On this week’s episode of the Construction Industry Podcast I talk with Dr. Milan Radosavljevic from the University or Reading.
Dr. Radosavljevic talks about his experience in the Construction Industry and also about his brand new book called Construction Management Strategies.
Take a listen by pressing the orange “play” button above and see how you can win a free copy of this great new book on construction management.
Tech Segment: What’s going on with RIM and Blackberry?
On the tech tip, I spoke with my friend Tim Arthur from the Talking Tech Show podcast.
Since many of us in the construction sector use Blackberrys, I spoke with Tim about the difficult situation in which RIM is right now as it continues to lose market share and have its stock price drop.
Tim had great insights on the mobile market and how Blackberry fits in it.
Press the orange “play” button above to listen to the episode.
Feature Segment Transcription
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Milan: Good morning. I’m fine. How are you, Cesar?
Cesar: I’m good. I guess it’s not morning there for you, is it?
Milan: Well, it’s 10 past 1:00 so it’s not morning but I’m kind of adjusting to your time here. There you go.
Cesar: Thank you. I appreciate it. Now, today we’re going to talk about your new book called Construction Management Strategies: A Theory of Construction Management. But before we get into that, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you come from in the industry?
Milan: Yes. I mean looking back on – I mean I’m originally from the Continental Europe. I come from a small 2 million country, Slovenia, which used to be part of the former Yugoslavia. Also graduating in civil engineering, I worked in the offsite construction company, precast concrete manufacturing where basically what we were doing is we were building factories and schools and various different other industry facilities offsite and then installing them on the construction site and other sites.
Then that was the first time where I got the experience of something that in the book we call total construction services and then I was kind of lucky enough to get a PhD opportunity at University of Dundee in Scotland where I’ve finished under the supervision of Malcolm Horner. I worked there for another three years and after that, I got another marvelous opportunity, a job here at the University of Reading in England which is about half an hour from London and here I am now.
So experience in offsite construction, I would say, then having an insight into the UK construction industry. I have mentioned that during that time when I was in Scotland, I was one of the managers for the demonstration projects in Scotland where basically what we were doing is we were selecting the best projects and then demonstrating them to the wider industry by writing case histories, reviewing projects, assessing them whether they’re of good enough standard to be called demonstration projects and so on. So that’s my background very briefly.
Cesar: Thank you. So having come from that background, where does the idea for the book Construction Management Strategies come from?
Milan: Yeah, that’s another interesting story, I would say, because I had for quite many years – looking at how construction is done around the world and actually seeing a lot of similarities particularly in terms of the fragmentation but then on the other hand, having the experience and witnessing what the companies – some of the companies particularly in the Central Europe, I would say Germany, Austria, et cetera and Far East and Japan are doing, I actually realized that there is a better way of approaching construction.
For some time, I had the idea of construction 2.0 along with the lines of web 2.0, kind of let’s reset it and let’s start it afresh. I mean it’s easier said than done of course but it kind of was this academic idea of let’s do something different and then by coincidence, I think it was – our head of school at the time, well he is also a prolific author on the construction law.
He hooked me up with one of our past professors, fathers of construction management I would say, John Bennett, because he had an idea of writing a book about project management or construction management and as I said, he hooked us up. We met and I told him about my idea and he was immediately excited about it and he said, “Let’s write it together.” I mean he has got decades of experience. He worked in the US. He was one of the few people who visited Japan and had more than 200 projects and God knows how many companies in Japan and seeing how they’re working. He worked for the public client organization here in the UK. He was academic, the founding father of Construction Management and Economics Journal which is considered top two, if not the best, journal in its field in the world, et cetera, et cetera.
So basically we set out together and started thinking pretty crazy things about how to turn the construction over and where to start and we kind of thought, well, the best thing to do is to start with students but then at the same time trying to infiltrate the professional practice by giving them some tools that can help them improve what they’re doing. That’s basically where the book comes from.
Cesar: Very good. Just a little parenthesis here. I think there’s a bit of a disconnect between what’s taught in school and what actually takes place in the construction site from my own experience.
Cesar: I took a course once in construction management and we spent a long time going through the Project Management Institute framework, the PMI, and having been in the field for a while, I know that it’s not widely used.
Cesar: And so I kind of challenged the professor [Inaudible]. Do you use this? And he said no. He said no in front of the class. So I really like that your book addresses the students as well as the professionals, try to bridge that gap and so the theory that you propose will be read by the professionals out there in the field, not just the students.
Milan: Yes. I mean that’s the idea. Let me explain how we came about with the subtitle, A Theory of Construction Management. I mean the whole idea of talking and writing about construction management is that it needs to be based on sound foundations and when we looked around what the sound foundations were, they pretty much mimicked the fragmentation and there’s a lot of people that are trying to address various different things in academic community and they’re trying to address various different problems in various different ways.
But because of that fragmentation, you kind of have ideas scattered around the academic books, academic journals that collectively could represent some kind of a theory but we both agreed – John and I, at the time, we both agreed that this is more to do with theorizing rather that building a strong theory because there was no even – not that just there wasn’t a consensus among the authors but there was not even an attempt to reach the consensus. It was just basically everyone is doing a little bit of some – of construction that is so complex, you can’t even reach a consensus on the theory and actually we realized that looking back at, as I said, decades of experience on John’s side and my experience, we realized that that’s not entirely the case.
We then looked through the literature and realized well, again, this is not entirely the case. There are a lot of elements of theory. They just needed to be pooled together and beforehand there was nobody that would pool together these things into a theory.
Now what the challenge was, was to pool things together in such a way that found a solid theory but then at the same time that would be easily understood by the professionals. Now I think we managed to achieve that.
Cesar: Good, good. So you would say your target audience is mostly schools or what …
Milan: Yes. I would say our target audience is mostly the universities because it’s a textbook. It’s considered as a textbook. We’re hoping that it would penetrate markets worldwide particularly on the [Indiscernible] that means that the university libraries will buy into it and the people who are delivering construction management courses will buy into it.
So far from my colleagues around the world, the response has been positive. We are still waiting for the reviews of the books on various different fronts. So it’s a pretty novel approach to writing a book. It’s not a kind of a textbook that people would see before, to be perfectly honest. So it is quite different in many aspects and we simply wouldn’t have enough time to talk about every single aspect of what is different but even if I go up from the diagrams that we presented, we really, through the diagrams, try to really mimic what is actually happening in the industry rather than present it in a way that suits a particular presenter, if you know what I mean. It was much more difficult to even create these diagrams but that’s why they’re so much more informative, I think.
Cesar: Now, how can a book like this help the construction industry?
Milan: Well, there are two ways. One is the long term kind of view of how it can help and that is through the students. I mean if they get exposed to the ideas and the theory as we presented in the book, then some of these things they will carry on into their professional practice and actually they will be exposed to the problems that we are trying to cover here and provide solutions to. They will be then later on exposed in the practice and over time, of course, like all these things, like all the theories that are being first developed in the academic community, it takes time to penetrate the industry, whatever industry we’re talking about. That’s one way.
The short term kind of – or better say shorter term way is to penetrate it through the companies and the professionals who might use it as a kind of assessment tool and techniques provided in the book. They might use them as an assessment of likelihood of success of their projects. That has nothing to do with how good a project manager you are but has everything to do with the environment in which you work and I think that is or at least should be a quite tempting tool to have in front of you because we’re not trying to say, “Oh, the construction industry is fragmented and because of that, things are not happening as they should and you should be using more of this and you should be using more of that.” It has nothing to do with it. The book is actually saying that’s the reality. You already have the tools to assess where you are and then you as a professional, you can make your own mind of whether you want to go down that route or not.
When I say you as a professional, that doesn’t mean an individual. It means companies in order to avoid problems that are well-documented in construction history where projects that were pretty well-planned eventually didn’t succeed because people were not working in the right environment or in the suitable environment that they’re used to working.
So there are two routes. One is through the students. The other one is through the professionals and both have got – for both routes, what we were trying to do is we were trying to address both routes so that we provide solid theory to students but then on the other hand, we provide simple, quick techniques for professionals to evaluate their own projects through seven inherent difficult indicators that can actually tell you the likelihood of the success of the project.
Cesar: OK. I don’t mean to put you in the spot. But that’s kind of interesting. Can you talk about the seven indicators off the top of your head or is that too much for this interview?
Milan: Yeah, I mean just they basically refer back to the theory, to the basic diagram in terms of the inherent difficulty of the construction projects and that is basically what forms the construction management theory where basically what you have is you have complexity that impacts on the inherent difficulty and that complexity is influenced or basically is defined – I would say defined by the quality of relationships between the teams, the construction teams that execute the project, number of interacting teams, their performance variability from the past and then of course on top of this complexity, you also have external interference which we didn’t include in the complexity because that’s really something that comes from outside of the system.
All that leads to inherent difficulty and all the construction management is trying to do is trying to address this inherent difficulty in order to minimize the difficulty and that can be assessed through the seven indicators and I can name them what they are.
I mean the first one is the indicator of established relationships. The second one is the relationships fluctuation indicator which actually shows how your relationships within the project, between various different [Inaudible] fluctuate because you can have a similar picture for instance having well-established relationships between some of the teams at the beginning of the projects on one project. But then later on, the established relationships dwindle away because the later teams that come to the project at the, let’s say, commissioning stage are not so used to working together before; as opposed to a project where for instance these established relationships are uniformly distributed throughout the project. That’s the second one.
The third one is the relationship quality where we basically look at the team’s ability to straight away start work based on the knowledge and the shared experience they have from the past projects. Then you have relationship configuration where basically we talk about a lot of things that relates to the configuration in terms of how many teams, how many different relationships in between the teams, et cetera.
Then you have performance variability which looks into the past performance of individual teams and of course the last one is external interference which looks at the external events that may impact the project and what their influence on the success might be and basically each of these indicators is associated with the kind of sliding scale and the idea is that what you do once you assess your project, you can actually see on the sliding scale from – I’m looking directly at the book right now to tell you what is in the book, from the red zone to the green zone.
So the closer you are to the green zone or if you are in the green zone, the greater the likelihood that actually the project will be a success and the inherent difficulty of the project will be much lower than on some of the projects where for instance the indicators would be all on the red side and that actually shows in a way that – if for instance imagine you’re a wonderful project manager that has done many, many good projects before and then suddenly you face yourself with a complex project where a lot of indicators are actually on the right hand side. What might happen is that this project will go pear-shaped, not because of your ability to manage the project but simply because of the underlying complexity that determines whether something will work eventually or not and that depends on quality of relationships.
It depends on the number of interacting teams and it depends on their performance and of course the external interference and that’s what we’re trying to present in the book as a helpful kind of tool to practitioners and of course all around, the text all around is the kind of the theory underpinning that is very useful for the students.
So I would see practitioners not necessarily reading the whole book but looking specifically at these IDIs. I’m trying to implement it in their own construction projects whilst the students for instance might be – I mean not might be but should be interested in the rest of the book, in some of the subject areas that they are still getting familiar with.
Cesar: Now, does the book provide also maybe a method or suggestions on how to move from the red zone to the green zone of each one of these items?
Milan: Yes. I would say yes it does. I mean what we did was to say, “OK, let’s take a look at what is happening outside. Let’s take a look at all these strategies, major strategies that are kind of pervasive in the construction industry.” We looked at traditional construction. We looked at construction management approaches. We looked at design-and-builds. We looked at the partnering approaches and then we looked at the total construction service strategy. We looked at these five strategies and for each strategy, we provided an example with calculated case of where a particular project in the case is so that you can compare various different strategies and you can see how one affairs against the other and considering the context from which you come from, you can actually then see whether a particular strategy is fit for a purpose in that context.
Giving an example, for instance, let’s say in smaller countries where construction industry is dominated by SMEs but doesn’t contain any large contracting organizations. It is the case that when you look at these smaller countries, you will realize that sooner or later, that actually the majority of the construction is actually done through the traditional construction route and some of them through construction management but you won’t see a lot of design-and-build. You won’t see a lot of partnering and you won’t see a lot of total construction service provision simply because their construction industry is not kind of structured around these approaches. The companies are not big enough. The companies are not structured in the way that would allow that.
Cesar: And the culture is not there.
Milan: And the culture is not there but when you look at some of the bigger countries with large contracting organizations, with large total construction companies, total construction service companies. Like for instance, when we look at Japan which is dominated by the big five, all of them are total construction service companies that can provide all the services from materials all the way up to the operation and maintenance, then you realize these are the differences. And if you come from a small country or if you come from one of these small contractors, it would be ludicrous for a company like that to work along the strategy that they are not experienced with no matter how lucrative at the beginning it might look because eventually it might go pear-shaped.
An example for instance, I would emphasize one example in particular here although it has nothing to do with the size of the country to be perfectly honest or the size of the company but just in an appropriate strategy is Wembley Stadium where it was quite clear that the design-and-build company, the Multiplex were not kind of – they were not used to the kind of environment that they experienced here in the UK and they were not used to the kind of strategy that is used by the UK companies.
I’m not saying that this was the only reason for the terrible troubles that they witnessed but it was one of the major ones and there are plenty of examples like this around the world where simply companies are trying to stretch themselves into the kind of strategies they are not used to. And then they fail not because they would not have the right people for the job but simply because they don’t have an experience working in a particular strategy.
Cesar: Very good. Now, does the book come with any supporting material?
Milan: Yes, and it’s growing. I would say in the time and age of internet, all these things are never going to be static and this is something we agreed with Wiley. It comes with the webpage on the Wiley’s website with tons of materials. I would say every single chapter is accompanied with a presentation, with the slides that could help for instance lecturers around the world, going straight away into creating presentations for the lecturers. Every single case that we present in the book is also broken down in a bit more detail with more kind of Flash and explanations on this website as well.
At the moment, I’m still working on that and I need John’s inputs on various different issues here but we’re working on creating a kind of a separate platform with the blog, with the forum and with additional cases that we will collect from the industry supporting the five strategies and supporting the calculations where practitioners will be able to come and basically either ask questions or shared experience or both or just come and discuss things on the forum and potentially have our input and input from other practitioners.
Cesar: I see. And this website, is it up yet or not yet?
Milan: The Wiley’s website is up.
Milan: I’m just looking for it.
Cesar: OK. And is it open to anybody or just to those who bought the book?
Milan: No. It’s open to everyone.
Milan: It’s an open website. It’s http://www.Wiley.com/Go/ConstructionManagementStrategies.
Milan: I will repeat, http://www.Wiley.com/Go/ConstructionManagementStrategies.
Cesar: Perfect and I will have a link on the show notes so people can just click there.
Now Milan, you are going to give away a copy of the Construction Management Strategies book to one of our listeners, correct?
Milan: That’s correct.
Cesar: That’s fantastic.
Milan: That’s correct.
Cesar: Thank you for that. So for a chance to win a copy, for the listeners, please leave a comment under this episode post at Remontech.com/Episode24 and Remontech is spelled R-E-M-O-N-T-E-C-H or you can just go to ConstructionIndustryPodcast.com and look for episode 24.
We will select one commenter to be the winner and we will announce it on the next episode which is episode 25 which airs next week. Again, go to Remontech.com/Episode24 and leave a comment there.
Milan, thank you so much. This sounds like a fantastic new resource for the industry and I wish you all the success on launching this book and let’s stay in touch and maybe you can come back down the road and tell us how it’s going.
Milan: Thank you for the opportunity to give you an insight into the book. Yeah, I hope it will be a wonderful resource for the students and practitioners and yes, yes, absolutely. We will stay in touch and we will make sure that in the future, we collaborate further.
Cesar: For sure. If people want to learn more about you and about the book, besides the Wiley website, where should they go?
Milan: They should go on our university website at Reading.ac.uk.
Milan: School of Construction Management and Engineering. I mean we could provide a link to that as well but that’s basically where they will find more information about what I’m doing research-wise and industry-wise on top of various different blogs and other accounts that I have but I think that’s the best way to present who I am.
Cesar: OK. You’re on Twitter too, right?
Milan: I am on Twitter, all the major platforms. I’m there, yes.
Cesar: OK. What’s your handle on Twitter so I can …
Milan: My handle on Twitter is GmiG.
Cesar: GmiG. I will have a link to that too so people can connect with you that way. OK. Well, again, thank you so much, Milan and we will be in touch and I will announce the winner of the book next episode. Thank you again for your time.
Milan: Thank you. That’s wonderful. Bye-bye.
- “Construction Management Strategies” book companion website
- “Construction Management Strategies” book buy website
- Dr. Milan Radosavljevic’s University profile
- Dr. Milan Radosavljevic’s on LinkedIn
- Dr. Milan Radosavljevic on Twitter
- Paper on Japan’s big 5 construction companies
- Talking Tech Show Podcast
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