I would like to welcome you to the monthly newsletter for April and I hope that you are all well in these continuing challenging times caused by COVID-19.
In this newsletter I would like to discuss how engineering management can be viewed from different perspectives including how it can help with the delivery of projects. As we know, projects are a key part of our lives. We may want to refurbish part of our house, which can be viewed as a project, or we could be planning for a special holiday, which can also be viewed as a project. Essentially a project is a temporary organization designed to meet a set of agreed objectives – and delivered according to the so called ‘iron triangle’, that is, according to a fixed budget, schedule and specification while achieving a pre-defined quality level. In this regard we can all become project managers and the set of skills and knowledge associated with this area is of course the field of project management.
I like to view project management as a subset of engineering management. Indeed, I have worked on projects and programmes (sorry, programs) for a large part of my career. Starting out as a graduate scientist working at the UK’s Ministry of Defence, I worked on projects to develop new types of energetic materials. I became a project manager and later on a program manager, overseeing R&D in areas such as the chemical analysis of propellant formulations and the mechanical testing of solid rocket motors. Working on these projects and programs, I was able to leverage my scientific knowledge, while beginning to establish and build my management skills and knowledge. Later in my career, I was able to work on various other projects, including the refurbishment of naval vessels along with the development of R&D programs for oil and gas applications.
Throughout this time I was able to strengthen my project and program management skills and knowledge, including using process-driven as well as agile techniques. In parallel with this project management development, I was also able to draw on a wider set of skills and knowledge from the field of engineering management – even though at the time I was not necessarily aware that I was doing it. This included developing an understanding and using different techniques from systems engineering – formalized requirements capture, system modelling and using various system diagramming techniques. I also developed my knowledge of technology management, which was especially useful in an R&D environment. Learning how to assess technologies according to the TRL (technology readiness level) scale, using technology roadmaps to communicate the development trajectory for a portfolio of technologies, as well as drawing on innovation management practices. A further area that was developed was engineering economics, learning how to build a business case for a new technology program based on calculation of the NPV (net present value) for the investment. These additional areas took me beyond my original project management knowledge base, and expanded into different parts of the wider engineering management discipline.
We can consider engineering management from a further viewpoint. Some people debate the relative importance of IQ and EQ. Without going into lots of detail, I would argue that striving to have a good level of both is the ideal. The traditional view of scientists and engineers is that they have a good IQ but may sometimes be deficient in EQ. But why can’t we have good levels of both? Engineering management can help with this. Managing teams of engineers, working on projects as well as managing and directing programs along with strategic management and organizational leadership – all these areas, which are part of engineering management, require good people skills, and with experience, we can further develop our EQ alongside our technical orientation towards IQ.
In conclusion, engineering management can be viewed through many different lenses. As a disciplinary area that can support career development and help with the management of technology projects and programs. As a subject that includes a number of core building blocks (such as project management, systems engineering and technology management). As a field that helps technical specialists to build and enhance their EQ alongside their IQ. I would encourage us all to consider which lens we currently view engineering management through, and what it would be like to use a different lens from time to time.
Dr. Simon Philbin