Engineering project management: Avoid thrashing

Automation System Integration Blog defines and explains how to avoid thrashing when managing an engineering project. Heed this advice and see the diagram example from Anthony Baker. Add your advice below.

By Callisto Integration October 7, 2013

Engineering project management requires careful quantifying of scope, attention to scope creep, and expectation management, as explained in recent posts. To tie this off there is one other topic that is worth noting: Thrashing. It’s a lot like it sounds. Like a fish out of water, flopping around while you are trying to hold it down, thrashing can also happen in system integration when your scope is so out of control that nobody seems to know what to do next. Unfortunately, like the fish, there are not a lot of great options at this point. The trick is to not get caught.

The picture at bottom is a root cause analysis/mind map of thrashing. (Sorry for the sideways post, but that allows the maximum size.) Realizing how this happens is the first step to using the tools to mitigate the risk of project thrashing. As a reference example:

It’s the final days of development, the team gets to the FAT (factory acceptance test), and the operator (whom nobody has ever met before) says, “There is NO way this will work. The process just doesn’t work that way.” What happened?

Follow the branches in the tree.

1) Why? The requirements exist, but the team (as a whole) does not understand them.

2) The operator knew what needed to be done, but the development team, or client contact, did not.

3) Why? Requirements exist but have not been communicated.

4) The example is a classic case of “nobody asked the operator.” It is a communication breakdown.

5) Planning (see the green flag in the diagram): If the team had planned earlier to bring in the operator, this could have been avoided. A well-circulated functional design specification (FDS) or a project road map that included “ask the operators” would have avoided this.

And so on.

Think through the last two or three times you have experienced thrashing in your projects. Was it a late design change that nobody understood? Perhaps the requirements you agreed to were not supported by the technology, and you had to adjust. Maybe a team member changed groups (internally or externally). Get out the map and take a look. It will probably show you how it happened, and what you might do to avoid it in the future/get back on track.

Engineering interaction: Have additional project management advice? Use the comment box at the bottom to add to the list based on your experiences.

The Automation System Integration Blog aggregates expert advice from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration. This blog provides integration advice in plant-floor controls, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and manufacturing consulting, from the factory floor through to the enterprise. Andrew Barker, P.Eng., Callisto Integration, compiled the advice.

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