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Platform-based delivery is transforming the role of project managers

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Project managers in the construction sector are being challenged to radically improve the efficiency and predictability of the delivery of complex and bespoke assets. The UK Government’s Transforming Construction Challenge suggests that product platform-based delivery might be the best way of meeting that challenge.

As we describe in our Spring 2022 Project Journal article, some construction firms are already investing strategically in product platforms, helping them to deliver cost-effective, customised solutions for clients. The efficiencies are created using relatively standard core components (such as the chassis for a car, or structural frame for a building), while customisation or personalisation is enabled by allowing clients to choose from a wide range of peripheral components. These are attached to the core using standard interfaces. Product platforms, therefore, enable a coordinated set of components, with established supply chains, to be used in multiple ways to develop a wide set of designs.

In this article, we highlight some implications for project managers that can result from adopting a platform approach to the delivery of complex assets.

Typically, projects deliver bespoke assets to clients’ often emergent and changing requirements by designing, specifying, procuring and integrating multiple systems and subsystems. The role of the project manager is to guide the client and manage the project team’s efforts and risks during each delivery stage, ensuring a smooth, on-site delivery to time, cost and quality.

As part of this role, project professionals help clients to identify and procure specialist advisors to develop the asset and undertake the process of integration. This process needs to be done anew for each project to meet client demands for one-off solutions, and a reliance on professionals’ knowledge in a fragmented market (see more in our recent paper product platform development in construction consultancy firms).

The emergence of a new platform-based delivery environment transforms the role of project managers in three ways:

First, in an environment where multiple firms develop proprietary building platforms, the task of system integration is already done, and supply chains are already established. As a result, many key risks are already addressed. The project manager’s role then changes, to become one of helping clients to choose between platforms (each with their own delivery managers), rather than selecting and integrating the work of specialists.

Second, to help clients choose between platforms, project professionals may need to become more familiar with each firm’s platform approach, technologies and their delivery mechanisms. This degree of engagement with the technological detail represents a change for project managers who may be more used to applying rigid plans.

Third, as product platform delivery becomes more widespread, the need for advice on platform selection will increase. Project professionals face a completely new type of competitor. Firms like Akerlof, Bryden Wood and Project Frog now offer new business solutions to help clients define and deliver buildings and infrastructure using product platforms. Project managers unwilling to step into this advisory-type role risk being edged out of the construction platform delivery market.

The adoption of platform delivery for complex bespoke assets to achieve radical improvements in productivity and predictability is likely to increase in the future. Ultimately, however, the implementation of platforms in delivering buildings depends on shifting from a project-based delivery to one that is more product-focused, shifting and changing the role of the project manager.

Project professionals would do well to consider how platform delivery is changing their sectors, and to develop the capabilities and knowledge to help them thrive in this new competitive environment.

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