Management of Engineering Projects

5 Tips for Better Management of Engineering Projects

17-Feb 2021

Engineering is a highly technical field, but the success of any engineering project depends more than just hands-on technical skills. Someone needs to have their finger on the pulse of the entire process and all of its many components, paying attention to who's doing what and whether it's all happening on time. This person is the project manager, and their presence is critical.

According to the Project Management Institute, companies waste a combined $1 million every 20 seconds due to poor project leadership. The same report also revealed that:

  • One in three projects doesn't meet its goals
  • 48% of projects aren’t completed by their deadlines
  • 43% go over budget

Engineering projects tend to be particularly deadline-critical and often play a pivotal role in other, even larger endeavors. Someone has to manage these projects actively, or the cost and reputation ramifications could echo across the company. 

Fortunately, project management involves a learnable skill set. Even if your background is in engineering rather than management, there are best practices you can learn and apply to help keep your team on track. Here are five tips for better management of engineering projects.

1. Specify All Project Parameters Before Work Begins

Details are everything in engineering, yet many engineering projects begin with key details missing. Each team and department may genuinely believe they have what they need to get started, but then something falls through the cracks and no one knows until it’s too late. 

Effective project management means establishing all expectations before anything gets started. The project manager needs to communicate with the client, engineering senior management, and any other key stakeholders to make sure everyone is on board. This conversation needs to cover:

  • Project objectives
  • Scope
  • Materials
  • Teams and departments 
  • Budgets
  • Deadlines
  • Reporting
  • Deliverables

If there are any uncertainties or disagreements, the project manager needs to make sure these get cleared up before any actual engineering happens.

2. Establish Milestones and Target Completion Dates

One of the clearest signs of a poorly managed project is a deadline that is coming up fast but suddenly seems unreachable. 

Yes, things happen and processes fall behind. But if a skilled project manager is on the job, that person should be able to identify potential delays before they become a serious problem.

That’s why learning the Project Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) is so important for a new project manager. PERT helps you to identify a project's necessary tasks, put them in order, and specify each one's expected duration.

PERT requires you to consider four versions of a project or task completion time:

  • Optimistic time. The shortest possible completion time
  • Pessimistic time. The worst-case completion time
  • Most likely time. The best estimate of when the task will be done, assuming no problems
  • Expected time. The best estimate of completion time if there are setbacks

By using PERT to create a project diagram, you can see what smaller tasks need to happen, and by when, if the company is going to reach the overall project deadline. This information lets you adjust the project timeline based on task progress.

3. Establish a Critical Path

Engineering projects have many intersecting elements, each of which depends on or leads to other factors. Project managers need to understand these dependencies to direct workflow, respond to unexpected developments, and adjust as necessary to keep a project on track.

The Critical Path Method is the best tool engineering project managers have for this purpose. It identifies all of the dependencies within a project and helps a project manager to understand which tasks must stay on track and which have a little bit more leeway.

Applying the Critical Path Method involves developing a flowchart that specifies:

  • The order of tasks within a project
  • Which tasks depend on and lead to which other tasks
  • The longest continuous sequence of dependencies within the project

This longest sequence is your critical path. By prioritizing tasks along this pathway, you can increase the chances that your entire project will be ready on time.

4. Develop Contingency Plans 

In engineering project management, you don't plan on crossing a bridge when you come to it. Rather, you identify all the bridges between you and your destination to figure out how long it will take to cross them or identify other routes if a bridge is out.

Even with perfect attention to task pathways and milestones, the unexpected still happens. This is especially true when you’re dealing with high-tech processes and procedures. As a project manager, you need to know what could go wrong and how teams can change their approach if it does.

5. Use Software To Stay Organized

If engineers have one common strength, it’s the ability to use all tools at their disposal. Project management may feel like one of the least technical skill sets you have as an engineer, but workflow can get complicated without the right tech on your site.

Engineering project management software can help you to sort and keep track of all the information you need, such as:

  • Client information and requirements
  • Purchase orders and invoices
  • Specification documents
  • Time tracking information

By replacing inefficient spreadsheets and document folders, the right engineering project management software can help you respond more quickly to the teams involved in your project. You can source information in minutes and even send reports and invoices to clients with a single click, keeping everyone on the same page and the project moving forward smoothly. 

Getting Started

Now that you have a basic idea of how to manage engineering projects, you can start applying these best practices with your team. Always start before the team gets down to the hands-on work, and double-check your plans with stakeholders.

Make sure you have not just an overall deadline but also sub-deadlines. Know what pieces of the puzzle fit together. Have a backup plan and always keep your records close at hand.

If you need trustworthy system e to keep things on-track, Accelo is here for you. Accelo offers a comprehensive cloud-based option that helps you manage people, tasks, and finances all in one place.  

Try Accelo for free, and find out how much easier engineering project management can be with the right tools.   

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