Project management survey Pandora's box

Christine Brack, PMP

ZweigWhite's 2012 "Project Management Survey of Architecture, Engineering, Planning, & Environmental Consulting Firms" is hot off the presses. Every year around this time I compile my list of favorite statistics and see what has changed from the previous edition. There were significant adjustments between 2008 and 2010, when the fright of the economy caused firms to put good practices on indefinite hold. Things began to improve in 2011 and so did the results in our survey. The findings for 2012 did not disappoint as far as surprises go, but then again, our industry is fairly dynamic – if not sometimes too fickle.

Following are some of the more interesting pieces of data from our survey. Some of these I track in this column every July; others are new to the list

Workload planning
No doubt it's important to know who is working on what, who is maxed-out in their workload, and who has capacity for more in the coming weeks. Fifty-four percent of firms conduct a resource planning meeting on a weekly basis to resolve these and other utilization issues. This is up from just 20 percent in 2011. Eleven percent of firms hold these meetings biweekly; 19 percent hold them on a monthly basis. Even if meetings are held, it doesn't mean that everything is sorted out. Sometimes the meetings just confirm that the organization is understaffed or overwhelmed.

Project staffing
That leads to the details and concerns managers face when attempting to plan how to get all the work done. Although I have not taken a more scientific poll of it, this last year I have noticed an increase in senior managers and principals admitting to putting more hours into a project than they had in the past – costing their internal budget more than planned. Our 2012 survey does highlight that project teams voice this same concern: Projects are top heavy, there is strong reticence to hire in order to avoid later layoffs, and the current staff is too young and inexperienced to be left entirely on their own.

Performing rework
In 2010, only 36 percent of firms tracked rework and the corresponding financial impact it had on the firm. By 2011, the number jumped to 45 percent. I had hope this trend would continue, but this year only 24 percent of firms calculate what it cost their firm and why. For the firms that track it, the primary reasons are out-of-scope work (56 percent; no change from 2011), overdesign (44 percent; up from 22 percent in 2011), and lack of project planning (44 percent; up from 0 percent in 2011). Firms look for many areas within the business to cut costs to improve the bottom line but still seem to shy away from improving what they claim to do best – projects.

Stamping and sealing documents
Considering the increased level of involvement of senior managers or principals on projects, it isn't surprising that the task of stamping drawings largely now belongs to them (51 percent). Project managers only have that responsibility 22 percent of the time. That's changed dramatically from 2011, when it was 50 percent. In 2012, even the firm's president (43 percent) and professional and technical staff (35 percent) are stamping drawings more often than our trusted project manager.

Good, bad, or otherwise, these appear to be the trends in project management. There are, of course, many interesting facts and figures throughout the entire survey, so I highly recommend you pick up a copy. My recommendations always lie on the side of investing in what you do to get your work done and getting to the bottom of why a project can actually cost you money, rather than make money in doing it.

Read this and more articles about project management at

Christine Brack, PMP, is a principal with ZweigWhite specializing in business planning and project management best practices. She can be contacted at

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