System integration project management, trust, pitfalls

Project management for system integration projects may need to overcome frustration, anxiety and resentment to build trust. Project documentation, project communications, and project planning help with system integration project management.

By Joe Martin July 4, 2020


Learning Objectives

  • Managing system integration projects requires documentation, communication, and planning.
  • System integration projects should avoid frustration, anxiety, and resentment.

When working on a system integration project, it’s easy to find refuge in the engineering world where outcomes result from harden formulas, natural laws and proven processes. Doing so may sidestep the more abstract but critical practices of preparation, communications and documentation for system integration project management.

But as engineers quickly learn, preparation, communications, and documentation practices are central to successful professional engagements for system integration project management. When it comes to working well with others, these practices create a three-legged stool of trust. Deficiencies in any one leg manifests emotionally, typically as frustration, anxiety or resentment about the system integration project. Any one of these emotional pitfalls can erode trust.

System integration project management: Three emotions

Three common emotions in system integration project management are:

  1. Frustration: Those involved may think there’s a better (or faster) way, and as a result, assume that something is wrong and, therefore, someone is to blame. Sometimes this feels like anger.
  2. Anxiety: Circular thinking that occurs when we’re unsure about an outcome. This can turn into fear once we can be specific about the outcome.
  3. Resentment: Rears its ugly head when we think we’re being treated unfairly. This can result in an antagonist relationship where those involved never discover the reasons for the animosity.

Trust is built and maintained through critical project management practices including project documentation, communication, and project planning.

System integration project documentation

We’re going to start at the end. Documentation serves as everlasting evidence of work done and therefore must be self-explaining. Consider the reader as an inexperienced technician at 2 a.m. troubleshooting a system using only the documentation.

One technique is, at the beginning of the project, create a checklist of sorts, as the system engineering, fabrication and commissioning progresses. Include part numbers, process steps, engineering calculations, system features, manual/automatic/maintenance operations, etc. Another tip is to keep a separate notebook during the project for snippets of text, screen shots and code that serve as reminders to go back and complete sections of text. Finally, type a comment on every rung of logic or every line of structure text. Try not to over think this as it can be polished and reordered later.

Photographs, screen shots and drawings can often replace paragraphs of text. They should be labeled and annotated so the text can make proper reference. Sometimes a picture or drawing can eliminate unforeseen questions and confusion when working in the field.

Project communications for system integration

Project management improves when all involved are intentional about communications. That advice is meant to be literal. Think about the surgical suite where everyone is masked, gowned and gloved. Requests are made clearly and simply. They are confirmed by the person responding. Most surgeons will verbalize what they are doing, or intend to do, for all to hear. Everyone is aware of what’s happening in real time. In such an environment, clarifications or corrections can be made in real time, often before something happens.

Regardless of project leader, manager or engineer, everyone needs to be on the same page. Simply stating “I intend to…” lets everyone know what’s going to happen next and gives them a chance to react. For more on this, see “Turn the Ship Around,” a book by David Marquet from Penguin Random House. It’s a true story about using this communications style to create an award-winning environment on a submarine.

Project preparation for system integration

When preparing for an upcoming system integration project, focus on what success looks like. How does quality documentation and unified communications fit into a successful pre-bid meeting look like? What does a successful award meeting look like? What does a successful kick-off meeting look like? Asking the questions helps shape the outcome.

Knowing the expected level of communications and documentation, be prepared to explain in detail throughout the system integration project. Consider modeling it (leading by example). Also, consider expectations and declare them in writing. Think about what a “quality” job looks like and take the time to describe it on paper. Consider what expectation is the most important and explain it as the mission.  If you want to be hand’s off, then put it in writing with parameters.

Identify the project team and each person’s role. Include contact information and what kind of decisions that person can make. Expected performance criteria would be helpful to have in writing but also have a discussion so the person can repeat it. Don’t fret about things that slip through the cracks, because some things will. Rather, prepare a method to identify what’s slipping and determine how they will be resolved.

Project preparation helps overcome frustration

Engineers don’t always realize when emotions are triggered while pursuing technical endeavors. Frustration, anxiety and resentment create additional difficulties and cloud thinking. With appropriate preparation, communication and documentation, trust is created and upheld on system integration projects. Being mindful and deliberate in system integration project managements helps avoid producing future project pitfalls.

Joe Martin is founder and president of MartinCSI, and a Control Engineering Editorial Advisory board member. MartinCSI is a CSIA Certified control systems integrator in Central Ohio. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

KEYWORDS: System integration, project management


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Joe Martin
Author Bio: Joe Martin is founder and president of MartinCSI, and a Control Engineering Editorial Advisory board member.