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Can you manage, sir?

Does the new RIBA certificate in project management meet the objectives it sets out to achieve? Here is a personal view

Project management (PM) can be defined as the planning, monitoring and control of all aspects of a project - including the motivation of all those involved in it - in order to achieve the project objectives within an agreed period of time, cost and performance. On many construction projects the architect will undertake these management functions. However, on large or complex projects, or where the client interface is uncertain, the separate services of a project manager have often been found to be essential.

Unfortunately for the profession, architects are not always renowned for their management prowess. Bypassing the architect as the key manager and client contact on many construction projects has been the inevitable consequence of the lack of management development within the profession.

As 'management' generally has a steadily increasing prominence within UK industry, the demands placed on professional advisors by clients to perform within set time, cost and quality criteria have similarly increased. A successful manager requires knowledge, experience and aptitude, and there is now a certified project management qualification recognised by both the RIBA and the Association of Project Managers.

The course aims to implant and provide the knowledge and understanding to be a project manager, while also seeking to assess an individual's experience to successfully manage projects.

The residential course takes place over two consecutive long weekends with private study in between. It comprises 23 modules, ranging from 'the project management plan' to 'project close out', together with overviews of procurement, legal and Health and Safety topics. There is an element of distance learning required (pre-course reading), a mid week assignment, practical group work, and two thorough examinations. All participants also submit a detailed curriculum vitae - similar to the Part II students' Log Book, (but without the fabrication) - to demonstrate the participants' current level of experience. A minimum of three years' demonstrable experience in project management is required to gain the APMP (Association for Project Management Professionals) award, with a further four years' experience specifically in the construction sector required to gain the RIBA certificate.

The course can, however, be completed by those with little or no experience who want to complete the 'knowledge' aspect of the training, although the qualifications will not be issued until the experience requirement has been satisfied.

I would advise taking a break from the office during the week as the volume and intensity of the course leaves a lot of information to be absorbed in a short period of time. Much of the content covers generic project management, that is, using examples from non-construction as well as construction projects to illustrate points. This concentrates on the process rather than the detail of any particular construction topic.

So, how has the course benefited the way that we practice? Firstly, some of the tools, particularly the 'project management plan' (PMP) are proving to be of vital assistance in the successful management ofthe larger, more complex projects in our office where no dedicated project manager is commissioned.Although historically our quality assurance system addressed some of the issues included in the PMP, the benefit of using a single constantly updated document - which is issued to the client and all other project participants - should not be underestimated.

This document covers the 'why, what, when, where, who and how' of the project.

The use of risk workshops to anticipate and plan for project-orientated risks, rather than only considering Health & Safety risks, has also already benefited projects in the office, and saved both time and money for our clients. Secondly, the range of issues covered has improved my appreciation of some of the activities of project managers with whom I am currently working and encouraged us to upgrade the PM framework already used by our practice.

Overall, this was probably the most beneficial course I have attended since completing my Part 3. In order to raise the professional quality of management skills within the profession, these tools and techniques should be introduced into mainstream practice.

Steven Naylor is an architect and a very recent member of the Association of Project Management.

RIBA Eastern Region/University of Cambridge course organised by Tim Brading, (01223) 461458.

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