06 December 2018



By:Chau Ee, LEE, Wang Yue, Qin Jiayu

“No man is an island”

An old cliché, perhaps a tired one too, but how true it still remains not least in today’s international construction industry.

The project team in any international infrastructure project is quite often made up of a team of people coming from diversified backgrounds, customs, cultures and trained in different construction disciplines to work together to build a project.  

Being unfamiliar with these unfamiliar factors and coupled with the inability to communicate and deal with the client or employer team effectively in an international project can prove detrimental to this project in so many ways.

That is why it is safe to say that a good degree of awareness of the social, cultural, political and economic climate is a useful aid to successful management of an international project.

Here and now

For a number of years now, an increasing number of major Chinese contractors have gone abroad in search of international projects particularly those that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative. This is all well and good, but with such projects comes the challenges, unforeseen it may appear, of the human kind.   

It could be argued that the challenges are not necessarily within the control of the client, its project team or members down the supply chain. However, what can be done at the very least as a construction project moves beyond the technical, financial, economic and operational feasibility studies stages towards initiation and implementation, is to plan towards and successfully manage the project.

Admittedly though, there can be no one single panacea for such ill should it rear its ugly head.

How do we cope with tomorrow?

It is questionable then, whether there can ever be a set of ”win-win” guidelines or recommendations to assist a project team in its long-standing but nonetheless committed pursuit of successfully managing an international project. It is a measure of the magnitude of such a task that the recommendations set out below are derived purely from a technical albeit elementary rather than operational point of view.

The principal management and decision-making responsibility changes as the construction project moves from project inception to implementation. Since the quality of the work in each of these steps affects the later phases, the communication at the point when the responsibility shifts becomes very important. 

Knowledge of project management tools such as planning, scheduling, and budgeting and control is not entirely sufficient to successfully manage a project. What these tools are and when they are properly adopted will serve to enhance the project delivery process. Once clearly understood and with responsibilities duly assigned, the implementation process kicks off properly.

Time scheduling for project tasks should be assigned for staff who are familiar with the work to be performed. This is, of course, easier said than done. Such a task would first entail staff with a good level of expertise in ensuring work breakdown structures were being used as a basis for network development and budgeting. The work packages should also be well-defined and related to the internal organisation and responsibilities. All organisations involved in this process should understand and agree to its scope and time, for example, identifying the precise start and completion events or milestones for each work package. This can sometimes be a contentious issue!

The appropriate evaluation of an initial price forecast is clearly relevant, as this is required to develop a meaningful management cost control system. 

The identification of design cost limits associated fee levels, overall cost limits to enable the client to make decisions on whether the project should proceed and if so, which proposal at whichever phase would facilitate the optimum use of finance.

It is necessary to put in place an appropriate draft quality statement setting out the anticipated quality plan, quality assurance requirements and outline specifications for the workmanship to be achieved for the project.

It is comforting that with so much at stake, investors and parties along the supply chain feel the need to equip themselves with the appropriate experience and expertise to work together to successfully manage a project, regardless of its size and complexity.

In many ways, to achieve successful project management, there has to be a keen awareness and a somewhat uncommon capability to deal with the various overlapping forces that form what is today a closely-knit international construction industry.

There should be a boldness to ask the correct questions about so-called basic and established assumptions which may not necessarily represent recognised international standards.

Change, if required, should be sought. Hopefully, one should never overlook or under-estimate the value of the human touch. In many respects, as some have said, the approach should be one of empathy not apathy.

A Guide to Doing Business in China

We explore the key issues being considered by clients looking to unlock investment opportunities in the People’s Republic of China.

Doing Business in China
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