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.