UK vs French Construction Project Management: Does the approach differ?

Olivier Gauthier
The services provided by a construction Project Manager can vary from one project to another depending on the nature, the size and the chosen procurement method of a project, but how does the role differ across the Channel?

In the UK, the Project Management practice has hugely evolved over the last decade to become a discernible professional discipline. In France however, Project Management is still an emergent discipline in which standard professional practices and terms of engagement are yet to develop.

When clients accustomed to the UK built environment model are expecting their capital projects in France to be managed as they are used to, they are looking to partner with a Project Management firm who could apply these well recognised project management techniques and tools within this French environment.

With a presence in both the UK and France, Faithful+Gould recognises how a construction Project Manager is perceived and organised in both countries, and how they differ.

Here are our findings...

In the UK:

  • A Construction Project Manager is the key figure of a construction project team. The individual takes the lead on a project from initiation through planning, design, execution, monitoring, controlling and to final closure;
  • A project manager is seen as the professional which separates the management function (the client) of a project from the design (the design team) and execution functions (the contractors). In this common definition, the Project Manager undertakes the role of the contract administrator;
  • There are many educational paths to becoming a Project Manager resulting in chartered membership of internationally renowned professional associations such as RICS and APM:
  • There are long-established Project Management consultancies helping professionals to gain experience and enhance their Project Management skills. These consultancies have grown over the years to become large and reputable firms with worldwide representation;
  • Major consultancies, such as Faithful+Gould, are at the forefront of the development of a process orientated approach including software-based solutions, methods and techniques of project management;

In France:

  • The Project Manager function is inappropriately likened to the term “Assistant Maître d’Ouvrage (AMO)”. The AMO could be a generalist, appointed as a facilitator to coordinate the design team and to assist the client to fulfil its obligations throughout the life of a project, or a specialist providing technical/specialist advisory services i.e. procurement, estimating and sustainability to advise clients on a strategic aspect of a project;
  • By definition, the AMO is an assistant to the client but by no means is the leader of the project. On some public projects, the AMO term tends to be replaced with “Conduite d’Opération” which seems to better define the role of a Project Manager; 
  • It is generally accepted that the AMO delivers a light touch project management service compared to that which is regularly provided in the UK. This is mainly because the AMO cannot bear the responsibility of a constructor (responsabilité du constructeur) as defined under articles 1972 and the following of the French Civil Code. The primary consequence of this specific French legislation is that the AMO has less influence and control over the project. As an example, the contract administration role cannot be undertaken by the AMO. Typically, the role of the contract administrator is then carried out by the Architect or an independent design team member also called “Maître d’Oeuvre d ’Execution”;
  • There is no proper educational background to becoming an AMO. Chartered bodies like OPQTECC provides project management certification for individuals and organisations however there is no professional body who is committed to developing and promoting Project Management; 
  • As opposed to the UK market there is no large and reputable consultancy firms offering the AMO as a core service. Architects, multi-disciplinary engineering firms or real estate agents have developed in-house project management offering to meet the French market needs.

The liability of Project Managers in the UK seems to be more onerous than in France and as such, UK Project Managers have more accountability in the performance of the project. They have a dedicated background, are professionally trained and belong to project management organizations, however in France, there is no formal recognition of a distinct Project Management profession and the role is undertaken by several professions. Project Management in France is a growing function requiring the establishment of additional standards, codes of practice and forms of appointment.

With a presence in both the UK and France, Faithful+Gould recognises how a construction Project Manager is perceived and organised in both countries, and how they differ.

Faithful+Gould has a bilingual team of project managers based in Paris who provide an agile and bespoke Project Management approach. We have learnt from our multiple years of experience in France how to consistently maintain an important level of project control while the responsibilities of the design team are preserved.

Over the years, we have developed a Project Manager Handbook dedicated to the French construction market. This handbook, written in both French and English, includes all procedures, processes and templates that should be used on a French construction project, with relevant guidance at each stage of the project life cycle.

For more information about our Paris capability, please contact Olivier Gauthier.

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