Career Advice

5 Benefits for Engineers Who Understand Project Management Principles
Christian Knutson posted on July 16, 2015 |

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things.” ~ Machiavelli

A week doesn't go by that I don't field a question or three on why an engineer needs to spend time thinking about their project management skills.  I believe the reason I'm getting the questions is that as engineers we are always involved in projects, either as designers, team members or project leaders.  I also believe that I'm receiving these questions because there's a general lack of knowledge about the benefits of a formal project management training.

My decision to pursue the Project Management Professional certification was born of two beliefs:

  1. It would codify the work I'd done leading projects over my career and be useful in future career transitions
  2. It would force me to learn formalized project management principles

Since obtaining my certification in 2011, it has achieved the goal of codifying my project management experience beyond theskills people state I have on LinkedIn.  It has also given me a formalized way of viewing project management; something well beyond the on-the-job training I picked-up in my engineering work.  

In answering those engineers who come to me looking for advice on pursuing a project management certification or training, I give them the 5 benefits to the engineer who understands project management principles.

The Basic Benefits of Project Management Study

The list of benefits of formalizing my practice of project management can be summed in one word:  professional.  Until I made the decision to go pro on project management, I didn't even consider how I approached management of the projects, or programs, that I was responsible for leading.  I simply did what I felt was effective.

This enabled me to deliver the goods for best part of two decades of my engineering career, however, I knew instinctively that there had to be more to project management than what I'd picked-up from my mentors or by trial-and-error.

Discussions with project managers who held the PMP certification, helped me realize that there was compatibility between my engineering work, leadership, and other career activities that would benefit massively from a good dose of formal project management study.

Here are the five main benefits I've realized in my engineering career from my increased understanding of project management principles:

1.  Framework.  I like having standard operating procedures in place that help me run my work and life.  This may sound a bit too scripted for some, but having these protocols in place save me mental energy and time from re-creating wheels on activities or tasks that happen over-and-over.  Management of a project is one such repetitive task.

While the focus of the project will be different each time, the basics are the same every time.  From project plan to charter; stakeholder management to benefits realization; I  now  understand better ways to structure my projects so that execution and communications flow better.  More importantly, each project follows the same standardized process from conception through close-out.

2. Consistency.  The framework gives you the structure. Following it on each project gives you consistency.  Once you become consistent in the way you manage your projects, the people you work with will become increasingly confident in your ability to organize, execute and succeed.  From an engineering career standpoint, being consistently effective is a major asset.

3.  Environment.  When you have a standard framework for project management that you execute consistently, you will stand out among your peers and competitors.  Depending on the environment you work in, this notoriety can become a major career enhancer, opening opportunities to you that never before existed.  

My experience from the public sector is that project managers varied widely in their professionalism.  Some were highly professional in their project management work, while others were novices who failed to achieve even the simplest levels of effectiveness.  The benefits of  formalized project management study, for any engineer who works in an organization where project management isn't viewed as a professional necessity, are many.

4.  Risk Assessment.  Before studying project management, risk assessment was something I though of only in regards to military training or overseas travel.  It was not a topic that I directly linked to the projects being worked on closer to home.  After studying project management, I gained a whole new appreciation for risk assessment as well as a formalized way to assess it.  Developing the skill to effectively assess risk, then pre-determine mitigation steps, is a benefit that will help you throughout your engineering career.

5.  Development.  We understand the need to continuously learn new technical material in order to keep our engineerings skills relevant.  Opening your study aperture to include project management will make you even more relevant.  The availability of information on project management - just on the Internet alone is massive - simply search for it.  If you are interested in pursuing a certification, then I highly recommend checking out Project Management Institute and reading about the benefits and different certification types in greater depth.  Or check out my article from last week on the different types of PMI certifications. 

There is an increasing number of engineers who hold project management certifications.  There is also a lot of material published that says that it's a waste of time to get a project management certification.  In the end, like pursuing your P.E. license, it's a matter of whether you want to state to the world that you are a professional, a dabbler, or an amateur.  

No license or certification provides a clear indicator to the world that you are competent.  That only comes through your actions and the results you deliver.

But the license or certification does provide you with formalized study of the principles that it represents.  Once you have it, then it's up to you to be the professional you are capable of being in your engineering career.

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is an international infrastructure development program manager, engineer, and author. He has extensive experience in leadership, management, and engineering earned from a career as a civil engineering officer in the U.S. Air Force. He now coaches engineers enabling them to create an engineering career and life of fulfillment at The Engineering Career Coach.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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