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Project Management - A Lost Art




When I started my career in the design engineering field I had the privilege of working with some excellent project managers. Coincidentally all these persons were chemical engineers who had worked as process engineers in their earlier avatar and knew the nitty gritty of what design engineering is all about. This in no way implies that engineers with other backgrounds such as Mechanical, Electrical or Instrumentation are not good project managers but just a coincidence for me.

However, regretfully in today's times the entire perspective of project engineering has changed. This is mainly due to the fact that quick profits at the expense of good engineering has taken priority as an overall business objective of many engineering companies. This is particularly true for many fly-by-night engineering consulting companies who have recently emerged in the market. The reputed engineering consulting companies still follow good and established engineering practices without any short-cuts.

When I look at many of today's project mangers all I find from them is their monologue about schedules, milestones and man hours. Their refusal to acknowledge quality engineering work as a cornerstone of any project management of a chemical process plant is not only astonishing but disturbing. Their absolute lack of involvement in what the design requires and what are the constraints such as inadequate man hours, lack of inputs and constantly changing inputs is also a matter of concern. Many of them have absolutely no clue what amount of time is required to complete a particular design activity. Using a go-by or a reference to cut down time for any design activity is fine with me as long as it is logical. However, generalizing that a go-by or reference can be used as it is, as a copy-paste exercise from one project to another underlines the sheer lack of understanding about what design engineering is all about.

This was not the case when I started my career in design since all project managers used to be battle hardened veterans as discipline engineers who had directly worked in engineering design. These people knew all the constraints and hurdles normally encountered during design engineering and were willing to go the extra mile in providing help in resolving prickly issues during the design engineering phase.

A lot of today's younger lot become project managers with an engineering degree combined with a business administration qualification but having no worthwhile engineering design experience. These people have no feel what design engineering is all about and generally with these people running the job as project mangers the problems encountered during the design phase get magnified.

I would also like to share an interesting story about a job which I was executing as a process lead engineer. The project manger appointed for this particular job was a seasoned construction manager in several plants and had won accolades for his acumen as a construction manager. When he started as the project manager for this particular job many of us had initially thought that he would do a great job in the design office as well. However, it became quickly evident that managing a design engineering team was not at all his forte. He was a lost soul in the design office and the project had to take a lot of beating since he just didn't know anything about design engineering. As a person he is a great guy but he just couldn't fit in this new role. The lesson learned was you may me good in a particular role but may be a failure at something else and the person should stick to the field where his or her area of expertise lies.

All what I have said above is my personal experience and in no way insinuates any individual or group. There is no intention to hurt anybody but only sharing my observations over a long period as a design professional. There is a message also for young engineers. Get your hands dirty with actual design engineering work before moving on to supervise a project as a project manager.

I would like to hear from members of the "Cheresources" community regarding what I have written.

Regards,
Ankur.




Once again useful information by Ankur, thanks.


I also think, that for a project manager it’s good/efficient to have the experience of the field in which he/she is managing the projects. This makes his/her life much easier.

Regards
nmh


This is the kind of stuff young engineers who would be project managers should be aware of; first get the hands dirty, get to know the nitty gritty of the discipline one is in, and then having had enough confidence from being a part of the project team, and with continuous learning one can be ready to handle the role of project manager.The skill set needed to be a project manager is not only the technical skills but also calls for soft skills such as motivational, leadership etc, there should be a balance (in technical and soft skills), which is needed in the achievement of the goals of the project. Thanks Ankur
Ankur, as a PM myself, i cannot agree more with you. and I came from a process engineer and engineering manager, i know all the hardship and importance of design work.

No wonder that today's Pharmacetical industry calls for QbD (Quality by Design).
Design is the base, the foundation, which is worthwhile to invest time and money.

With my background, PM is still chanllegning task, but much more easy.

Thanks, Nick
When you said about soft skills (motivation, leadership), it reminded me that when I was younger and including a whole lot of the engineers of my generation, we were not so ambitious and the soft skills you mentioned were hardly evident. Just having a job as an engineer made us feel quite content. There was no cut throat competition to leap frog others and we were thankful to the almighty for what we had.

The burning ambition, the razor-edged competition and the high-octane energy levels of today's young engineers is simply amazing. While being ambitious and scaling new heights is something that can be appreciated, sometimes this cut-throat competition to achieve success can lead to adopting methods that at the best can be said as unsavory. As an example, complete dependence on software to the extent of using pirated software, stealing of intellectual property, undermining your colleagues work etc. are some of the things that should be avoided. Success at the cost of detriment to others, in my opinion is a disservice to humanity and god.

Regards,
Ankur
Ankur,
I endorse your observation 100%. I have experienced innemerable such occassions in several of the discussions, reviews, meetings on projects. I think the Process Industry realises this, and prefer experienced Chemical Engineers do the Project Management jobs.
Also, the risk perception of a Process Plant Project execution in various phases of the project - concept, FEED, Detailed Engg, Construction, Operation - Maintenance & De-commissioning a Chemical Engineer feels the heat and my experience with other discipline Project Managers is that they are somewhat immune to this perception - hence generally are bold.
I liked your observations.
regards,
Srinivas
Unfortunately I have to agree with Ankur concerning quality of present Project Managers, at least in my working environment (ex public sector) and around it. As I said once in the forum, a lot of them are like smokeless Generals, ordering the soldiers to win the war! Exceptions can still give some hope, but there is no comparison to Italian or English Project Managers met in 1980s. Or even to Greek Managers of the past. Degradation does not concern Project Managers only.
Local Managers tend to deal with administration only, which could be better done by an experienced secretary. Enchantment about Management caused a fashion for them, even if they were not needed. Non qualified "favorites" were promoted to Management, since other activities required hard labor. Ambitious workers also aimed at this promotion, combining a lot of money with easy work. It is hard for such persons to keep standards or perform real management; they often use other means to survive, as I have realized. And some young engineers consider them as successful examples. The vicious circle is apparently self increasing. But this may express just the spirit of easy road, broadly followed by modern society; so it is tolerated.
I wish situation were better elsewhere, it cannot be so bad as here. Is it better in local private sector? It seems so, but I often see the spirit of easy road: Work for money and yourself, without enthusiasm, passing as much responsibility as possible to others. Chemical Projects can hardly be implemented by private sector here, so I do not know Project Managers dealing with them.
I do not intend to insult Project Managers devoted to their mission, but would request them to try influencing the rest of them. Some "imported" Managers from abroad were excellent from any viewpoint, but some others had drawbacks as above. So I assume the problem is international, but not so acute as here. The spirit of easy road?
Ankur ,

I agree with you .But we need to try to find out the root cause behind this . I see the paradigm shift in how the project execute nowadays . Currently most of the project executed in LSTK manner where the project schedule is so tight and so the profit margin. Hence most of time project manager has be behind the schedule he can not afford to wait for 100% quality output. And also he can not afford to have best engineering solution for many problem because the best engineering solution , sometime can have cost impact.

So in my view we also need to understand the problem project manager facing . And in my view discipline engineers should also try to find out the some ways in spite of constrains such as inadequate man hours, lack of inputs and constantly changing inputs .

But I also feels that chemical engineer can be potentially good project manager.
goyal,

I agree with you. Most hard-core design engineers have little idea about cost of equipment. Large EPCM companies have a separate procurement group. Their task is to procure material at the lowest cost. These are the people in touch with manufacturers and vendors and always there is a lot of disconnect between the procurement engineers and design engineers.

Sometimes the manufacturers and vendors suggest radical changes in equipment type looking at their own vested interest of selling their own product and they try to influence the procurement team with alternatives implying large cost savings.

This huge disconnect between the design group and the procurement team often leads to a clash of interest.

The solution to this is that the design engineer has at least the basic knowledge of what various types of equipment cost and the procurement engineers has a rudimentary knowledge of what design is all about.

Unfortunately equipment costing and vendor data base is the achilles heel of many engineering consulting companies barring a few who have built a sizable vendor data base over the years of their functioning. Being cost competitive is a prerequisite to survive in the EPCM business.

The university curriculum for undergraduate and post-graduate chemical engineering also pays little attention to costing of chemical process equipment.

The concept of life-cycle cost has already caught-up in the chemical process industry where the first cost or CAPEX is not the only criteria for selecting an equipment or plant. Life-cycle cost now includes CAPEX, OPEX and ROI for the entire design life of the plant or equipment. In LSTK projects the LSTK contractor is only looking for the CAPEX of the equipment and his own profit margins and thus the whole concept of LSTK projects precludes life-cycle cost of equipment or plant. In my personal opinion, most LSTK projects are examples of badly executed projects and poor engineering quality.

Regards,
Ankur.

..most of time project manager has been behind the schedule, he can not afford to wait for 100% quality output. And also he can not afford to have best engineering solution for many problem because the best engineering solution , sometime can have cost impact. So in my view we also need to understand the problem project manager facing . And in my view discipline engineers should also try to find out the some ways in spite of constrains such as inadequate man hours, lack of inputs and constantly changing inputs. But I also feel that chemical engineer can be potentially good project manager.

Although I had met good engineers delaying projects for trivial details, or out of scope activities, Project Managers were not innocent in the majority of these cases. They should have notified team members early, or take corrective actions.
Imagine a leader communicating with the Client but not having a clear idea of Project activities or required schedule; pretending that everything can be automatically realized; cunningly avoiding hard matters, after all others are responsible. The results are: unrealistic man hours and schedule; bad communication; disappointment (if not anger) in team members, tendency to avoid responsibility; all these burden budget and schedule.
It is true that Project control and organization have been quite difficult nowadays. So all of us should have good will and try to minimize cost and delay . Including Managers, who ought to be inspiring examples. They are right to point out inefficiencies of working engineers, but should not place themselves beyond judgment, nor take advantage of their position. How true that "only the humble is capable of command".
Looking around over here, a lot of leaders have got a similar "managerial" behavior. Even though this can be an extenuation for Managers, it indicates a problem of the society. Probably we had not done much to prevent it, but local working conditions do not favor objections.
Of course above represents my opinion for some local big companies of ex public sector. Situation must be better elsewhere, as said in my post.
Reverting to another subject, I have seen various engineers in the past (chemical, mechanical, civil, electrical) being successful Project Managers on Chemical Industry Projects. All were hard working, with enthusiasm for their task, ability for leadership, modesty, ability to listen to several views and assess them. The latter seems to be a week point of modern Management.
Project Management issues were discussed (Jan 2009) with an Italian Proposal Manager, general expressing disappointment. But he had found good Project Managers in China, and good Engineers in India.
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<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">Dear all,<br>
I would like to appreciate very much reading your discussion since it was in my
deep concern to consider a project manager as my future expansion of my career.
Me my self is not a project engineer nor chemical engineer by education.
Chemistry indeed. But to some point i expose so much of my working time along
with design team - all of my professional experience lies in operation department
trough my still-short</span>-<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">period
of my career in several company. I now manage 150 manpower as manager in a
company produce </span>series of fine<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> chemical.<br>
<br>
By heart i know that it will be a full of hardship effort to reach that goal.
But</span> i would like to join you an contribute my thought on this valuable
discussion. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><br>
1. Particularly in the era of this openness of information (truly definition of
open) as of today, one should realize that actual working definition of design
it self is time-and-technology-context: it must be operate at much higher speed
or different dizziness compared to those defined 5, 15 or 20 years ago. (</span>this
acceleration <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>applies to almost many technical-related term:
they are become converged in daily basis).<br>
2. Hence, one should also open to a logical </span>implication of this
convergension: the outcomes <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>should be
among many, are<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> time and cost
saving</span> -<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> more and more.
This is i believe we are all aware of. But not as premised in earlier comment,
that cost and or quality to some degree are sacrificed. Fact shown that near
zero accident or almost near </span>perfect<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> yield is a major issue</span>, demand<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> and fact </span>that <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">operate&nbsp;
on today's business and industry. At the same time tight capital and or tight base
natural raw material, whether we like or not, also contribute to the
pressure<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span></span>on <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>business
on nowdays practice. My statement here is not by word meaning the 'copy-paste-template
approach' as solution. That practices are bad. The point to be stressed here is
that todays managers</span>, or engineers,<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> are facing high speed era, tougher competition.</span> It must means
that adaptability is arise as a valuable trait. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>Those
factors mentioned above, to me, <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>become a
strong entry point to understand the ‘phenomenon’ of todays manager -<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span>project manager.</span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">3. Project
manager</span> - <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">Project
management, in my opinion, is a part of huge managerial concept, which
differentiate merely by its activity concerning projects and all of its jingle-bungle.
One could check to Project Management Institute, as a ‘mother’ of project
management terminology, to check the detail or aspect the specialize discussing
of managing a project. There maybe we could find the exact differentiation of
Project Manager from other manager. That in one hand. </span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">4. At the
other hand, in my opinion, Project manager is not so much different from other
manager. Stressing point her</span>e<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> </span>is<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>the concept of managerial skill and the
quality of person saying a manager. Their main concern</span></span>s<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US">are, i believe, to create alignment
and harmony of component of management system under his supervision, to work effectively
toward goals of the organization.</span></span><span lang="EN-US"> </span>In short
a truly quality and defenition of leadership. <span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span><span lang="EN-US">Before i go on
further, i must state that every manager should have technical understanding
concerning</span></span> to the project <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span><span lang="EN-US">he lead. <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>This prerequisite requirement of course i
agree. Base on concept of </span></span>leadership<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> i mentioned above, i disagree to a claim that
a successful project manager </span>should<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> be a person with design engineering background. Why i said so, because
this claim is unfit to the fact that many manager, come from different
background which not ‘climbing from the bottom soul of operation</span><span lang="EN-US"> </span><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">to top of the
mountain’. Many of them come from different technical experiences. My reasoning
to many successful managers – or project managers, <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>that they posses vivid managerial skill</span>:
solid vision and leadership<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">. </span>This
premise i think must be fit and aplicable to Project Management—Project manager.</p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">5. This is
my last comment, and become more as a personal statement: awareness of young
engineer, professional, and or any kind of newcomer</span> in any<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US">profession,</span></span> is
wide open to any managerial role as long as there still a room in us, inside us,
to improve, and to check<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span>and balance
with changing environment around us. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span></span>I m 30 years old now, and i, by
education have a chemistry background, but by experience involve in plant operation,
which many time infact, fascinated by the beauty of design implementation <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>and how well it operate giganticly in the
plant, have a strong desire to become a successfull project manager someday. I
always amaze how the designer engineer work. I amaze to capacity of person that
lead such gigantic effort to deliver <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>gigantic technology that work.</p>
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<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="" lang="EN-US">( There was a problem uploading my commet. This is the re-posting exactly same comment.)</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span style="" lang="EN-US"><br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span style="" lang="EN-US"><br></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">Dear all,<br>
I would like to appreciate very much reading your discussion since it was in my
deep concern to consider a project manager as my future expansion of my career.
Me my self is not a project engineer nor chemical engineer by education.
Chemistry indeed. But to some point i expose so much of my working time along
with design team - all of my professional experience lies in operation department
trough my still-short</span>-<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">period
of my career in several company. I now manage 150 manpower as manager in a
company produce </span>series of fine<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> chemical.<br>
<br>
By heart i know that it will be a full of hardship effort to reach that goal.
But</span> i would like to join you an contribute my thought on this valuable
discussion. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><br>
1. Particularly in the era of this openness of information (truly definition of
open) as of today, one should realize that actual working definition of design
it self is time-and-technology-context: it must be operate at much higher speed
or different dizziness compared to those defined 5, 15 or 20 years ago. (</span>this
acceleration <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>applies to almost many technical-related term:
they are become converged in daily basis).<br>
2. Hence, one should also open to a logical </span>implication of this convergence: the outcomes <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>should be
among many, are<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> time and cost
saving</span> -<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> more and more.
This is i believe we are all aware of. But not as premised in earlier comment,
that cost and or quality to some degree are sacrificed. Fact shown that near
zero accident or almost near </span>perfect<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> yield is a major issue</span>, demand<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> and fact </span>that <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">operate&nbsp;
on today's business and industry. At the same time tight capital and or tight base
natural raw material, whether we like or not, also contribute to the
pressure<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span></span>on <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>business
on nowdays practice. My statement here is not by word meaning the 'copy-paste-template
approach' as solution. That practices are bad. The point to be stressed here is
that todays managers</span>, or engineers,<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> are facing high speed era, tougher competition.</span> It must means
that adaptability is arise as a valuable trait. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>Those
factors mentioned above, to me, <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>become a
strong entry point to understand the ‘phenomenon’ of todays manager -<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span>project manager.</span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">3. Project
manager</span> - <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">Project
management, in my opinion, is a part of huge managerial concept, which
differentiate merely by its activity concerning projects and all of its jingle-bungle.
One could check to Project Management Institute, as a ‘mother’ of project
management terminology, to check the detail or aspect the specialize discussing
of managing a project. There maybe we could find the exact differentiation of
Project Manager from other manager. That in one hand. </span></p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">4. At the
other hand, in my opinion, Project manager is not so much different from other
manager. Stressing point her</span>e<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> </span>is<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>the concept of managerial skill and the
quality of person saying a manager. Their main concern</span></span>s<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US">are, i believe, to create alignment
and harmony of component of management system under his supervision, to work effectively
toward goals of the organization.</span></span><span lang="EN-US"> </span>In short
a truly quality and defenition of leadership. <span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span><span lang="EN-US">Before i go on
further, i must state that every manager should have technical understanding
concerning</span></span> to the project <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span><span lang="EN-US">he lead. <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>This prerequisite requirement of course i
agree. Base on concept of </span></span>leadership<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US"> i mentioned above, i disagree to a claim that
a successful project manager </span>should<span style="mso-ansi-language:
EN-US" lang="EN-US"> be a person with design engineering background. Why i said so, because
this claim is unfit to the fact that many manager, come from different
background which not ‘climbing from the bottom soul of operation</span><span lang="EN-US"> </span><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">to top of the
mountain’. Many of them come from different technical experiences. My reasoning
to many successful managers – or project managers, <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>that they posses vivid managerial skill</span>:
solid vision and leadership<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">. </span>This
premise i think must be fit and aplicable to Project Management—Project manager.</p>

<p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US" lang="EN-US">5. This is
my last comment, and become more as a personal statement: awareness of young
engineer, professional, and or any kind of newcomer</span> in any<span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"> <span lang="EN-US">profession,</span></span> is
wide open to any managerial role as long as there still a room in us, inside us,
to improve, and to check<span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp; </span>and balance
with changing environment around us. <span style="mso-ansi-language:EN-US"><span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span></span>I m 30 years old now, and i, by
education have a chemistry background, but by experience involve in plant operation,
which many time infact, fascinated by the beauty of design implementation <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>and how well it operate giganticly in the
plant, have a strong desire to become a successfull project manager someday. I
always amaze how the designer engineer work. I amaze to capacity of person that
lead such gigantic effort to deliver <span style="mso-spacerun:yes">&nbsp;</span>gigantic technology that work.</p>

The dilemma is 'Hard Core Design Engineering profession is disappearing slowly and surely'. The detailed design works have been fashionably sub-contracted to low cost engineering centers for decades which subsequently leads to no trained design engineers in NA and EU. As long as engineering companies are run by Wall Street and 'beans counter' traditional engineering disciplines will all slowly become 'lost art'

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