Every engineering project needs planning. Whether we are talking about the building of the Hoover Dam or installing a solar panel at home, a plan helps outline what you need. It defines how long your project will take and how much you will spend. It gives an insight into what challenges to expect.

As an engineering student, you will spend a lot of time writing project outlines. Typical assignments will ask you to come up with budgets, analytics, people management plans, and schedules. Those who enroll in a master’s course in engineering can expect to do even more, providing detailed project plans and leading teams of engineers.

A master of engineering management online course teaches engineering from a management perspective. You learn about budgets and financing, project management, how to manage people, decision-making and analytics, and operations management. Because it is an online course, all materials are available on your computer. To qualify, you need to have at least two years of engineering experience. Students are required to collaborate closely with instructors and team members to complete project management assignments.

As you plan your career, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the elements of engineering projects. You should know the different aspects of engineering projects and why they are important.

Elements Of A Well-Designed Engineering Project

  • Project Scope

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This is the outline of what needs to be done to complete the job. It helps define boundaries.

Often, especially when engineers are new to the job, they attempt to do more than the client has asked, and this costs more and takes more time.

In some cases, especially when engineers are handling multiple projects simultaneously, they do less than is required.

When you develop the scope, it outlines exactly what needs to be done to fulfill client requirements. The bigger the project, the bigger the scope.

A good scope statement is developed in conjunction with the clients and helps eliminate budget and time overruns. It also clearly defines what should be expected at the end of the project.

  • Customer Expectations Statement

This is a little different from the scope because it deals only with only what the client expects. Smart project leaders use this document frequently because it ensures that they deliver according to expectations.

To develop a customer expectation statement, you must engage closely with the client. Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, in complex engineering projects, the clients are not sure what they want, which can introduce confusion and disagreements when the work is complete.

A competent engineer takes charge. They walk the client through the project, letting them know what is possible and what isn’t and what they can accomplish with the given budget and schedule. It makes it easier to define expectations.

  • Schedule

You may have heard about projects that run beyond schedule, and the engineer is forced to compensate the client for every day that the job is not complete. This can be very expensive, and it isn’t unheard of for engineering firms to declare bankruptcy because they have scheduling problems.

A schedule is usually divided into tasks. In engineering, it is called a work breakdown structure. This may sound a little complicated, but it isn’t. It is simply a table that lists all tasks and their start and completion dates.

Any experienced engineer will tell you that this is one of the most critical elements of project management. It tells all involved what they should do and provides completion dates for every task.

  • Budget

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Projects that lose money are a big risk for engineering firms. As a project manager, if you spend without strict allocations, you will soon have to go back to the client to ask for more money. If they feel you are overspending, it can lead to endless headaches for all parties involved.

A budget eliminates this problem. It outlines what you will spend on every stage of the project, and it also allows transparency.

The best way to create a budget is from the top. Come up with an overall estimate of how much the whole job will cost, and then break it into big chunks and come up with cost estimates for those. Keep breaking it down until you get to the cost of actual tasks.

These budget breakdowns should be shared with all managers and supervisors working on the project. If they know how much they are allowed to spend, they will be careful with the material requisition process.

Remember, the longer a project takes, the more expensive it is. Budgets should be developed with schedules in mind. You can use a simple Excel sheet to capture line items and costs.

  • Project Requirements

Requirements define what is needed to accomplish goals. Say, for example, you are building a fence. Requirements outline the color of the fence, the height of the paling, what size of nails is needed, the size and number of hammers, and whatever other items are required to build a strong, long-lasting fence.

That is a very basic example. After you complete a master’s of engineering management online, you can expect to work on complex projects, and developing a list of requirements for them is a time-consuming, consultative task.

You will work with other engineers, suppliers, project supervisors, and managers to develop a comprehensive list of all items that are needed.

It helps to walk the client through requirements so that they have a good understanding of what they are spending their money on.

  • Resource Allocation

After you come up with project requirements, you need a resource allocation plan. Define what resources are required for each task in terms of time and money. It is dictated by the project requirements, the budget, and the schedule.

You work with task managers to identify what they need and how much time they need to complete the different tasks within their purview. Ask them to create clear lists that you can consolidate to devise a final resource allocation plan.

  • Risk Assessment And Management

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When assessing risk, you try to project what can go wrong and what steps you will take to mitigate against deviations. You forecast adverse events that may happen and explain what you will do should they come to pass.

In risk assessment, project managers look at whether their firms are big enough to handle the project at hand.

A lack of capacity is a common problem, especially for small engineering companies. They may bid successfully for a project only to realize they don’t have what it takes to complete it.

A risk assessment plan helps eliminate this problem. It outlines not just risks but plans that are in place to deal with them should they occur.

  • Roles And Responsibilities/People Management Plan

Engineering projects are undertaken by teams, and each team member has a role to play. It is important for the team, as well as the client, to know who is responsible for the different tasks. It introduces accountability and makes follow-up easy.

At the top of the list will be the overall project manager or project director. The list goes all the way down to supervisors who are in charge of specific tasks.

As you build a list of roles and responsibilities, keep in mind that task managers need to coordinate, so think about how to facilitate good communication both upwards, downwards, and across.

  • A Quality Assurance Plan

This is about meeting certain quality benchmarks. Coming up with a plan ensures that you implement processes that allow you to meet a client’s quality requirements. As the engineering team, you will defer to the QA plan throughout to ensure that you meet the client’s specifications.

A quality assurance plan does not mean you have to build the highest quality structures. It only means you must deliver the best quality with the given budget and schedule.

  • A Communication Plan

It can be frustrating for a client to call for an update only to be passed around because no one knows who he should talk to. A communication plan outlines who is responsible for keeping the client up to date and how often reports should be provided.

A good communication plan defines how team members talk to each other. If a task manager has a problem, for example, who should they communicate with, and who should that person escalate it to?

  • Procurement Strategy

You may not see this included in many project management plans, but it is necessary, especially when dealing with complex projects. Procurement for small projects isn’t difficult. You write out a list of the things you need and then call suppliers and ask them to deliver.

However, big projects need plenty of procurement work. Using the project requirements list, engineering project managers contact suppliers and ask them to bid. They also ask them to showcase the quality of their goods.

This is a complex part of engineering management and needs to be handled with expertise and care. Remember, the quality of the items you procure will determine the quality and lifespan of your finished work.

As you go about the procurement process, keep your budget in mind. Also, take into account time constraints. For example, a certain item may be cheaper if you bought it from China, but shipping it may take a long time and cause expensive delays.

As an engineering project manager, you need to scrutinize supplier contracts. Develop a list of procurement specs for all items and work with suppliers who can deliver just what you need.

Pitfalls To Watch Out For As You Design And Manage Engineering Projects

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Even the best planning will not help you avoid emergencies and contingencies. Life is unpredictable, even more so in engineering projects because they are often large and complex.

However, knowing what pitfalls to look out for helps. You can foresee problems before they happen, and it’s easier to correct them should they occur.

Here are some common pitfalls in engineering project planning:

  • Dependency Problems

This happens when one task is held up by another one that isn’t complete. Imagine, for example, that for the construction team to begin work, they have to receive drawings from the surveyors. The surveyors are late because accounting hasn’t paid for travel and expenses. The problems keep snowballing, and eventually, the whole project falls behind.

As a project manager, it is your job to ensure all tasks are completed on time so that none is holding another back.

  • Poor Collaboration

Poor collaboration can happen for many reasons. The project may lack proper digitization, making sharing of information cumbersome and time-consuming.

It can also happen because of the incompatibility of the systems used to document different aspects of the project. In some cases, poor collaboration is because of cultural differences.

As the project manager, it is your job to ensure that all teams collaborate as necessary and share information in a timely fashion.

  • Lack Of Standard Templates

Standard templates are easier to fill. They help to improve the overall quality of the work, eliminate duplications, allow for easier digitization and are time savers.

Develop a standard template that is easy to understand and use for all concerned.

  • Absence Of A Standard Review Process

This is especially important for meeting expected quality benchmarks. Each manager and supervisor know what is expected of them, so reviews are easy. So long as you produce good reports, the client can see at a glance whether or not you are meeting the outlined standards.

  • Poor Change Management

Many engineering projects take months or even years to complete, and you can expect a few changes during that time. How you manage change determines how well the project turns out. Develop a change management plan that covers as many areas as possible.

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