Transforming Construction Managers into Project Managers

Contruction Manager and Project managerOne of the lasting memories of my stint as Head of Training at HCC, almost two decades ago, is the design and roll out of a high investment training programme which we had christened “Project Manager Development Programme” (PMDP). The top management at HCC often articulated that, while the company had outstanding Construction Managers, it lacked a cadre of Project Managers. The size and complexity of construction was on the cusp of major transformation and in order to scale up from pure ‘construction’ contractors, many construction companies aspired to replicate their success in EPC and BOT space.

Since all major construction companies were grappling with the same situation, it was obvious that the Project Managers (as envisioned) could not be hired from the market. Getting expat PMs was also fraught with risks due to issues of cost and cultural fit. We, in the training function of HCC therefore had our task cut out for us.

After many interactions with the leadership team, HR and the then available crop of ‘Project Managers’, we developed the requirements of what a PM @ HCC should be like. In hind sight, this is what is referred as Competency mapping, at least the left-hand side of the competency equation! To put it succinctly, the expectation was that the PM should be like the CEO of a project!

An elaborate programme was designed that combined class room intervention, role plays, case studies, group activities, site visits, interaction with industry experts and assignments to translate the learnings on the job. Expert faculty were roped in, each spent time to understand the training design and the main objective to customize their inputs. The participants were hand picked by the management and underwent a 360-degree feedback to jump start the transition from CM to PM role.

The programme was rolled out in 4 modules of one week each, spaced 3 months apart. While the participants and their superiors did not openly express skepticism about the benefit of such a large investment, it was palpable at the launch of the programme. Thankfully, with the active involvement of the participants and all faculty, the skepticism soon transformed into enthusiasm. This was evident from the fact that not a single participant missed even a day of the programme which stretched to almost one year. While a rigorous ROI calculation was not performed, there was clearly an acknowledgement of the success of the programme by the accelerated career graph of the participants. The effectiveness of the programme can be assessed by the fact that almost all participants rose to become successful project Managers and beyond in HCC or other large companies; some even rising to the role of business leaders!

The success of PMDP led us to replicate this approach and roll out programmes to develop Contracts Managers, Planning Managers and Quality Managers amongst other. Much later, I had another opportunity to design and anchor a similar programme for a leading Real Estate developer.

I am sure that similar need to develop Project Managers exists in many large organizations. Unfortunately, an off-the-shelf programme will not succeed and customization is essential. The investment is large, but I think the returns justify it. What is required is a belief in the power of training and availability of well-directed efforts!