The Project Coach: The New Role of the Project Manager
The Project Coach: The New Role of the Project Manager for the Future Due to the News Tools Like Building Information Modelling, Integrated Project Delivery, Last Planner and Others
Abstract Design-Bid-Building is the traditional approach to manage a project, but in the last decade we can find other kinds of contracts in many buildings, like Project and Design and more recently Integrated Project Delivery. The contractor appears from the beginning in both.
The recent failures in lean companies like Toyota, GM or Delphi, have aroused a new approach to the lean transformations. There are several books and articles about the important role of the Manufacturing Engineer or Operations Manager as a teacher and leader, similar to a coach’s perspective. We could have the same problem in the construction field if we don’t give the correct training to our project managers or site managers.
BIM, IPD and Last Planner require real collaboration and win-win attitudes. New skills like team working, empathy, mindfulness and resilience are more necessary. The proposed article will describe the qualities of “The Project Coach” and how to get these skills.
1 New Paradigm in the Construction Projects
The current economical crisis requires not only finish the projects without increasing costs, but also reduce the initial project budget. We need to put more effort into planning and risk management than recent years. We only have one way: including the contractor in the design phase and more resources in planning and scheduling. Generally speaking, we need more coordination among the whole stakeholders for all these factors.
Around the world people want efficiency and effectiveness in all industries and fields: banking, politics, manufacturing, healthcare, service, etc…. We can find examples in every sector that collaboration and win-win strategies are the key to get success to short and long term. Construction Projects (Civil and Residential) are complex systems and they’re not easy to manage. According to Nobel Prize in Economy, J.f. Nash, a system goes to efficiency when all the subsystems seek not only their profits, but the benefits of the global system too.
In 2010, the Associated General Contractor of America (AGC), Business Success for Construction Project Owners (COAA), The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Leadership in Educational Facilities (APPA) and the National Association of State Facilities Administrators (NASFA) made a document promoting the IPD in the American Construction Industry called “Integrated Project Delivery for Public and Private Owners”. IPD is now a reality in the construction field.
Thanks to Integrated Project Delivery Contracts and tools like Last Planner, BIM and the use of Tic’s; we can bet by a project run with a win-win philosophy. The roles are new and different from the last century.
The project manager and site manager will become leaders instead of managers. But thanks to neurosciences everybody can become a leader. This article tries to convince that the new project manager will be more similar to a coach than a manager and how to achieve it.
2 Where Are We?
The Japanese culture of manufacturing is an example for many corporations around the world for efficiency and quality products. It´s called “munozukory” . The key is that the relation between suppliers and manufacturers or managers and workers is based on TRUST and not so much in contracts. This is the first ingredient.
In 1982 Flores defined “the work of business is making and keeping commitments”. We have another issue: COMMITMENT. The success of Last Planner System is based on this according to the works of Howell and Macomber .
Third aspect: VALUE. Stephen Covey in The 8 habit book listed four qualities for a leader: discipline, consciousness, passion and vision. Next, he describes characteristics for a corporation or a project and instead of vision; he talks about shared values . We can find a similar approach in lean philosophy: create value and eliminate waste. In short, we have to know from the beginning the values of the different project stakeholders and put them together.
We’ll have all the ingredients if we add COMMUNICATION. The article “Leadership and project management: time for a shift from Fayol to Flores” from several authors, goes in the same direction .
In conclusion, If we put contractors, architects, owners and maybe subcontractors at the beginning sharing benefits and risks… what happens to the Project Manager? In my opinion he has two options: to become an owner’s representative or to become a project facilitator. The role of the second option is more similar to the role of a coach with teams. It’s called “Team Coaching”  and is based in Systemic Coaching. This coach helps the project members to be more efficient, to pursue the common goals, improve meetings, teaching last planner and others tools to create a good environment in IPD Contracts. How? Observing and asking the right questions. For this reason, I called it “The Project Coach”.
A life coach is a person that goes with you in your challenges. An executive coach is the same, but for managers and their responsibilities inside their jobs. If we want to consider an IPD contract (win-win approach sharing benefits and risks) and the definition of coaching; the Project Coach is more similar to a life coach but for a group.
There is also a scientific reason about the necessity of a “Project Coach”. If we want to be effective and efficient in our challenges, according to neurosciences we have to practice “mindfulness”, called as well the “Director” . In consequence, if we consider a project as a complex system made up for human beings, we need a director whose focus will be the effectiveness and efficiency of the project.
The challenge of the Project Coach is to help to minimize waste, get the target cost design and align the different values during the life of the project. He has to teach the tools that will serve to create trust and commitment among managers, architects, engineers, foremen, subcontractors, superintendents and laborers; that is to say, get the goals with efficiency and satisfaction for all parties. We can consider the Project Coach as a facilitator for the Collective Intelligence considering another topic of researching.
Summarizing, the same role that the life coach plays for the targets of his customers is the role that the Project Coach does with IPD contracts.
3 How to Get It?
This type of approach is not new in the lean construction literature. Ignacio Pavez wrote a Thesis in 2007 about the competencies of the construction manager to use lean construction tools (with relevant data) and a way to implement it . Another example is the chapter 17 of the book “Project Management CIRCA 2025” published by The Project Management Institute. It’s defined competency as a capability or ability and we need to regard two actions: intent and behavior. 
The competencies of a construction manager are described in the study of Pavez, similar to a manager of another industry. In the other article, it’s described the competencies of the Project Manager like an owner’s representative, leader and coordinator of the project. It’s considered in this paper the role of the Project Coach defined previously and his competencies.
The Project Coach will help to work together with less effort. It’s like a stick that they use when they need it. Observing and asking the group, they will sense their virtues and their bottlenecks. If we take into account the Intentional Change Theory of Dr. Boyatzis , we can consider the Project Coach as a Positive Emotional At-tractor for the Project. He has to create optimism, hope, confidence and resilience throughout the project.
Hence the knowledge of the Project Coach has to be huge: experience in construction, understanding how the human brain works to become more efficient (today with the recent discoveries of the neurology you can), lean construction tools and the techniques of a coach.
What type of competencies does the Project Coach need?
- Rational and emotional empathy
- Communication skills
- Developing others
- Efficiency Orientation
- Root Cause
- Conflict Management
- Prevent problems
We can define them as cognitive, emotional and spiritual competencies and furthermore they are different from a project manager or a construction manager. Competencies like mindfulness, observing (both are related), hope and developing others are typical from the spirituals guides: Jesus, Buda, Lao Tse, Ibn Arabi and many more.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, a monk of the Theravada tradition, further explains the concept of mindfulness as follows: “The mind is deliberately kept at the level of bare attention, a detached observation of what is happening within us and around us in the present moment. In the practice of right mindfulness the mind is trained to remain in the present, open, quiet, and alert, contemplating the present event. All judgments and interpretations have to be suspended, or if they occur, just registered and dropped” (source: Wikipedia). The right answers will come up in this state.
For John Teasdale, a mindfulness researcher, mindfulness is a habit and we can measure this skill with the test Mindful Awareness Attention Scale (MAAS), developed by Kirk Brown, American scientific .
In the cognitive tasks (analyze, planning, root cause, etc…) mainly works the prefrontal cortex, different to an emotional activity more related with the limbic system. But it’s a simplification of the brain, in general all the parts are connected.
There are several tools to measure the emotional competencies: the Emotional Social Competency Inventory (ESCI-U), the Critical Incident Interview (CII), 360º feedback and more (MSCIT, QDE-A, TCI-R…). CII is useful for empathy, teamwork, influence, conflict management, developing others and achievement orientation. You can measure the cognitive intelligence scanning the brain too.
Bartzokis is a neurologist that researches the myelin and he called the process of learning myelination . If we want to get a competency we need emotion (passion), frequency and necessity. Then, the way to acquire these competencies of the project coach is practicing the new neuronal connections.
These competencies are indeed similar to a team coach in the manufacturing sector. A industrial company that uses business process management is also an approach close to project management philosophy. Then, the skills of an operations consultant can be similar to a project coach if you regard instead of the multi-party agreement (an IPD with industrials and subcontractors) the operations manager, logistics manager, commercial manager, demand planner, manufacturing engineers, etc. This is the style of Toyota in his plants around the world that you can find in some books in this century, but the beginning of this new tendency was the research of Steven Spears in 2000 for his Phd in Harvard Business School .
If we want real team working in our projects and win-win approaches we have to develop ways to create trust, commitment, shared values and respect for people. This last point is the basis of Jidoka in the Toyota Production System, many times forgotten in lean manufacturing.
We cannot forget the connections between neuroscience and the leadership that helps to know how our brain works and discover that behaviorism is an old model to explain who we are and how we move.
The Project Coach, the IPD Contracts, the use of Last Planner System and BIM can help us to create trust, commitment and transparency in complex projects.
The next step of this article is to find projects to collect data and confirm the success of this new role in the projects. In the recent years, we can find some similar roles to the Project Coach like Director of Learning or Lean Project, but this article tries to define it and show his importance with win-win approaches.
The map is not the territory and the Project Coach will help to create a new vision of any Project. The complex systems have to align the multiple and different interests and struggle to get them. If we belong to a contractor and we bet for this approach the way is hard and long, but after repeating and repeating and with a good strategy, we’ll get a networking of architects, suppliers, customers, engineers and workers with competencies to get success in any project.