Four project management rules of thumb for engineers

Careers Advice
08 August 2018 | Careers Advice | thomas thomas

Across all fields of modern engineering, one unifying imperative is the need to complete projects at or above expectations and on schedule. Project managers contend with a battery of potential delays and other obstacles in the mad dash to the deadline.

Read on to pick up four project management tips for helping engineers and their team do their job, whatever it happens to be, more effectively.

1.   Assemble the right team

Human resources are the most valuable asset across professions, and engineering is no exception. Job number one for any good engineering project manager is to put in place the right people.

This involves the careful assignment of roles, matching an individual’s skills and experience with corresponding project elements, clarifying his or her particular role and its responsibilities as well as how it fits into the larger project and contributes to its success.

2.   Have a plan

The best talent in the world is hard-pressed to fulfill expectations without a clear road map to the finish line. By pre-planning a project, a manager and his or her team can define the goal, set appropriate expectations, and anticipate obstacles to successful completion—all of which help put deadlines within reach.

Pre-planning is most effective when project managers are included as participants, so that the discussion of goals and expectations between clients and a sales team or senior management remains grounded in the logistical reality of what can be done in a given time frame with a given set of resources.

A good plan should isolate and clarify the following project parameters:

  • Deadlines
  • Prioritized objectives
  • Personnel
  • Scope
  • Time
  • Materials
  • Budgets
  • Reporting

3.   Use milestones to help your team honor the plan

The right talent, even working with the right plan, won’t succeed unless they adhere to it effectively. Milestones are a great way to motivate and track progress towards delivery. And by using client sign-offs at stages on the way to completion, stakeholders remain engaged and your team gets an extra set of eyes.

Milestone best practices include:

  • Regular status meetings, such as stakeholder phone-ins
  • Automated calendar reminders for milestones
  • Celebrating milestones reached and expectations met

4.   Recruit robots

Modern engineering involves tracking and balancing many moving pieces, both literally and figuratively. Project management software can help you organize and understand your workflow without analog paperwork’s clutter through the use of to-do lists, file sharing, time tracking and calendars, invoicing, and more.

Asana is a web and mobile project management app teams can use to stay on the same page about work progress and priorities. Its features include task management, scheduling, workflow automation, email integration, and tools that track budget and expense. There are plenty of software alternatives to Asana that offer the same basic functionality, including Basecamp, Trello, Mavenlink, and Output Time.

The engineering field of today is more technically challenging than ever. Yet the age-old problems remain: teams have to perform up to expectations, at or under budget, and honor deadlines. With the four tips outlined here, project managers can meet these demands while delivering excellent results.


Christian Golden, PhD, writes about tips and trends in digital marketing and social media for TrustRadius. He is a philosopher by day who loves teaching and digging into the big questions. His extracurricular interests include making music, reading comics, watching (really old) movies, and being in the great outdoors.

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