How to Improve Engineering Project Control

Posted by Steven Gentles on Jun 29, 2017 2:27:28 PM
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You just finished up a 50,000 hour engineering project.

It took 9 months to create and deliver 308 documents and files to your customer:

  • 4 General Arrangement Drawings
  • 20 Installation Drawings
  • 20 Layout Drawings
  • 223 Piping ISO Drawings
  • 33 Engineering Analysis Reports
  • 8 Solid models

You also created a ton of Excel spreadsheets, Word docs, emails and more. But these artifacts were noise in 

the big picture – all that really mattered were the document and file project deliverables your customer wanted and paid for.

You finished up a little late and over budget, but this was no surprise. Things got off track on many occasions, but you always knew when this was happening and you made frequent, timely course corrections. Well done! That’s project control at its finest.

But if your projects sometimes look like the Montparnasse train derailment of 1895 (see my blog Top 5 Engineering Project Control Problems to Avoid), and your Program Manager has lost faith in your ability to deliver (see my blog Work Package Delays - Is Engineering Lying?) keep reading to learn more about the essential things you need to do to keep your project tracking and on the rails.

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Manage Every Project Deliverable as a Work Package

If your project will indeed result in the contracted delivery of 308 engineering documents to your customer, manage each one as a discrete work package in your work breakdown structure (WBS).

As a reminder, here is what the PMBOK says about work packages:

“A work package can be used to group the activities where work is scheduled and estimated, monitored, and controlled. In the context of the WBS, work refers to work products or deliverables that are the result of activity and not to the activity itself.”

(Note that the Heavy Industrial sector view Engineering Work Packages (EWPs) as the basket of engineering document deliverables required to create a Construction Work Package (CWP). See my blog Engineering Work Package - 95% Complete (40% Remaining) for more insight).

Apply Earned Value Analysis to Track Project Status 

With the project structured and broken down correctly, build your schedule and ensure you collect costs against each of the 308 work packages. At any point in the project, you need to be able to determine the percentage of budget consumed for each work package. Even if your cost collection system and approach is rudimentary, this is still the easy part. And if you get your numbers right, it’s QUANTITATIVE and inarguable.

Here’s where the waters get muddy. Looking at any given work package (document or file), if 50% of the budget has been consumed, does this mean that half the work has been completed? Unlikely – and if you rely on verbal QUALITATIVE updates from each work package author, you're creating unnecessary risk for your project.

muddy-waters-project-control.jpg

Instead, define and communicate your earned value management system to your project team and only give credit to work completed based on where each discrete work package is on its journey to the customer. For example, if a piping diagram has been defined by a designer, but has not yet been peer reviewed via squad check, you may want to only credit the work as being 20% complete. If the same piping diagram is making its way through the approval process, but still hasn’t been released, you may want to credit the work as being 80% complete.

These are Earned Value Credits – a percent complete credit that is assigned to each work package based on your value management rules.

If your project management information system is rudimentary, you’re probably using manual spreadsheets to track earned value for each work package. If you’re using Tina5s to control your project and documents, your work packages (documents and files) will automatically be assigned earned value credits (EVC) based on where they are on the road to release.

(Here’s a good PMI article on How to Make Earned Value Work for Your Project).

Calculate and Track a Cost Performance Index For each Work Package

Because you know the percentage of budget consumed and EVC, you can quickly determine a Cost Performance Index and identify the work packages that are in trouble (and take early action to get things back on track).

Remember:

cost-performance-index-project-control.jpg

Bernie Roseke provides an excellent overview in his blog Cost Performance Index (Earned Value Analysis).

Validate Your Cost Performance Index

Check your work (engineers and PMs should always do this).

If your project information management system is comprised of network drives and Excel spreadsheets, you’ll need to conduct periodic spot checks with each member of your team to make sure they understand and are following your work package earned value management system. Although time consuming, the effort will be worth it to keep your project on the rails.

If you’re using Tina5s, you’ll still need to validate that your team is doing things right. You can do this very quickly because all document and file work packages can be listed in what is effectively a dashboard. At a glance, you’ll see:

  • The save activity for each document and file
  • The discussion activity
  • If there is an active work flow and what its status is

And you can drill down to more detailed information for each document and file if required. It doesn’t take long to validate that the rules are being followed. For example, a document that is in the approval stage should have an active workflow. If it doesn’t, it’s at an earlier stage and the EVC is incorrect.

Use and Apply a Project Change Process

Use a closed loop engineering change management process similar to this one.

Although you can make this process happen using network drives, Word, Excel and email, it’ll take a lot of diligence, effort and a bit of good luck. If you’re using Tina5s, you can streamline change management by authoring and processing your Problem Reports, Change Requests and Change Notices as documents (see this blog for an overview of Tina5s and document control). In addition, Tina has features that come in very handy when assessing the potential cost impact of a proposed change – an accurate change impact assessment matrix can be quickly created.

Get the Right Tools (Improve Productivity)

If you're using network drives and Windows file folders to manage and organize your project information, consider that this approach to information management has been used for over 12 DECADES (the vertical filing cabinet was invented in 1898 - check out my blog on Why Network Drives Kill Engineering Project Management).

This old school approach to information management will have a potentially massive impact on the productivity of your project team because everyone will struggle to find the information they need. How big an impact? Studies suggest as much as an hour a day of lost productivity. Check out my blog on Calculating Project Control Software ROI? Start With File Search for more insight.

As a PM, what would you do if everyone on your project team was suddenly 15% more efficient?

  • You could get the project done at a 15% lower cost.
  • You could deliver your engineering work packages to your customer ahead of schedule.
  • You could get more contracts delvered for the same cost base

In both good and bad times, now is the time to retool and improve your project productivity. Check out this blog Tough Times? Focus On Project Control.

Wrapping Up

Every engineering project boils down to the scheduled delivery of engineering information. Your engineering project will almost certainly be under control if you:

  • Manage Every Project Deliverable as a Work Package
  • Apply Earned Value Analysis to Track Project Status
  • Calculate and Track a Cost Performance Index For each Work Package
  • Check That Your Earned Value Management System Rules Are Being Followed
  • Use and Apply a Rigorous Project Change Process
  • If your tool set is 120 years old, consider an upgrade and get the right tools

If you’re thinking about changing the way you manage and control your engineering projects and would be like to explore how Tina5s can help you get an earned value management system up and running:

Request a Demo

 

Topics: Project Control

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