The past few weeks have been quite a roller-coaster, but what’s new, right? Life as an engineer is nothing short of exciting. Working in project management presents new and exciting challenges every day, which is both interesting and challenging. One thing though, is that you have to be ADAPTABLE.
Adaptability – this single quality is way more important than I had ever imagined in the working world. For someone like me, a self-confessed control-freak, perfectionist, it’s actually sometimes quite difficult to adjust quickly when plans change. I am also not talking about a small schedule overrun or scope tweak, I am talking about major, paradigm-shifting changes that have the potential to alter the very course of the project. At first, I fought against these large changes, my well-schooled, university-bred brain still pushing for best practices, procedure to hold above major digressions. This is a common characteristic of graduate engineers. We want things to be textbook, by the book, compliant and planned. In the real world, this is seldom, if ever the case.
We are building a plant for one of our operations, in a crazy timeline and with a very tight budget. Following the book won’t get the plant to run in the time we need to get it running by, so what do you do? The crazy thing is that the company has another, similar plant nearby that was built about ten years ago, at extremely low-cost and in record time. You could argue that the plant is a bit of a nightmare when it comes to design and maintenance, and things frequently go wrong, but the bottom line is that the plant still runs! It produces what it needs to. To you as an engineer, a technical mind, this may not seem quite enough. What does production matter when the plant is obviously of low quality? But think of it from another perspective – the CEO of the company doesn’t care about how many times the plant breaks down, if it produces and doesn’t hurt anyone, he is happy.
So back to my project – so we want to build a plant that works better than the one I described above, but we have little money and no time to site about planning down to the nuts and bolts…what do we do? Well, we do our best. We make decisions, sometimes not the most academically correct, to make things happen.We pull rabbits out of hats, we work together cohesively, we have faith in each other and we cover our every move to make sure we’re not overstepping important legislative, safety, or company procedures. This industry is a rat race, but a rewarding and extremely fun one.
Project Management is about making a clear plan, and doing your best to stick to it. Or at least that’s what I thought it was about. That view of project management is highly idealist. It works on the assumption that everything will go well. Real life however, means that nothing will ever go well. Unforeseen obstacles, new challenges, disastrous occurences will happen. Project management is about managing these challenges, not seeing them as problems, being fluid, knowing enough about the diverse bits of information concerning the project to make quick decisions and implement them across all the project management areas, keeping a lot of information in your head at one time, knowing people and what motivates them, and intuition.