Engineering Project Management: What It Is and Why It May Be Your Ideal Career
If you have a background in engineering or are thinking of getting into the field, a career as an engineering project manager may be right for you. This career may be especially desirable if you want to be more involved in the management side of engineering projects. These managers oversee the planning, development, and testing of the technology, infrastructure, and other systems that benefit society. Keep reading to learn more about this exciting career and whether it is the right path for you.
The difference between engineering managers and engineering project managers
While engineering managers usually only work with engineering-related tasks, engineering project managers must oversee these tasks in addition to other duties that are not related specifically to engineering but are crucial to each project’s planning, progress, and completion. The engineering project manager must also work closely with architects, manufacturers, stakeholders, and other engineers to ensure a successful project outcome.
Traits of a successful engineering project manager
If you are a natural leader and can stay organized while juggling a variety of responsibilities, you’ll likely do well in this role. Excellent communication skills are required for the job to ensure that engineering managers, stakeholders, and other people who are involved in the project receive the correct information and have their specific needs addressed. An engineering project manager must also know how to solve problems quickly and adapt to last-minute changes.
When you work in this position, you should know how to work well in a fast-paced environment independently and with a team. Some tasks can be completed remotely with a computer, but project managers also work in office settings and are often called to job sites to plan projects, meet with clients, and monitor the progress of the work.
Daily engineering task management
Engineering project managers work closely with engineering managers to carry out the day-to-day tasks related directly to the industry. Jobs should be assigned to team members based on each person’s experience and areas of knowledge. Some of these tasks include:
- Conducting research
- Testing prototypes
- Working with complex equations
- Coordinating quality controls
- Finding ways to reduce pollution
If tasks are not being completed or followed correctly, the engineering project manager must examine the problems interfering with the work progress so that all projects can be completed efficiently without unnecessary delays. The project manager may also need to eliminate workers or reassign tasks to ensure that the project is finished on schedule.
You don’t have to be a computer whiz to work in this position but learning how to use specific software programs is necessary and can make your job easier.
Certain software programs have been developed specifically for engineering project managers to streamline many of the processes that must be followed for successful project completion. To offer a more user-friendly experience, many of the top software programs allow you to customize settings without having to code and feature a variety of templates that are easy to use.
As a project manager, you can use one of the best software programs available to oversee short- and long-term projects and communicate more efficiently with team members assigned to the project as well as stakeholders who have invested in the work.
You can use your chosen software program to assign tasks, set deadlines and share files in a format that the recipients will understand. Tracking a project’s progress to ensure that the work will be completed on time can be done easily with software designed for project managers. Reports can also be generated and sent by email automatically. The right software program even lets you handle different versions of documents.
Knowing how to use computer-aided software (CAD) can be a significant advantage on the job, and your employer may want you to have experience working with one of these systems. CAD software is used to draft and design 2D and 3D images, and design plans and scales can be read more accurately with this software.
Whether a project involves developing machinery, building a new road, or processing chemicals, a budget should be planned by the engineering project manager before the work begins. This budget can ensure that there will be enough money to purchase supplies and equipment, order permits, and pay for other project-related expenses. If enough money is not allocated, the project may be impossible to complete.
When planning the budget, the overall expected costs must be analyzed closely to reduce financial risks and determine whether the project is feasible based on available funds. Budgeting can also be useful for ranking the importance of each task so that specific aspects of the project can be prioritized.
Stakeholders want to know how the money they have invested is spent and communicating with these individuals about the budget is another part of the job. Stakeholders are often given quarterly and annual reports by the project manager so that the budget details can be reviewed closely to ensure that the money is being spent appropriately.
Issues that delay a project’s completion or cause other setbacks often arise at the least-expected moments. To navigate these challenges successfully, an engineering project manager should include a contingency plan in the budget. This may involve allocating funds that will be set aside in case of emergencies.
Budgetary needs may also fluctuate during the project if some of the work costs more or less than was initially expected. In these cases, the project manager may need to revise the original budget plan.
To fine-tune your budget-planning skills, you may want to consult with other experts in the field as you work to create budgets so that you can learn how they use their allotted funds accurately. These experts can include other engineering project managers, purchasers and suppliers.
There are often many details that go into scheduling an engineering project, and the best engineering project managers always take the scope of each project and the expected completion time into consideration. Daily, weekly, and monthly schedules should be planned, and yearly schedules may also need to be mapped out for long-term projects.
Certain methods can be used to plan each phase of the work easier. Virtual tools like charts and graphs, are often available with project management software programs to make scheduling easier.
The Gantt chart is one of the best tools to show scheduling details in a simplified format. Each task, with the estimated time required for completion, is shown on an easy-to-read bar chart. This tool is particularly helpful for getting a good overview of a project.
Another helpful scheduling tool is the Performance Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) chart, which consists of bubbles and arrows that represent specific tasks and how long each task is expected to take to complete. This chart is often useful for scheduling projects that are more complex.
The critical path method helps prioritize tasks that greatly impact the overall project. Tasks that are not included on the critical path are usually less important and often do not have the same tight scheduling requirements.
Hiring and training
Project managers sometimes hire engineering and non-engineering professionals to assist with the work. These professionals often include additional engineers, architects, cost estimators and quality control experts to help manage the tasks.
During the hiring process, each applicant’s qualifications should be reviewed closely to ensure they have the proper experience and credentials so that you can feel more assured that you are hiring only the best professionals willing to adhere to the protocol and values of your employer.
Some engineering project managers are also tasked with training so that new hires will know how to work safely and in accordance with the company’s systems. Training guides may need to be created as well.
Enforcing safety policies
Safety is paramount on the job, especially for engineering projects that involve construction, moving heavy objects, and dealing with hazardous materials. If you or a team member violates a safety ordinance and someone gets hurt on the job, they might hold you and your company liable for mismanagement. Not following safety guidelines may also result in federal violations, which could result in fines and having your project shut down.
Risk assessment is key to implementing safety measures, and an engineering project manager should take this process seriously. By planning the expected risks, certain steps can be taken to minimize these risks and prevent accidents and other mishaps that could hinder the project.
Overseeing project closure
Once a project is finished, specific steps should be followed to close out the project properly. During this final project phase, the project manager reviews the work with the clients and stakeholders so that these individuals can verify that the project was completed to their satisfaction. Specific documents must also be signed and archived to be referenced later if needed. The project manager may also need to pay outstanding invoices and release or reassign team members who worked on the project. Any equipment that was rented for the work should be returned.
Experience and education requirements
An engineering background is a key job requirement, and you should prepare to study for an engineering degree if you do not already have one before you pursue this career. A Master of Engineering Management degree can demonstrate your knowledge of project management. You can study for this degree after you have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering, computer science, or another related subject.
Programs that offer degrees in engineering management often feature topics, such as the foundations of project management and the principles of management and leadership, in their curriculum. Accounting and finance topics are also included in many programs to give students the well-rounded education that is needed to embark upon a career as an engineering project manager.
As you study for your degree to become an engineering project manager, you may take elective courses to enhance your knowledge and make yourself a more valuable player in the field. An advanced project management course can help you improve your existing management skills and learn new ones that can be applied to your job. A data analytics course can sharpen your ability to decipher information. Your creative skills may also be improved by taking a product innovation management course.
It is also generally advisable to have at least three years of managerial experience before you pursue a career as an engineering project manager. The best engineering project managers are additionally skilled at math and working with different technologies.
You can obtain additional certifications to set yourself apart from other industry professionals, but these extra certifications are not usually required by most employers. A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification can show your expertise and put you into a league of elite project managers. Six Sigma certification is another valuable credential that can show your knowledge of quality control. Learn certification can verify your ability to reduce waste and improve the quality and efficiency of each project. You can even obtain a Learn Six Sigma Certification that combines the two credentials.
The need for qualified engineering project managers isn’t expected to go away soon, and job growth is forecast to remain steady over the coming years. Engineering projects are happening every day, and managers are needed to ensure that every building, technology program, or other new creation meets specifications and is suitable for use.
Engineering is a key component of advancing any society, and you can play a major role in this process as an engineering project manager. With your knowledge and skills, you can make a positive difference in the world and promote a better future if you choose to work in this position.
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