Project Management in Macau – A review with hints and tips

On the bridge to Macau side

This is a repost of an article I just published at LinkedIn.

Having been in Macau for the past 2 and a half years, I am being told that I should start to write a book with all the ups and downs I experienced as project manager in Macau. A very similar idea was given to me after 2 years in India and somehow the same sentence was mentioned to me in Beijing after the highspeed project finished. Maybe I will one day but until then… a few things about project management in Macau I would like to share:

The labour and human resources market is very tight and small. More often than not you will see the same workers and same project managers across properties and projects. At most of my projects I have seen the same two painters following me across properties, clients and companies. Trying to change work force or getting a different crew of workers is possible but cumbersome. With a total unemployment of 1.9% in Macau, worker gangs are usually busy and it is extremely difficult to get short time labor in large quantities, e.g. for a sudden rush job or acceleration. In most cases, contractors seem to rely on double shifts for their main worker crew.

Qualified personnel is lacking left and right. In Macau, a tertiary education is only held by around 30% of the workforce and most of these are not engineers but have graduated in Business Administration or e.g. Tourism Management. Building services engineers, electrical engineers, railway commissioning engineers or even qualified plumbers are rare and usually absent from standard projects. Knowledge of norms, standards and regulations is mostly reduced to a rough understanding of Hongkong common practice of installation, yet lacking the profound followup in paperwork. Whereas in Germany it requires several years of apprenticeship and studying before one can call oneself a carpenter, in Macau I have seen once that one’s own understanding of qualification is that one has replaced a door once in his life. True this being exaggerated but unfortunately it is common that one cannot trust any workers designation at a project without a profound background check to make sure that the respective worker is up for the task.

In regards to project accounting and billing, I have seen in Macau that contractors are not very keen in getting a proper project closure in time. Whereas Chinese New Year is an important milestone for contractors to pay their subcontractors, the overall attitude for billing and account settling is that that has time. If one, either as a project manager or client is pushing for closure it can happen that accounts are staying unsettled for several years.

Macau being a Special Administrative Zone of China and being an islet with adjacent islands, do not expect any stockpile of construction material or special equipment of any kind. Dry wall needs to be ordered with 2 to 3 weeks lead time for China-made ones, HVAC duct requires factory production in the Pearl River Delta area with up to 3 weeks lead time and larger amounts of anything (say, bulbs, sockets, switches, lights, door closers, etc.) can be as far away as 5 to 10 weeks. A profound, well in advance thought off, procurement strategy is your best tool!

Forget warehouses in Macau, and don’t rely on contractor storage facilities. Space is limited in Macau with real estate prices rocketing, and warehouse space is dead money for most landlords. There are a number of facilities both in Coloane, Pak On and Macau, yet these are usually not climatized, without proper access and small in size. Obvious choices are Zhuhai and Hongkong, yet do they require an additional border crossing (incl. customs) prior goods being available on site. Hence many contractors resort to site storage (if available) or just-in-time deliveries of materials.



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