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Briefing sheet

Basic overview of management areas in civil engineering management: Doing the basics well

28 March 2019

Introduced below are the five main areas of management that civil engineers need to be aware of and use through their careers, with a short overview of what they cover and some sources for further information.

Basic overview of management areas in civil engineering management: Doing the basics well
Risk management

Project Management

Author: Tim Smart, Chief Engineer, HS2 Ltd

A project is a unique, transient endeavour undertaken to achieve planned objectives.

Project Management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives. It typically involves a sound understanding, and ongoing management, of the factors of time, cost and quality (or performance).

Planning and progress monitoring are critical elements of project management, requiring the creation of a work breakdown structure and an associated schedule of tasks over time. The inter-dependencies of these tasks determine a “critical path” of the shortest possible sequence of activities through to completion: this requires regular review and maintenance.

Project Management embraces a range of skills, often referred to as the “4Ps” of: Planning (initiating the business case and scope, and estimating timings and costs); Process (communication, monitoring and control procedures); People (team formation and ensuring the availability of the right people with the appropriate competencies) and Power (the lines of authority within the organisation, and policies for decisions and their implementation).

The term ‘project management’ is often used to cover portfolio and programme management. The three perspectives are different but complementary as shown below.

Portfolio and Programme Portfolio management

Portfolio: the grouping of an organisation’s projects and programmes. Portfolios can be managed at an organisational or functional level.

Portfolio management: the selection, prioritisation and control of an organisation’s projects and programs in line with strategic objectives and capacity to deliver.

Programme: a group of related projects and change management activities that together achieve beneficial change for an organisation.

Programme management: the co-ordinated management of projects and change management activities to achieve beneficial change.

The above definitions for portfolio, programs and projects are drawn from the APM Body of knowledge, sixth edition (APM 2013). These definitions are consistent with the use of terms in civil engineering.

See other sources of information including:

and the Association for Project Management and Cabinet Office Guidance such as

Asset Management

Author: Jo Parker, Consultant, Watershed Associates

Civil Engineering assets include infrastructure for the provision of services such as transportation, energy, water or waste management.

Asset Management deals with the holistic consideration of such assets over their whole lifetime. It concerns their management from conception to design, construction, commissioning, maintenance, operation and eventual disposal. Effective asset management ensures that the aims of the organisation are best met and that conflicting requirements, such as cost and service levels, are appropriately balanced.

The provision, operation, maintenance and upgrading of infrastructure require the prioritisation of expenditure: asset management allows that prioritisation to be carried out in a methodical and auditable approach to optimise stakeholder requirements and ensure that corporate strategy is delivered. It also facilitates the comparison of options and takes into account the risks of failure against the level of expenditure.

Also: Whole-Life Value-Based Decision-Making in Asset Management

Risk Management

Author: David Hirst, Director, Ainsty Risk Consulting Ltd

A “risk” is a measure of both the probability and magnitude of a loss, disaster or other undesirable event. It is a reflection of the uncertainty – often related to the absence of information, understanding, or knowledge - of a future event, its likelihood and consequences.

Risk Management is the identification, assessment and prioritisation of risks, and the subsequent actions taken to minimise, monitor and control their likelihood and impact. It includes the architecture; principles, framework and processes for doing so.

Effective risk management allows one to “be smart” about taking chances when seeking to achieve defined objectives, and can include the exploitation of opportunities as well as mitigation against adverse outcomes.

For further information see here:

Cost Management

Author: Jim McCluskey Senior Commercial Manager VINCI Construction

Civil Engineering activities often incur significant costs, which require active management. This includes a process for capturing and allocating cost, in the form of coding against an appropriate work breakdown structure. Governance processes and structure are also required to control and authorise procurement, expenditure and resource management.

Effective cost management requires robust change management process to facilitate cost control and cost forecasting / budgeting, which in turn are vital elements in managing the out-turn cost of a project. It is notably important to have agreed processes in place right from the start of any project, for both the planning / design and delivery phases.

For more information, see:

Contract Management

Author: David Loosemore, Contract and Dispute Management Consultant, David Loosemore Limited

A contract is a formal agreement for work to be performed in exchange for a “consideration” (usually in the form of money). The two contracting parties to a Civil Engineering project are usually referred to as the Employer (financing the work) and the Contractor (delivering the project).

There are various standard “forms” (models) of contract specifically developed for Civil Engineering works, which seek to balance the inherent delivery risks between the contracting parties, including the unforeseen changes that frequently occur. Key components of the contract include an unambiguous description of the work to be done and the mechanisms by which the Contractor is remunerated for both planned and unforeseen work.

Contracts require active management to be effective. This includes: identifying and addressing issues promptly; fostering appropriate levels of communication, openness, trust and commitment between the contracting parties; keeping records up to date.

For more information, see:

  • Charles Jensen, knowledge content producer at ICE