Six trends transforming project management for Saudi’s construction sector

Real estate insight by Maroun Deeb, Head of Project & Development Services, KSA & Bahrain, JLL shares insights from the Kingdom’s construction sector

The real estate development sector is a key driver of economic diversification and growth in the Middle East (MENA). Despite global economic uncertainties, countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are seeing unprecedented growth in mega- and giga-projects.

The spotlight has been on the Saudi Arabian construction sector since the announcement of Vision 2030 in 2016 – one of the world’s most ambitious projects. According to JLL’s recent KSA Construction Market Intelligence report, 2022 saw a record-high value of project awards estimated at $57bn. Meanwhile, MEED Projects forecast the total value of projects awarded in KSA between 2021 and 2025 to reach $569bn, more than 35% of the entire MENA region.

However, the construction sector continues to face pressure of inflated prices and capacities attributed to headwinds led by global economic volatility. Supply chain disruptions and shipping freight price hikes appear to have settled over the last year. Yet, skilled labour demand and price fluctuations remain a global concern within the construction sector.

Now more than ever, embracing new ways to manage projects is crucial to maximising delivery efficiencies for successful outcomes. While clients and projects may vary, they generally share a common goal – to complete the task on time, within budget and to the required quality as a minimum.

Here are six project management trends I  see for project success in today’s ever more complex environment:

  • Acceleration of technology adoption

The construction industry has remained largely unchanged for centuries, with few productivity enhancements since the invention of the crane. However, the need for improvement has been dramatically realised and accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has brought the industry to an inflection point, resulting in a rapid increase in the adoption of AI and automation solutions for project management.

With the increased use of robotics and automation, there is a greater focus on sustainability and safety, improved collaboration and communication, as well as the use of predictive analytics, are also becoming more prevalent. As a result, project managers in the construction industry will need to adapt to stay ahead of the curve.

In JLL’s ‘The State of Construction Tech 2020′ report, four categories were identified as having a “high impact” on construction technology: digital collaboration, scanning, safety/wearables, and Building Information Modelling/Computer-Aided Design (BIM/CAD).

In the Middle East, technology adoption within the real estate development industry has significantly increased post-pandemic. Scanning technologies and digital surveying tools are being used to feed back into digital models for real-time tracking of construction progress. Integrated Integrated Facility Management (IFM), Building Management Systems (BMS), and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, as well as understanding the data from intelligent building systems, are also becoming commonplace.

The adoption of technology to plan, execute, and control all aspects of a project enhances communication with team members, clients, and stakeholders. It helps keep track of the project budget and schedule, and provides more accurate and reliable data. This enables project managers to make quicker and better-informed decisions, minimizing risks and ensuring successful delivery.

  • Greater emphasis on change management  

With ongoing global macroeconomic challenges affecting organisations everywhere, it is becoming increasingly important for project managers to proactively adapt to changes and rapidly modify strategies in the face of disruption to deliver projects successfully. This requires real-time data to make swift and more accurate decisions, feedback from team members and regular review and assessment of the change management performance to identify gaps or areas of improvement.

  • Inclusion of hybrid project management approach

As no two projects are alike, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to project management. This has resulted in a growing adoption of hybrid project management combining different methodologies – typically the combination of traditional critical path or waterfall and agile methods – for increased flexibility in driving project success.

The hybrid approach can also include the combination of different project management strategies. Team members from multiple backgrounds, different views and working styles can drive more stability, engagement and efficiency.

It is no longer about sticking to one methodology but bringing specific attributes together and finding an optimal combination of methods for each project to better respond to changing market conditions at different stages of the project lifecycle.

  • Impact of emotional intelligence and soft skills

As project management involves managing people, emotional intelligence is essential to lead projects to success.

Traditionally, emphasis was on analytical and technical skills, but the rise in project management software has increasingly replaced it. Project managers’ focus is now shifting more towards the ability to connect and empathise with others to manage project teams and stakeholders effectively. Soft skills such as good communication, conflict resolution, negotiation, team building, time management, and the ability to make optimal decisions play a central role within a project team.

  • Introduction of hybrid procurement

With increasing costs and supply chains facing increased pressure, hybrid procurement, such as client/delivery partnerships, is being implemented to maintain and control the cost of giga projects. Hybrid procurement combines nimble and decentralised purchasing with centralised compliance and oversight, aiming to optimise value and efficiency in a transaction.

There are other procurement routes that should be explored, such as the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) procurement method. ECI allows for a better assessment of constructability and provides a higher opportunity to select innovative methods for project delivery at an early stage, before final decisions are made. Additionally, routes like Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) should be carefully reviewed, assessed, and considered on a case-by-case basis. However, all of the above approaches demand a high level of trust among all parties involved.

  • Growing attention on PMO value

Project Management Office (PMO) is critical in complex market conditions and times of uncertainty. It can help organisations navigate turbulent situations where fast-paced decision-making is crucial.

In addition to supporting, monitoring and controlling project management, one of PMO’s critical functions is to ensure that a project aligns with the organisation’s long-term goals and that the organisation’s activities always add value.

The trend over the fast couple of years was for many organisations to adopt an interim PMO, while building their in-house capabilities, which can be successful if we make sure we capture and share lessons learned and best practice tools, while we continue evolving our systems and embrace technology.

In summary, the combination of higher levels of construction, technological advancements and new ways to manage projects provides the opportunity to transform the project management industry globally and especially in KSA as it delivers a range of giga projects underpinning the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision.

Saudi Arabia is emerging as a global leader and shaping its future through the construction industry and transformative projects, with the potential to export local learning overseas to an extent never seen before. The next few years will be an exciting time for project managers willing to adapt and embrace the rapid pace of change.

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