Engineers play an important role when managing projects. They have many responsibilities and apply skills, knowledge, tools and techniques to ensure that projects meet requirements. The project manager focuses on the project’s aim, the resources needed for completion, and the timeline for implementation. They oversee the project from beginning to end and communicate with numerous stakeholders.
For projects to be completed successfully, the process of meeting client demands in a cost-effective, timely way must be managed. Complex projects include developing software, organizing disaster relief and constructing a building. These are considered projects because they create a new service, product or result.
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Project management can be divided into five steps: monitor and control, initiate, plan, execute, and close. Project managers must have knowledge of time, quality, cost, scope, integration, human resources, communications, procurement, stakeholder management and risk management.
There are four typical project management styles, known as agile, strategic, scrum and waterfall. Managers can use any of these styles depending on the project, but long-standing approaches such as the waterfall method are common. Managers often adapt their approach and alter their strategy as a project progresses to ensure project completion.
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Transportation Expansion Project (T-REX)
T-REX was a design-build project in Colorado, America. The project manager had to merge the design and construction of a complicated project with multiple modes. It was the first project to combine transit components with a main road. If traditional methods had been used, it would have taken about 20years to finish. The client chose the design-build approach, which reduced the estimated time to seven years. It was projected to cost $1.67bn. Ultimately, the project took five years to complete and was 3.2% below budget.
The project involved working on two areas. Firstly, the reconstruction of17miles of road, adding one additional lane in each direction with two additional lanes in each direction in the more congested areas. Secondly, the light rail was extended by 19miles.
The project manager needed to demonstrate relational and technical skills from the start of the project through to completion. It was a complex operation due to the many factors involved. It was established from the beginning that the priority was avoiding inconvenience to the public. Features of success were the savings in time and cost,which were related to the initial planning for risk management. The project management was very disciplined and collaborated with other parties to work successfully with the traveling public, the many stakeholders and the complex funding.
T-REX was built through the center of Denver, in the Colorado area. There were17miles of highway requiring expansion and improvements. Rapid renewal transportation projects have limiting factors such as schedule restrictions, which cause logistical challenges that can only be dealt with through the merging of construction and design. Some laws and regulations require intensive planning, communication and coordination from project managers. There is increased demand for engineering expertise for rapid renewal projects requiring construction technology and innovative designs. When project managers work in a rapid renewal environment, they must be able to meet the demands for careful planning and the implementation of quality, cost, schedule, scope and technical design.
The project involved collaboration with the Regional Transportation District and the Colorado Department of Transportation. There were also state, federal and local agencies that were involved in the project’s permitting and financing. The project was divided into two main phases: the execution phase and planning and procurement. From many perspectives, T-REX was a very successful project. The biggest challenge was the working environment, as the highway was open during the construction. Using the design-build project delivery, the project could be designed around restricted access to the highway. The maintenance of traffic plans contributed to the overcoming of this feature.
It was also challenging to track the funding during project planning and execution. Maintaining the identity of the funding source during the design process added a layer of administrative complexity that had never been done before. The necessity of political support for the project was compromised by political parties not wanting to lose public votes by being aligned with the project because of negative publicity due to highway congestion.
Despite these constraints, there were many successes. These included the partnership between the design builder and the client; very disciplined project management; the constrained budget from the start, meaning that the scope was consistent; and an environment where issues could be discussed and resolved. There was also an in-depth project planning phase, which meant that resources, time and creative energy investments enabled the project to be completed early and on budget.
The case study analysis concluded that T-REX was a success because the team identified and resolved problems as soon as possible.
The waterfall method
This method is linear, so the team completes one task before moving on to the next. It is a commonly used approach to completing a project. In engineering, the waterfall method might mean collecting documentation and requirements before the design stage, then system testing before testing products with users, and fixing any problems. The last step is delivering the results to the client.
The waterfall method works well for projects that have large teams. It requires continual communication among the team to make sure that every member knows task progression and completion so that no tasks get overlooked. This method is also appropriate for projects with rigorous structural requirements, and the team must consider any changes in the early stages of the project.
As the project evolves and members complete tasks, making changes can become more difficult. This means that the waterfall method is effective for projects with a clear, determined outcome and clients who are decisive from the start of the project about the final requirements.
The agile method
The agile method breaks down a project into milestones rather than consecutive tasks. Being able to stagger results makes it more straightforward for team members to incorporate changes into the project, and helps project managers adapt the project depending on what they have learned. It requires continual communication with the team and stakeholders. Agile project management has continual improvement throughout the process, and changes are made responsively and quickly. Clients can give feedback,which means thatthis style suits customers who still need a clear requirement for the final outcome. The adaptability to change, flexibility and customer input make this a popular methodology.
When work begins, the team goes through planning, execution and evaluation. When using the agile method, project managers must regularly relay the scope of the project, and any expectations as the work is continually developing. This can mean that parts of the project run over timeor some parts take less time than planned. The agile method can suit clients who have changing timelines and budgets.
Strategic project management
This management style relates the project to a company’s competitiveness and efficiency. It finds and integrates an organization’s long-term objectives into the project. Leaders are involved, resulting in an understanding of the organization’s context and purpose.
Strategic management is about creating links between the project and strategic objectives. It calls for a project manager to see the bigger picture and relate it to different perspectives, such as stakeholders, clients and team members. Firstly, there is usually an uncertainty analysis, which identifies unknown components and makes decision-making easier. The results of this analysis can decide the project strategy. This method suits clients who want to develop a product over time but are unsure where to begin and what the eventual requirement will be. It can be suitable when project managers understand the client and can adapt to changes.
There are three components thatdrive the project to its ultimate objective. Strategic analysis
addresses the organization’s mission and long-term objectives. It also assesses external factors that could affect progress. Strategic analysis tools such as PESTLE can highlight potential issues and minimize their impact. Strategic choice means selecting projects that meet stakeholder expectations while considering the company’s strengths. Strategic implementation involves setting short, medium and long-term goals. It examines the assignation of staff and resources, the use of collaborative tools, and the purpose of the project.
The scrum method
Scrum is an agile technology that consists of meetings, roles and tools to help teams working on complex projects to collaborate and better structure and manage their workload. Although software development teams most often use it, scrum can be beneficial to any team working toward a common goal.
This method can work well for complex projects that need regular communication among the team. It requires regular team meetings to discuss progress. The project manager will assist in prioritizing tasks and ensure that the timeline is being followed. For this method to work, all team members must be committed to attending team meetings and communicating with other team members. The scrum method can be suitable for complex projects and team members with exact skills and roles.
Critical skills for project managers
Successful project managers use their skills, knowledge, techniques and tools to run projects. They can see the bigger picture, are organized, and have detail awareness. Engineering project managers are involved in developing new processes, designs or products. They can affect innovation and change within organizations. They need critical planning, problem solving, organization and management skills.
When there are challenges in the project, engineering project managers must deal with them and find realistic solutions. For instance, if they find faults with technical data that could be problematic for the project, they must find the reason and the best way to get back on the right path. Project managers oversee various activities such as operations, production, testing and quality assurance. They have responsibility for preparing budgets, setting schedules, supervising the work of team members, hiring staff and following administrative procedures.
A large part of their time is spent managing the activities of team members and employees within an organization. If the project is concerned with creating new software, the project manager will work with marketing, finance, customer support and software development staff. They must have good communication skills to collaborate and keep the project on track. Engineering project managers use strategic planning to develop the overall concept for projects. If designing a new product, they must make detailed plans for development using both a broad perspective and a detailed one.
The Triple Constraint in project management
Managing a project involves working with the Triple Constraint. Combined with project management software, it can contribute to a successful project. The Triple Constraint refers to the constraints ingrained in project management. There are three constraints: time, scope and cost. Time is the schedule for completion;the scope includes the tasks required to meet the project’s objectives; and the cost is the budget and finance.
The Triple Constraint recognizes that the time, scope and cost affect the project’s success. The project manager can balance these constraints with trade-offs. Despite being important to the project, the triple constraints do not guarantee success. Recently, some project management experts have added three more constraints to the model to outline the most critical areas of a project. They have added quality, as project managers should have a quality management plan. Risk is part of any project, and a risk management plan is required to address project risks. The final constraint is the various sorts of benefits arising from the project. Project managers must ensure that stakeholders get as much financial benefit as possible.
Project managers can reduce or increase the time, scope and cost with trade-offs to keep it under budget and on schedule. An example would be extending the timeline to allow stakeholders to add more activities. It could also involve scope reduction leading to fewer tasks and reduced costs. In some projects, cost and time can be related. For instance, the costs of renting labor or equipment are proportional to the time you need them.
All these scenarios apply the Triple Constraint for managing the project, but there are many more possible trade-offs that can occur in a project, which also involve quality, risk and benefit.
Managers can use a project management dashboard to oversee the project and its progress. Information such as the scope, cost and schedule are easy to monitor. The project manager can identify issues and adjust the constraints to prevent them from becoming problems.
The finances of a project depend on several variables. The resources, such as labor and materials, all include costs. There are variable and fixed costs, which must be worked out. This can be a high cost when outsourcing or using contract workers. Project managers estimate the costs in the project scope and develop a budget projecting the estimated costs. The projection will help to control costs during project execution. The budget can be adjusted when required.
The project scope consists of all the work required to finish the project. Tasks must be prioritized, allowing the planning and assigning of resources. A scope management plan can be used to outline the tasks to be done. This can be shared with all stakeholders. Amendments can be recorded to avoid scope creep. Task management techniques can be used to monitor all activities in the scope. Project managers use scope management actions because the time taken on each task is critical to the quality and cost final result. This can affect the cost and schedule, particularly if it is a large-scale project. The project schedule is the timeline planned for completing the project. This can include having an estimate for the time that each task will take.
A work breakdown structure helps to identify all the tasks. Project managers can use different scheduling techniques, such as PERT charts or the critical path method, to plan the project’s duration. Gantt charts can give a visual representation of the schedule with task sequences and task duration. The project manager will create documentation, procedures and policies to plan, execute and monitor the schedule. A resources schedule can assist in the allocation of resources. The schedule can be compared to actual progress to see if the project is on track.
There are tools to support the project management process. There is software that can help project managers oversee each element of the Triple Constraint. This software enables the tracking of costs to deter overspending. It can be used to add project expenses, create budgets, andenter the hourly resource rates. The real-time dashboard tracks metrics across the project and reports on them with charts and graphs. This is a straightforward way to monitor costs and ensure that they are aligned with the budget. Software can be used to update schedules with reports that are current and up to date. An online Gantt chart can be used to show progress on each task.
Project management in engineering requires multiple skills and wide-ranging knowledge. Project managers have many responsibilities, including communicating with staff and stakeholders and managing the scope, cost and time of the project. The T-REX project was an example of excellent engineering project management. It was successful financially and by finishing before the target. With economic growth and technological advances, demand for project management increases.
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