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By Howard Birnberg

“If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

This trite cliché is often used as a justification for inaction by firm management. Unfortunately, it is total nonsense. If we lived and worked in an unchanging world, there might be some logic to the concept; however, our world is very dynamic. The construction industry in particular is subject to the constant winds of change. Following are a few examples.

Building technology — Thirty or 40 years ago, buildings were not wired/equipped for internet use (it didn’t exist), the Green Building movement was embryonic, solar and other alternative energy sources were little used, hazardous materials were still used in construction (lead-based paints, asbestos-containing products, etc.), and energy wasting lighting was ubiquitous.

Office technology — Look around your office. What technology and products are you still using that existed in 1978? Likely few or none. CADD was the real revolution of the 70s and 80s. By the end of the decade, CADD in the construction industry was on its way. The PC revolution soared with the August 1981 introduction of the IBM 5150 PC computer. These early computers had limited capability and even less storage, but they were a major breakthrough. Much has changed since those days.

Regulations and codes — On all levels, regulations and codes have changed. While some may criticize government interference in how we do business, many people have benefited from these efforts to prevent building failures, reduce environmental hazards, create a safer workplace, ensure better use of limited resources, and reduce waste.

Society — The construction industry has evolved greatly in recent decades and continues to change. Labor shortages are commonplace for both design and construction firms. Aging baby boomers are retiring or leaving the industry and the Millennial generation has far less interest in construction as a career. While architecture and engineering still hold appeal, even there shortages abound.

The marketplace — The U.S. makes fewer “things” than it did in the past. It has become a knowledge-driven society. As a result, the marketplace now seeks a far different mix of buildings and services than in the past. Old markets and services have declined or disappeared, leaving those engineers and architects who worked in them behind. There is no evidence that this evolution will do anything other than accelerate in the future.

Project financing — Construction doesn’t happen without money, and the sources of that financing have changed greatly. In 1980, few observers would have recognized the now common international scope of project financing for even smaller projects. Newer concepts such as public-private-partnerships have evolved, expanded, and grown. New funding sources such as from China and other expanding economies have thrived.

Project delivery — There has been a steady evolution of project delivery approaches in recent decades. For example, in the 1980s (and earlier), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) would terminate the membership of any member who engaged in design-build. This delivery approach has gained significantly and is viewed favorably by many owners/clients. The various forms of construction management and many other project delivery approaches have also found wide acceptance.

Economics of running your business — The Great Recession changed the economics of running a design firm. There were many failures of companies, mergers among giants, and a changing mix of services offered. Owners/clients became more demanding regarding fees and services. During the recession, many project managers were let go and often founded their own firms as employment opportunities were lacking. With the boom in business during the last few years, many of these firms have now become formidable competitors.

Closing comment: “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” ― Roy T. Bennett


Howard Birnberg is executive director of the Association for Project Managers (www.apminfo.com) and lead consultant for the APM subsidiary, Project Management Consultants. He may be reached at 312-664-2300 or hbirnberg@gmail.com. This is an expansion of an article that appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of the APM News.

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