What Makes Construction Unique?

Project Management practices from other industries are often adopted in construction projects with varying success! Why? Because construction is different. Understanding these differences will allow us to make better management decisions in the systems that we do adopt.

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1. Instead of one corporation, construction involves a multitude of contractors and subcontractors –from architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers, and manufacturers; coordinating their efforts in multiple locations, with separate offices for each company, and each sharing the construction site.

2. Construction projects are one of a kind. This is not an assembly line event.

When prefab is used, there are always concessions in design and efficiency. For example, a kitchen custom constructed can make use of all the space that is available. When pieced together using prefab cabinets, there will be empty spaces that are inaccessible and filled with spacers, and clearances to the ceiling and floor, etc. Kitchens with 30-40% of the space used by space fillers, or unused are not unusual, just unfortunate.

Each site is unique. Consequently, there is a trade-off between efficient use of space and pre-fab efficiencies.

Relationships in the supply chains are project-based and short-term (although often repeated). Supply chains are not permanent and given to tinkering as the circumstances change.

3. The type of contract and relationship will change.

  • Design – Bid – Build (traditional)
  • Design-build
  • Construction Manager
  • 3P (Public-Private Partnerships) – delayed payment, part ownership

Each of these types of contracts reassigns responsibilities and roles between companies.

4. Considerations of sustainability including sustainability of:

  • Building envelope, including thermal performance requirements for walls, roofs, and windows;
  • Lighting system, including daylighting, and lamps and luminaire performance requirements;
  • HVAC system, including energy performance of chillers and air distribution systems;
  • Electrical system; and
  • Water heating and pumping systems, including requirements for solar hot-water systems.

Sustainability considerations modify the form/function balance and add a third dimension to the design, materials sourcing, and construction process.

5. Life cycle operation and maintenance management are also considerations.

In comparison to manufacturing, the variability of the business relationships is extreme. In manufacturing, the key personnel are the employees of one or a few corporations. The supply chain is virtually permanent and defined. The product is defined and not designed each time. The contractual relationship is consistent and easily classified: designer, manufacturer, distributor, supplier, and customer. The relationships are longstanding. Designer and manufacturer are often located in one physical location and employees of one corporation. Sustainability considerations are not often enforced. Warranties are simpler and based on branding.


The expense of the project/product and the significance of the construction project in people’s lives are overarching. Few products have as much significance to the quality of day to day lives. A piece of furniture, video game or phone will not impact a person’s life as roads that they drive on or the parks that they use. Arguably, education systems will have extreme impacts on a person’s life: colleges, universities, and even public schools. These will also be impacted by the construction of the facility. No computer, cell phone, clothing article, or movie will impact a person’s life as much as the house that they live in, the arena they play in, or the hospital that they are treated in. The magnitude of the impact of construction projects dwarfs those of individual manufacturing projects.

Subsequently, construction costs are orders of magnitude larger, expectations for performance are higher and desire for customization flourishes. Construction projects have more artistry and less mass production than most spectators realize.

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