Project management is the practice of shepherding a project from inception through to delivery, applying the necessary skills and knowledge to keep the project on time, on budget, and aligned with all relevant specifications.
For engineers, project management includes careful planning and communication of that plan to a team of engineers. It involves the identification of project goals and milestones as well as the development of multiple scenarios and contingency plans. It’s an important process for any engineering team because otherwise, the unexpected can arise and derail the work of dozens or even hundreds of people.
Engineering is a complex and ever-evolving industry, so engineering project managers need to be adaptable and up to date on all of the latest best practices. That includes engineering practices related to the project at hand, as well as overall management skills.
Engineering project managers need to have general project management expertise. That includes the following skills, as identified by the Project Management Institute:
The engineering project manager also needs to understand the technical work being done, at least well enough to provide direction and feedback.
Engineers make excellent project managers. They have a first-hand understanding of the type of work they’ll be managing, and they usually know from experience what good and bad management looks like in the engineering world. To make the leap, they just need a basic grounding in project management as a formal skill set.
Certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) is a great place to start. The PMP credential is available through the Project Management Institute. CIO magazine ranked it as the top project management certification. An engineer with a four-year degree is eligible to take the PMP exam as soon as they have three years of experience leading projects and 35 months of formal training.
Project management skills are different from those required for engineering management. Engineering management primarily involves overseeing the day-to-day work of engineers and other professionals in related technical fields. An engineering manager may need to oversee projects, but they usually only work on the technical aspects of the project.
A project manager oversees all aspects of project completion, including the logistical as well as the technical. The path to becoming a project manager is also quicker than the path to becoming an engineering manager. Certification is helpful but not required for a project manager, but most engineering managers typically need a master’s degree and state licensure to get started.
Engineering project management is complex and requires administrative, interpersonal and organizational skills. The project manager needs to know how to plan out a project’s course and direct that course to keep everyone involved on the same page. And of course, if anything goes amiss, the project manager needs to be able to get the project back on track with minimal loss of time and money.
Project management software can help. Next, explore five engineering project management platforms.