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5 Trade Secrets: Improve Engineering Project Completions by 30-50%

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Despite the best efforts of project teams and managers, most engineering projects don’t finish on time. The problem isn’t a lack of planning, but poor execution says Mark Woeppel, founder and president of Pinnacle Strategies International, a management consulting firm that specializes in rescuing troubled projects.

“Even the best project plan can’t anticipate everything,” Woeppel says. “When surprises happen, people get sidetracked and forget to execute.”

Experts say it’s possible to improve your on-time performance by as much as 30 percent to 50 percent by following these tips.

Minimize Multitasking

A typical engineer has an average of 12 items open at any time. As a result, 60 percent of tasks are significantly interrupted. It takes longer to complete all the work in production when people shuttle back and forth between tasks.

Simply reducing the number of open projects by 25 to 50 percent can double task completion rates and ensure on-time delivery, says Sanjeev Gupta, CEO of Realization Technologies, a Silicon Valley firm that helps organizations reduce multitasking in engineering projects.

“You’ll finish projects 50 percent faster in multiple project environments by working on fewer projects at once,” Gupta says. “In a single project environment, you’ll finish 30 percent faster and increase output from resources by 20 percent to 30 percent, just by reducing multitasking.”

He adds, to keep clients from getting antsy, gather the requirements and carry out other phase one activities, but don’t start the project until you have the bandwidth to handle the work.

Create a Visual Display

People are visual, Woeppel says. Show them where they’re going and how they’re going to get there by mapping the project, posting it on the wall, and tracking each milestone during team meetings. Focus on accountability and execution by asking the key decision makers how they’re going to get from one point to another and documenting the responsible parties and their strategies.

Focus on Execution

“Keep the team on track by holding stand-up meetings in hallways instead of conference rooms and resolving technical issues offline,” Woeppel said. “Otherwise, people get bogged down in the details and forget to execute.”

Resist Additions and Changes

Stay on track when tempted to add or alter project design features, wrote Michelle LaBrosse in an article for ASME. Use tools such as a “change impact matrix” to separate critical changes from those that can keep for a future upgrade. Set, and stick with, a pre-specified freeze point for design as early as possible to get projects done on time.

Get Sophisticated about Organization

It sounds simple, but Project Managers have information coming at them all the time. Keep project files tidy by creating a logical project folder structure. Establish a protocol for files, emails and correspondence coming in and out of the office. Most importantly, keep a log, so you can find things six months from now. That way, you can spend time actually working on stuff rather than looking for stuff.

Other information of potential interest

10 Must-Follow Tips for Becoming a Highly Effective Engineering Manager

Insightful Interviews: Favorite Questions Asked by Engineering Managers

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