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Managers and supervisors will change their practices to suit a specific job site, but some approaches continue to be favorites regardless of time, distance or specific need. What are the most popular project management approaches in the construction industry, and why are they essential?

Agile Project Management

In the military, a well-known saying states that no plan survives contact with the enemy. Construction companies might not be facing enemy forces on the job site, but there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome to keep things moving smoothly.

That’s where agile project management comes in. The focus here is adaptability. It may incorporate pieces of the other management approaches, but agile projects aren’t afraid to jump from one management style to the next if that’s what it takes to get the job done.

The most significant challenge in agile project management is the need for skilled supervisors who can stay one step ahead of any project changes while working to keep everything on track. Without that supervisory scaffolding, an agile construction site risks falling apart at the seams. When successful, agile project management is one of the most versatile options, and that makes it so sought-after.

Lean Project Management

Lean project management loosely derives from lean manufacturing principles, which help optimize production while reducing waste. Unlike some of the other approaches on this list, deadlines aren’t as crucial as meeting the client’s needs and expectations.

It also focuses on eliminating waste in its many forms, from defects and design failures to overproduction and even downtime. On a construction project, time is money, and lean project management recognizes that challenge.

Lean project management can be an incredible tool, but it’s also problematic. It is not the most straightforward management approach to adopt, requiring a lot of time, patience and sometimes a rather significant investment of both money and training time to get it off the ground.

Waterfall Project Management

In the information technology sector, “waterfall” is a prevalent term to describe the software development workflow process. Also known as traditional project management, this is a favored approach often used in the construction industry. Understanding this approach to project management is as simple as observing a waterfall. Gravity causes the water to flow downstream. So, too, does progression when following a waterfall project management approach.

Team members must complete each step of the waterfall before progress can overflow and start to work on the next step. While it can be a valuable tool for construction site efficiency because it keeps the entire team on a single task at once, it can extend deadlines if used excessively. It is still one of the time-tested forms of project management in the construction industry.

Critical Path Project Management

Many construction practices haven’t changed much over the years, and critical path project management is one. This old-school style of project management identifies necessary tasks as part of a larger chain. At a glance, a project manager can tell what needs to happen, when it needs to get finished and what might throw a wrench in the works and prevent completion.

This highly structured system also makes it easier to guarantee efficiency and productivity. The downside of critical path management is that it mimics the chain mentioned above. If one link fails, the rest of the chain falls to the ground. It lacks the flexibility and adaptability of some of the other project management approaches on this list.

Select a Project Management Approach That Adapts to Your Needs

No two construction projects will ever be alike, even if they come from the same blueprints. As such, project management is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Construction management supervisors need to evaluate each project to determine which approach will work best.

Jobs that are likely to see many last-minute changes might benefit from an agile approach, as long as a skilled team is available to manage them. Projects where quality is a higher priority than deadlines work best under a lean model, and ones where construction efficiency is the most crucial detail are best under waterfall or critical path systems. Choose the one that works best for each situation.

Holly Welles is a freelance writer who covers construction and real estate innovations for publishers across the web, including NCCER and Constructible. She also runs her own residential real estate blog, The Estate Update.