Management of Engineering Projects – Think Before You Act!

Prof. Dr. Hans Bakker and Dr. Ir. Marian Bosch-Rekveldt from the Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at TU Delft share their approach to management of engineering projects, which they teach in their MOOC Project Management of Engineering Projects – Preparing for Success.

What is the unique approach for managing engineering projects that you offer?
From our experience in industry and in our research, we see that project managers are mainly involved in and focus on the execution part. That is, when the technical part of the project starts. This was the meat and potatoes of project management since it was formed as a profession around 60 years ago.

This standard approach is, in our view, not only no longer relevant these days, but is also one of the main reasons why engineering projects “earned” the reputation of being inefficient, expensive and not reaching their goals: projects start after a sloppy and hasty front-end phase with lots of loopholes which pop up later as “surprises”; and project managers fail to pay enough attention to a key aspect – the people.

In our approach, first, management of projects should invest in and start with the front-end phase, much more than it is done now. We even see in multi-million Euros projects that the front-end phase is done in less than 2 weeks – this is absolutely a recipe for trouble. In the front-end phase, the team involved should answer questions such as: what is the problem to be solved; is our organization well aligned; what are the drivers for success; and are there potentially other solutions? By answering these questions, you will be able to limit the number of surprises. While these processes are typically described as “business development”, we strongly believe that project management starts at that very phase.

Second, we put in our approach much more focus on the people. Not only the team executing the project, but also other actors that are directly or indirectly affected. Conflicting interests and ideas can become serious blockers, and we see it mainly in projects that permanently change the living conditions of neighborhoods. In our view, collaboration between all parties – project initiators and management, project team, external contractors, and residents – should be encouraged.

How will this approach be taught in the MOOC?
Next to teaching hard skills such as risk analysis, cost estimation, scheduling and other tools, the participants will learn how to engage in the front-end phase in a robust way, and practically will write an execution plan to apply that new knowledge. In addition, we will teach tools such as stakeholder mapping and management; team selection and team building, to help learners to encourage collaboration and acceptance of different parties.

We are also planning to let learners work together and exercise that very collaboration that we seek in management of engineering projects – teams of up to 10 learners will work as a virtual team, where they can share their experience and jointly work on the project execution plan.

We hope that learners will come with the willingness to cooperate, and that they share with us the desire to make engineering projects more successful!

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