Managing construction projects by balancing digital skills and soft competences


The digital revolution currently taking place in other sectors through Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence (AI), distributed ledger technologies and blockchain has been touted as a solution for the inefficiencies in the construction industry. Construction has been always looking up to other sectors such as manufacturing for improving its performance by importing technological innovations. The emerging construction digitisation of assets and digitalisation processes promise to extinct the persistent problems of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Given its high product and demand variability and temporary character, construction is notorious for traditionally importing innovations from other sectors and adopting them in an ad-hoc manner.

Amidst this appetite for innovation and construction digitalisation, Digital Construction and Building Information Modelling (BIM) both promise to modernise construction and create new challenges, particularly around leadership, communication and collaboration. To this end, the ‘Digital’ generates new needs for individual, intra-organisational and inter-organisational capabilities. The recent push for digital construction and BIM use from the government and industry groups calls for revisiting leadership, communication and collaboration in BIM-based projects and beyond. The Digital and BIM are not quick-fix and off-the-shelve solutions but require additional coordination within projects and across firms and teams. Whereas various specialised roles and positions emerge to cope with this new complexity, the Digital requires the updating and adjustment of digital-enhanced existing roles. Surprisingly, the leaders of digital innovation not only need to develop digital skills but also master their existing project management and engineering skills.

To align this demand for digital skills with the existing modes of talent supply we need to (a) strengthen digital literacy before entering the market, (b) provide accredited programmes and strengthening the role of professional organisations, (c) leverage skills/culture/generation gaps through reverse mentoring, (4) adopt life-long learning and a culture of project-based learning and (e) utilise international networks of firms to learn from other countries. The changes that the ‘Digital’ brings to Construction Project Management (CPM) extend beyond the individual and relate to intra-organisational level, inter-organisational and institutional levels.

To this end, the Digital requires both stronger technical and managerial skills and also (i) awareness of the Digital is needed across all hierarchical levels in firms, (ii) adaptation of business models for digital, e.g. outsourcing, mergers and acquisitions, (iii) cooperation of firms through a ‘relationship approach’ for inter-firm learning, (iv) balanced engagement and responsibility of both public and private sector. The construction industry is under intense digitalisation beyond BIM. After all, in the UK BIM Level 3 Digital Built Britain the BIM and ‘Smart Cities’ agendas will be eventually merged. These developments are accompanied by an effort towards a ‘digital shift’ and construction modernisation. However, performing a ‘digital shift’ very much requires a ‘cultural shift’ by adjusting leadership, communication and collaboration models. The digital future is here and CPM is already changing.

Jun 4, 2018 2:00 PM — 2:30 PM
London, United Kingdom
Dr Eleni Papadonikolaki
Dr Eleni Papadonikolaki
Associate Professor in Management of Engineering Projects

Researcher and consultant at the intersection of management and digital economy