ENGINEERING PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Post 601 by Gautam Shah 

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In ancient age, endeavours like: survival, hunting, farming, communal living, communication, wars, and mitigation of calamities or disasters, required some degree of skilled handling. Endeavours that are unprecedented in nature or first time ever required group action, innovation and commitment. These qualities were fundamental requirements for handling a complex situation. Over a period, many of these activities become routine, and so could be handled by smaller groups, or within the family, and without any distinctive expertise.

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Street in Pompeii > Wikipedia image by Paul Vlaar

Wars, disasters’ mitigation and ambitious projects were governments’ forte and handled by a coterie of disciplined experts. These endeavours required new technologies, faster completion and assured results. Such experts were available with the military, and since then technical management has been part of the military’s domain. For many autocratic nations the fact holds true even today. In most of the countries nascent efforts in space, communications, electronics, transport, marine engineering and similar fields are initiated or sponsored through the military establishments. Such devolution of project handling has created perception that construction affairs of the Government are either military affairs or civil matters (nonmilitary or routine affairs), and it is still continuing.

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Poulnabrone portal tomb Ireland > Wikipedia image by Jon Sullivan (PD Photo.org)

 The Military affairs versus the Civil matters also divide the ambit of management skills into two distinct streams: Administrative-management and Technical-management. Things or happenings that involve Routine tasks, even if complex, are handled by the Administrators. Administrators are adapt at managing predictable situations like tax collection, governance, law administration, logistics, building or road construction, etc. Technical-management is required for high risk situations of political and climatic nature. These are unpredictable and unprecedented in scale, extensive in affectation, complexity and urgency. The technical management involves three crunching factors: Time, Extent and Resources. Situations handled by techno-experts are, input of knowledge without experimental reliance, successful solutions at the first attempt, involution of diverse conditions, lack of immediate know-hoe, lack of intermediate testing.

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Bridge Construction > Wikipedia image by US Army

Civil matters require an input of technology that is with well-established norms and unlikely to see any rapid obsolescence. On the other hand military efforts are occurring with extreme constraints of Time, Space and Resources. And these three elements change their scale during planning, execution and operations requiring tactical corrections. The Tactical corrections, require on the spot decisions, improvisation and strategic insight. The resources’ crunch was not acute due to the exigency of the situation and political sponsorship, but time and space were omnipresent. Military affairs require an unique Engineering Contribution.

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Mexican army response to Hurricane Katrina > Wikipedia image by US Army

Technical or military engagement for projects was part of all societies at all times, but early 19th C. saw a different variety of projects emerging. Industrial production units were not planned by political coterie or the civil administrators, but rather rich merchants and entrepreneurs. Industrial projects were conceived, executed and made operational in a very compact time frame in comparison to any other project in the history. The time-compression necessitated new methods of project management.

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Factory in Brazil 1880 > Wikipedia image

World war-I and conflicts of that era were spread over very large area, fought in unfamiliar territories, using very heavy equipment and large number of combatants. These necessitated mathematically based planning and forecasting methods, to anticipate the demand, production schedules, and material procurement locations (for food, water and fodder) and coordinating the logistics of supplies at right place on right time. These were mainly military room affairs. The methods developed into a new discipline concerned with the planning, assessment and control of operating systems, such as industrial production, commerce, or virtually any human effort, later known as OR -Operations Research. Interest in the methods for design and logic of these systems, rather than in their operations, led to another subject, SE -Systems Engineering.

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Logistic issues during WW -I > Wikipedia image

In today’s world ‘Management has come to mean many things to many people’. Broadly three classes of management are recognized: Governmental, Business and Engineering.

■ In Governmental management, administration, legal frame work and intendance of wealth, predominate. This is reflected in Civil Services that Governments form through selection, training and situational exposure.

■ In Business management, public relations, communication, material and human resource planning, strategy and methodology, economics and financial management, market management, are dealt. These are seen in Business managers that trade and industry inculcate within their personnel or through specialized educational courses.

■ In Engineering management, all pioneering human endeavours are planned, operated and serviced with infusion of technology. Engineering management, however, requires a competence that is substantially different from business management. Designers and Engineers, who have had several years of varied working experience, gain circumstantial administrative and business management skills, but very late in a carrier. Fresh students of Design and Engineering branches, who go through advanced courses in business management, lack the multi-engineering disciplinary exposure.

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Dabbawala of Mumbai India (Tiffin -lunch box delivery men) Routine Management > Wikipedia image by Zachs from Pune India

To manage a business commercially or any non business organization administratively, business management training or exposure may be adequate. Substantial technical contribution is necessary for conception of complex entities, design, implementation, production, operations, and servicing of engineering projects, systems, gadgets and components, resource planning, material procurement, environmental engineering, quality control, preparation of specifications, standardization and procedural documentation, some different sets of skills are necessary.

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A high Technology situation > Wikipedia image by Siemens Pressebild

 Engineering management skills are necessary when:

  1. An activity is required to be accomplished in a shortest time frame.
  2. An activity spreads out over a vast terrain, and over which physical control is diffused.
  3. An activity is so critical that its non accomplishment or inadequate performance could result into a grave risk, fatalistic hazard or substantial disadvantage.
  4. An activity is unprecedented in nature.
  5. An activity involves such risks that its management or compensations are difficult to handle.
  6. An activity is such that its full comprehension cannot be made till full size tests or actual enactment takes place.
  7. An activity may have to be carried out in spite of resources shortage.
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Russian Soyuz Space craft > Wikipedia image by NASA

Engineering-management plays many different roles. Primarily, it helps in efficient infusion of technology in various types of situations. It is true that in fields where the technology has been sufficiently ingrained and conditions are predictable, non engineering experts can manage or administer the situation. Engineering management is than required to provide the `technical’ advice and solution, or interpret the `technical’ feedback to the administrator or manager. High technology situations arise in many areas of government and business. Most high technology situations require a coordinated working of several different technologies to generate a new level of specialization.

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Sagrada Familia roof in Construction > Wikipedia image by Etan J. Tal er a caption

Who is an Engineering Management expert? To handle a high technology situation, a person who is a broad-based technologist capable of understanding and integrating several technological disciplines is required. Such a person will also have imbibed circumstantial administrative or business management skills.

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Spot welding Robots > Wikipedia image by BMW Werk Leipzig

Fresh engineering and design graduates have no such education, skill or experience to handle a situation that calls for coordinated working of several different technologies. Even where they have had a multi disciplinary exposure through an apprenticeship, have no capacity to comprehend the job, plan a setup for it, to recognize and assign tasks, to monitor the task performance, to develop new specialization or equip the organization for complex tasks.

Students from Design and Engineering have some basic skills of creating and interpreting (‘reading’) technical drawings, and specifications. They have fairly good knowledge of Materials’ sciences, basics of building technologies, logistics of execution processes, integrated working of ‘men, machines, materials and money’. Techno-students today form substantial number entrants for post graduate level Business Management Course, but ultimately end up for top positions in Financial, Economics, Marketing or Human Resources fields. Very few Business management students become entrepreneurs.

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Inter-disciplinary approach > Wikipedia image

There is a distinct need to develop an Engineering Management stream at Post Graduate level. Graduate students from Design fields (Architecture, Interior Design, Product Design, Fashion Design etc.) and Engineering branches (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Instrumentation etc.) are cumulatively exposed to assimilated working of several disciplines (Conception, Project formation, Detailing, Implementation processes and Operational parameters). The students can be exposed to identity and requirements of various stack-holders, societal concerns, legal and other responsibilities. To be an entrepreneur or a self-reliant handler of techno-projects core knowledge of business operations such as, financing means, norms of economics (investment, return, depreciation), productivity is required.

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