Whatever field of engineering you work in, the reputation of your company rests largely on your ability to get things done - on time, and to spec. Keeping projects to schedule - particularly with inevitable changes, additions and delays - becomes a project manager’s biggest challenge.
So, whether you are an experienced manager looking for some tips for delivering a successful engineering project, or you’re an engineer transitioning into a management or leadership role, we’ve scoured advice from industry leaders and put together some of the best project management tips for engineers to help you set, manage and exceed expectations.
Establish clear project specifications from the beginning
While it may seem obvious, the biggest reason that projects fail to meet deadlines is because of lack of attention to the pre-project planning. Even minor changes along the way have the ability to build up and cause scope creep. So, before getting started, establish an accurate outline of project parameters, including:
- Personnel and external participants
Often, project expectations are initially established between a client and senior management or a sales team, without considering the actual specifics of what will need to be involved to deliver the project. Therefore, it helps for project managers to be involved early in the planning process to ensure both parties have a realistic understanding of objectives and deliverables.
Build a strong project team
Creating a team with not only the right skills but the right attitudes will be the difference in creating a seamless delivery. As a project manager, your job is to align skills and talents with appropriate project elements, and ensure team members have a clear understanding of what their role and responsibilities are. Help them understand the end goal, and how their specific role contributes to the overall success of the project.
Encourage an environment of self-motivation
Successful project management is not just about what you do, but how you do it. Having the support of an engaged team is critical to your project success, and largely comes down to your own approach, expectations, attitude and behaviour 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.
Establish client sign-offs at various key stages of the project, as opposed to one final sign off. This helps ensure that stakeholders are engaged throughout the project delivery and will keep the scope on track.
- Set up calendar reminders for milestones to create transparency around deadlines.
- Schedule regular status meetings or phone calls.
- Establish a proactive rather than reactive process by encouraging any issues to be dealt with earlier rather than later.
- Celebrate these milestones regularly to keep your team members motivated and engaged.
Break it down
An important skill for project managers to develop is the ability to simplify complex problems and break them down to more manageable and measurable projects. While making the wider plan seem less daunting, it also allows for a more effective means of tracking progress and measuring success.
Expect the unexpected
Remember that projects rarely go exactly to plan, so establish contingency strategies so you don’t automatically freak out if your building project starts taking on a Tower of Pisa lean. Work out some likely risk factors at various stages and how you could reduce their impact should they crop up. This is not to say you should plan for failure, simply that you need to develop the ability to recognise potential variables so you are prepared to manage them. Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things; there is often more than one way to reach a goal.
Use job management tools to manage your workflow
Cloud computing software now offers a range of integratable options to help you track and manage your workflow - without the piles of paperwork and confusing spreadsheets. Using cloud-based project management software enables you and your team to enter project information in one place and includes features such as:
- Client management
- Job costing
- Time tracking
- Document management
- Purchase orders
Because it’s in the cloud, you can access the information from wherever you need it - whether you are on site or in the office. Andy Johnson is a project manager from UK-based engineering firm, Stilwell, who lauds the benefits of using workflow software - “Its a centralised place for your business to store and manage everything. You can get back to it for whatever information you want, whenever you want and anywhere you want it.”
With the number of projects in the engineering sector increasing, along with rising competition from both local and international companies, having a thorough understanding of how to manage a seamless and successful project delivery is critical to your company’s success. Invariably, there will be bumps along the way but, with a bit of confidence and the right tools to avert a crisis before it escalates, you’ll be able to keep your engineering project as stress-free as possible!
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