The thing that amazes me about project management in the engineering business is how little it gets used. We engineers are in control of the largest projects in the world, but most engineers have little more than a passing knowledge of project management processes. In this article, I will talk about the following items as they relate to engineering project management.
- The current state of engineering project management
- Project Management Body of Knowledge
- How we’ve implemented a project management plan
The Current State of Engineering Project Management
When I look back at the managers that I’ve worked for in my career, and how projects were managed, I can only conclude that project management is non-existent in my industry. Usually a “project manager” is assigned, whether a technical or non-technical one, and they will easily quote their job description as something to effect of:
Ensure the project is completed on time, on budget, and with high quality deliverables.
But an entire industry exists in the subject of project management and we engineers, who are in control of the biggest projects out there, don’t utilize it even close to the extent that we should.
Most project managers can’t calculate cost variance, schedule variance, or earned value, yet these are numbers that take just a few minutes and communicate immense volumes of information. Proper project management keeps the unit or business management’s focus on the issues that can move a company forward rather spend most of their energy on project status.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge
The Project Management Institute (PMI) has published the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), which is the standard for the project management industry. This manual breaks a project down into 10 knowledge areas.
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Time Management
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Human Resource Management
- Project Communications Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
- Project Stakeholder Management
It’s not part of the scope of this article to go into detail on each of these items, but don’t you think projects would run better if these items were actively managed? Would you hire a consultant/engineer if you knew they were competent in addressing these issues instead of just “trying to manage all the project issues as they arise.”
How We’ve Implemented a Project Management Plan
At Roseke Engineering, we hold weekly progress meetings which are maximum 30 minutes long. The project management plan (a binder) is opened and the project members discuss the weeks agenda. The project manager fills out a weekly progress sheet which goes to the unit manager and includes the following things:
- Cost Variance
- Schedule Variance
- Earned Value (also called Budgeted Cost of Work Performed)
- Previous week’s accomplishments
- Accomplishments for this week
- Look-ahead to the end of the project
This takes a project manager about half an hour. So between a project members time (half an hour a week for the meeting) and a project manager (one hour per week) this is pretty reasonable for our typical $1 – $2 million bridge projects with 3-4 people working on it. Of course, bigger and smaller projects will have different project management requirements.
I designed the system and I get the reports with the above items on it. The direct benefit is that it saves management’s time (although I realize there is a time requirement for the project team). But I’ve found that the biggest benefits are qualitative.
- My focus is on building the business, not on the details of projects unless there is one that is going south (this arguably falls under business building too). At my previous employer, where I would walk around and talk to people most of the time (thinking I was a great project manager!), my focus was more on the details of each project rather than moving the whole unit forward.
- The project team takes project management seriously. I know they don’t always agree with the way things are managed, but at the end of the day when management is communicating their value of project management, projects will succeed.
- Accountability. I think it’s human nature to avoid accountability but people want to be part of something that’s winning, and good project management holds them accountable.