1. What made you join the Project Management/Construction industry?
Truth be told, I had not always aspired to be a project manager. I did a degree in Politics, majoring in China Relations, before I went on to pursue a degree in Construction Management, probably influenced by my dad who runs a small construction business.
Construction is hard work and I have seen the frustrations my dad faces on site. But one thing that I also noticed over the years is how his face is always brimming with pride when he drives past his past projects. This industry is certainly not a bed of roses, but he chose to stick by it over the years because of his passion for the work and being able to play a role in shaping the physical landscape. I find it very inspiring and thanks to him, I grew to love construction.
There are many stakeholders in a construction project - the architect, project manager, consultant, contractor, suppliers etc. Each of them is critical in ensuring site completion, but the one that relates to me the most will be the project manager. I always believe that “Well begun is half done” – starting a project right and being well-prepped is probably half the battle won.
Besides being involved in the design development and construction phase, I am also very keen to be a part of planning phase together with clients and manage the risks for them.
2. Which aspect(s) of your job do you find most satisfying and why?
I think any project managers will probably say witnessing the completion of our own projects is the most satisfying aspect of our jobs. That is true for me as well.
Effective project management actually involves a lot of hard work. I have had people telling me “cost management is just editing of expenses on Excel” and that “move management is just packing and moving”. But in reality, it is far from easy.
There are a lot of risks that we need to identify at an early stage and a lot of moving parts that we must manage prior to the execution. It can be something as small as a lift breakdown during the move leading to thousands of boxes and equipment being left stranded overnight, or something as big as exceeding the project budget. Project managers are supposed to anticipate these risks and mitigate or reduce their impact during the course of the project.
An effective project manager has to be resourceful and be able to work around various constraints or challenges. Most times, we have to work under a lot of pressure and stress, but this also where I learn the most. The project completion may just be a milestone on my resume, but the hard and soft skills I attain from different projects will help me to become a better project manager.
3. What is exciting or trending within the project management/construction sectors right now?
As environmental awareness increases over the past few years, more companies are starting to emphasize on resource efficiency and ecological design to achieve sustainability.
The construction industry contributes to about 20% of global emissions. Despite this, more buildings will still need to be built to cater to expanding population. And as long as buildings continue to be built, there will be a significant commitment to consume resources. Sustainability will remain an issue of focus for the sector.
Sustainability can start right from the extraction of raw materials to the final disposal of waste building materials. There are many products on the global market that are more environmentally-friendly. These include green insulation made with recycled materials (such as newspapers and fabrics); and bricks made with cigarette butts, which usually accumulate in the environment due to poor biodegradability. There is also the processing of construction and demolition waste into recycled concrete aggregate. I am excited to see more of these technologies and products coming up to support sustainability of our built environment.
4. What are some potential challenges that you encounter in the course of your work, and how do you overcome them?
There is a Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky, but women remain underrepresented in the world of construction project management. I have seen very talented female project managers who struggle to let their voices be heard, and have witnessed the shock on some people’s faces when they see women managing a construction site.
A project manager, regardless of gender, plays a leadership role in driving any given project. However, some clients, consultants and contractors may still prefer to liaise with male representatives on construction matters, probably due to stereotypical views that it is a man’s job.
I did get discouraged when I first started doing project management, but thankfully my team gave me many chances to shine. I tell myself to consistently hone my “go to war work skills” and always hold myself to a high standard of excellence. I might require more effort to coordinate with clients, consultants and contractors, but I believe that as long as I continue to put in impeccable work, I will make a difference someday, even if it is with baby steps.
5. Work-wise, what do you hope to learn more of, or undertake in the next two years?
Currently, I am involved in many commercial fit-outs. I do hope to undertake some retail fit-out projects in time to come. Commercial and retail fit-out projects can be very similar, yet very different. To a project manager, time, cost and quality are of paramount importance, but these components vary across different projects.
For retail fit-out projects, they tend to have shorter rental-free period and that construction may only commences at night after malls have ceased operations for the day. The visual merchandising and design team also has to be brilliant in bringing out the brand identity in a retail fit-out, with a heavy focus on the aesthetics. Office fit-out projects, in contrast, tend to be more focused on workplace strategies, and on how designs of the offices can help to increase productivity and promote staff wellness.
Every project is different, but they are all important. My team is always on the lookout of retail projects across different industries, and I am excited to undertake retail fit-out projects if given the opportunity.