Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 11

Business related skills

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11.4 Project management

Most industrial engineering work gets done in projects. The Association for Project Management has a good glossary of project management terms. That glossary defines a project as a:

"unique set of co-ordinated activities, with definite starting and finishing points, undertaken by an individual or organisation to meet specific objectives within defined time, cost and performance parameters."

That definition means that a project involves people, money, time, and performance objectives.

A project usually has the following people:

Those descriptions sound very tidy, but often the real world is messier. The labels may differ in various organizations, and the responsibilities may not always be clear.

As an IE, you will often be the person who is responsible for a project. As your resume grows, you will list what you have accomplished in projects. Your success with your employer, your success in your career, and your success as an entrepreneur will depend to a large degree on your success as a project leader. Therefore, I have written this section as if you are the project leader.

For any project, you should always try to have a clear statement of the objectives of the project, who is responsible and to whom, the deadline, and the resources being made available. I have asked for these elements in your team charter. If the project sponsor doesn't provide these, you should put them in a document and get the sponsor's approval of that document.

I wish I could tell you that expectations always match the resources provided. A popular saying is "Good, cheap, or quick. Pick any two."

However, many project sponsors wants all three: do it well, do it cheaply, and isn't it done yet?

Your skills as a student include managing your tasks for different classes, but students don't often manage teams of other people. Student activities are a great way to learn and practice project management skills; employers look for leadership roles in student groups because they recognize how much students learn through such activities.

As an IE, you will be responsible for multiple projects at one time. One of the worst statements you can make to a prospective employer is "I can work on only one project at a time." You may be the project leader on several projects, as well as a team member on other projects. Also, the people on your project teams certainly have other responsibilities; they may have tasks in the production system, they may be on other project teams, and they may be leading other projects. Most engineers don't have a secretary or administrative assistant; you will need to keep track of the papers, email, data, etc., for each of your projects.

Every project seems huge at first. Another popular saying is: "How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time." Break a project into tasks, determine the order and relationships among the tasks, assign budget and people to each task, and then monitor the progress of each task. Planning may help you quickly uncover indications that the project will require more time, budget, or people. Either figure out how to get around those difficulties, or go back to the project sponsor.

Software can help you visualize and track the tasks in a project. Microsoft Project is the most well known such software. Activities can be tracked by time and money spent. Also, the critical path can be identified, that is, the sequence of tasks that will take the longest time to complete. If any task on the critical path takes longer than planned, the project will be behind schedule. Obviously, you want to monitor the progress of the tasks on the critical path very closely. The Gantt chart (already discussed in section xx) is the most commonly used visual display for project management.

Communication is important.

I have found some helpful resources on the web: