Engineering Project Management
Introduction and Importance
While there are a plenitude of project management techniques such as Waterfall, Agile and Critical Chain Technique. The essential themes to these are Building a Strong Team, Creating Milestones, Establishing Project Parameters, Encouraging Self- Motivation, Establishing a Contingency and using Management Tools. It is also important to note: we are not professionals by any means. We are students that have had successful experiences managing engineering projects, and the tactics could be different based on the size of your team, and of course, the people on it. Project management is essentially influencing and manipulating your team to be organized, structured and efficient in completing goals laid out by and for the team. Read that sentence one more time: goals laid out by and for the team. That is an important note. People want to work on something that they also follow with their mind and hearts. Remember that.
Establishing Project Parameters
Planning the project and outlining the expected deliverable. Minor changes through the course of the project can build up and cause scope creep. In order to mitigate this, establishing an accurate outline of project parameters is advised. These include but are not limited to, the project objectives, scope, time, materials, budgets, reporting and deadlines. These help the involved parties gain a clear and realistic understanding of objectives and deliverables. This is done as a team.
Building a Strong Team
Once the team understand the goals and the significant milestones needed to create a reality from your dreams, it is time to work on the core of project management, building a team that is motivated to work. Creating a team with the right skills to match the project and the right outlook can further eliminate defects in the end product. Your team, with time if you are new group, can really be a family. If you are a new and small crew, it becomes fairly natural to connect on a personal level, but it isn't something that happens naturally. Everyone on the team may be different, and their might be tension between members, so it is your job as a project manager to ensure that although people might have difference, in the grand scheme of things, you are on team, one species. If you are not together as a team, fully understanding of the goals, how can you expect you finish as a unit with a professional, working engineering project. Plan times within the club to socialize. To drink, laugh, build a rapport that isn't just engineering. After all, we aren't robots. We are people with feelings (unfortunately!) so make sure that you don't run your club like a dictator, but a welcoming leader that is empathetic, understanding and always willing to talk/help.
At each key stage of the project make clear milestones to keep the scope of the project on track. Weekly All-hands engineering meetings can be a great way to regroup, go over your gaant chart/trello boards and talk through the bottlenecks, the struggles within each engineering team, and how everyone can help people out. The worst thing to have during these meetings is to be on the lookout for who to blame on the mistakes that are brought up. Ultimately, it is on you as the manager for any mistakes. Make sure lessons are learned, and there is a strong and clear understanding to the team that mistakes are something we must work through, and we are all capable of them.
Keeping your team engaged is critical to success. This comes down to the approach, expectations, attitude and behavior towards those you are working with. Your role is no longer to do things yourself, but to understand the best way of getting things done through others. If you are looking to be a project manager that maximizes the success your engineering project obtains, it is crucial to create an environment that motivates your team to work. For example, self-motivation can be created from the project manager/leader. Below is an initiative I personally have started to ensure that the people who are making the biggest impact to the group are recognized to the entire club and throughout the engineering school (flyers, newsletters, etc.). It is something small, but significant in the grand scheme of things. It isn't usual to have yourself recognized for hard/long work in a college organization, and the impact I have seen from this is immense. It motivates your top performers to continue with the amazing work, and promotes more people to step up to make the page. IMPORTANT NOTE, when announcing this stuff, stress how others have had impacts to the group, but I am sure everyone in the room will know the clear winner of the initiative. Just be weary of sending the vibe that they are the only ones that contributed work to the club. It is not true.
People inherently want to succeed, but the amount of time they can put into something is very defined. Some will work their ass off to complete a goal, while others have other priorities that is not club-related. When it comes to the tools you can use for managing people and the project, it is CRUCIAL to remember the concept that everyone is different. It is not your job to change anyone, it is only your job to do as much as you can do to enable them to push themselves. Nobody wants to be pushed. With that thought, let's get into some of the tools I personally have used that have helped A LOT. These tools play with organization, transparency of high and low performers, and metrics how well the team is doing as a whole.
On a previous page on the wiki called "Recommended Team Software and Tools", it introduced Slack, Trello, OneDrive, Github and Google Drive. These are also used heavily for engineering project management. Slack for team/group communication, Trello for organizing tasks, due dates, etc, OneDrive for storing media and possibly collaborating live on Word, Excel etc, GitHub for all engineering files (Solidworks, MATLAB, etc) and Google Drive for convenient live work and trackers. Because I already explained these applications and their importance to any management, I am going to focus on specific examples that have been used these tools for great outcomes.
Tracking with Transparency
This is CRUCIAL. Actually, let me bold This is CRUCIAL. It is known that college students are some of the hardest people to manage, they always have other stuff going on and sometimes can't put 100% into an organization. It is also known that engineers are hard to manage. Hmmmmmm, we are college students and engineers. Tough luck, we got a double edge sword. What to do about it? The above software helps a lot, and Trello is self-explanatory, but the biggest thing I have struggled with is finance. How to get people to help with obtaining donations from their school or surrounding companies is difficult. But, the adoption of a simple google sheet that tracks how each team member is doing on finance initiatives shows who is doing well, who is lacking, and how the team is doing as a whole.
Engineering Project Management Example
Below is the UNH SEDS Project Management and Presentation section of the shop, equipped with a big screen to constantly display our tools for tracking as well as give presentations to the club or visitors on our club. We also have a whiteboard that is used to keep everyone in the loop on our general meetings once a week for everyone in the organization that usually entails company visits, workshops, etc.
Tangent! School Representation
This brought me on a big tangent regarding this section! This stuff is not just for managing the team, but showing the school (faculty, potential students, sponsors) the initiatives you are taking to make sure your successful. You would be SO surprised that amount of engineering groups that do not incorporate these concepts to their team, and because they don't, the environment of the club home isn't compatible for keeping people on through the years, and it also does not support successful succession through the years.