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The Changing Face of PWD

PWD Project Manager Niasha Ross on the job.

It can be overwhelming when you think that an entire project can ride on how efficiently you do your job.

—PWD Project Manager Niasha Ross

Niasha Ross is a young Caymanian who relishes spending her workdays in what is traditionally a man's world.

She is the only female project manager employed by the Public Works Department (PWD), and she sees her work as fulfilling a life-long dream of being employed in the construction industry.

"I have always had a passion for design and architecture," said Niasha who was inspired by her father who was a jack of all trades.

That seemingly rough and unglamorous world was viewed as being unsuitable for a girl, but Niasha persisted on learning as much as she could about the intricacies of the business.

Then the time came to formalise her interest. She enrolled at Florida A and M University to pursue a bachelor's degree in Architecture, and went on to complete her master's in Construction Management at Florida International University.

Her PWD contact began in 1996 when she became an intern, and continued with them between 1997 and 2000 in her summer breaks from university. That parlayed into full-time employment at the department in 2007 when she was employed as a project manager.

Now Niasha's days are spent reviewing and assessing tenders for major projects; procuring goods and services for every stage; overseeing the phases of construction and liaising with contractors to ensure efficient and timely execution, as well as mitigation of risks.

Among many others, she has managed projects such as the West Bay Health Centre, the Agriculture Feeds Storage and Gun Bay Dock.

Project management is concerned with steering an entire project from beginning to end, Niasha explained, including ensuring that the work is completed on schedule, to standard and within budget.

"It can be overwhelming when you think that an entire project can ride on how efficiently you do your job," she said, adding that success or failure can have economic, environmental and political implications.

And as she points out, a project manager's job is not easy. "One of the main challenges is to prevent unplanned and unbudgeted scope expansion (known as 'scope creep') which can occur if additional or unnecessary work is taken on, mid-project.

"This inevitably increases your costs, prolongs your schedule and may well throw the entire project off," she said.

Another challenge is facilitating open communication amongst all parties involved in the project. Niasha pointed out that this element is as critical in project management as in any other sphere of business; one instance of miscommunication can derail an entire project.

"Communicating in the context of a building project involves ensuring that project goals, deadlines and deliverables are clear, and that any changes are conveyed to the relevant persons.

"In all cases, the project manager has to ensure that everything is documented. This can save money and not just on the project; potential lawsuits can be averted in the long-run too," she said.

The PWD manages government building projects from design through to construction, in addition to facilitating government facility repairs. The department employs a team of architects, project managers, engineers and quantity surveyors, in addition to skilled electricians, carpenters, plumbers and more.

Tips for Managing Construction Projects

Managing a construction project alone can be challenging, especially in economically difficult times. Niasha Ross shares tips on keeping projects on schedule and within budget:

  • Create a project scope: compile a detailed list of work to be carried out and know your project goal.
  • Estimate time and cost
  • Develop a schedule and budget
  • Develop a critical path - ensure that every critical point of the project remains on schedule and within budget.
  • Decide whether you can manage the project alone or will need a contractor.
  • In selecting a contractor get references from previous employers if you hire a contractor. Ask persons you know to recommend a reputable person with whom they have worked. A local association of contractors can assist with referrals.
  • Determine roles and responsibilities of all parties involved
  • A key point - Be disciplined and stick to your plan. Unforeseen circumstances can cause a project to change, but you should plan for that contingency. This includes putting a ten percent 'cushion' in your budget to deal with such changes.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Prudence Barnes