26 Aug 2020 |
Research article |
Infrastructure and the Built Environment
A sociotechnical approach on construction project management practices
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Silvio Melhado opted for Civil Engineering because it is at the heart of every major challenge faced by civilization: We need construction for shelter, work, studying, teaching, travelling, producing, distributing goods, etc. The Brazilian-born Engineer who recently joined the Construction Engineering team at ÉTS as a Professor-Researcher explains: “Engineering is a field that allows us to contribute to the sustainable development of society, and that is what drew me in.”
Quality in Construction Projects
He pursued his engineering studies and began his career in his hometown at the University of Sao Paolo, with the exception of one post-doctoral fellowship at University Pierre-Mendès France in Grenoble and another at ÉTS in 2006, at the invitation of Professor Edmond Miresco.
From the outset, he felt the need to expand the horizons of what would become the main focus of his research – construction project management – by supplementing his Bachelor degree in Engineering with three years of training in Architecture, while pursuing his Master’s in Engineering (a five-year study program in Brazil at that time), focusing on a relatively technical subject – fire safety in buildings constructed from steel.
He was given an opportunity to participate in a number of major infrastructure and building redevelopment projects as a Junior Engineer, assisting in the design, planning and cost estimate phases. As a result, he gained an understanding of the importance of social science in the execution of major construction projects. “One of the projects involved the rehabilitation of university residences, and there were numerous social and political issues at play”, he explained.
This experience led him to focus his Doctoral studies on the quality of building construction or rehabilitation projects. “It was a subject that had entered the discussion on an international scale in the 1990s, especially with the introduction of ISO 9000 standards. Until that time, no research had been conducted into the quality of buildings or the relationship between design and execution, and I decided to make it the subject of my Doctoral thesis”, he continued. Even now, 25 years later, Silvio Melhado’s thesis is still consulted by experts on a regular basis. He then opted to go to University Pierre-Mendès France in Grenoble, to work with researchers in the applied social science field to learn more about their sociotechnical approach. “I was looking for a way to develop a broader perspective on the question of quality, which is what I found with this more comprehensive approach”.
Practices that Need to Evolve
At ÉTS, Professor Melhado plans to focus his research efforts on the evolution of construction management practices. “These practices must take into account the new integration challenges brought about by the introduction of building information modeling tools. Changes must be made, especially in terms of the format of contracts, communications and the responsibilities of the various actors involved in construction projects. In addition, from a cultural, normative and regulatory perspective, some of the specific barriers and constraints that exist in each country require more in-depth study. This will be my field of research at ÉTS”.
For more than 25 years, Silvio Melhado has been interested in the evolution of project management practices and the methods of collaboration among project teams. The introduction of new building information modeling (BIM) technologies has breathed new life into this area of research. Management approaches related to construction – including the technological aspects – have fallen far behind compared to other industrial sectors. Professor Melhado believes that, within the current context of the evolution of BIM technology, professional training and the joint development of management processes are essential factors in improving practices and results.
Master’s or Doctoral students who have acquired a certain amount of professional experience and who are interested in project management and the application of management solutions in construction projects will find that Silvio Melhado is a leading expert in the field.
Backed by more than 30 years of teaching experience, Professor Melhado is fully convinced that the ÉTS model is the right model for success. After having visited ÉTS for the first time in 2006, he is in a position to observe its growth, both in terms of the development of its facilities and its positioning among Québec universities.
“Engineering for industry is the exact philosophy that I have always advocated in my own work as an Instructor and Researcher. I believe that education must be linked to research, and that research must be applicable in professional practice. It stands as a source of motivation for researchers and students”.