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Frontiers of Engineering Management

Front. Eng    2015, Vol. 2 Issue (1) : 19-30
Applying an Integrated Systems Perspective to the Management of Engineering Projects
Simon P. Philbin()
Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK
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Engineering projects can be subject to significant complexity, which may result in a number of issues and challenges that need to be addressed throughout the project life-cycle. Traditionally projects have been viewed according to the so called “iron triangle,” i. e., achievement of project milestones according to schedule, cost and quality targets. While these targets are fundamentally important to the performance of engineering projects, it is possible to view projects on a systemic level in order to allow an adequate focus on all the underpinning factors that have the potential to influence the performance of projects. Consequently, a management framework has been developed that is based on an integrated systems perspective of engineering projects, where the performance of projects is a function of six contributing sub-systems that are: process, technology, resources, knowledge, culture and impact.

Keywords integrated systems perspective      engineering projects      management     
Corresponding Authors: Simon P. Philbin   
Issue Date: 21 August 2015
 Cite this article:   
Simon P. Philbin. Applying an Integrated Systems Perspective to the Management of Engineering Projects[J]. Front. Eng, 2015, 2(1): 19-30.
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Critical success factor References from literature review Definition of critical success factor
Process Jha & Iyer, 2007 Management processes undertaken in a structured manner in order to enable delivery of the project requirements according to specified project management guidelines or protocols
Jin, Chai, & Tan,2014
Chan , Scott, & Chan, 2004
Raz & Michael, 2001
Technology Liberatore ,Pollack-Johnso, & Smith, 2001 Information and communications technology (ICT) employed across the project to support delivery of project milestones as well as knowledge management including related IT systems accessed by project team members
Ahuja, Yang, & Shankar,2009
Froese, 2010
Pena-Mora &Dwivedi, 2002
Ntithamyong & Skibniewski, 2006
Resources Turner & Muller, 2005 Project staff and infrastructure required to undertake management and technical work to support project delivery. This includes project management and other staff involved in project governance and where necessary other project stakeholders
Brill, Bishop, & Walker, 2006
Sunindijo, Hadikusumo,& Ogunlana ,2007
Jaselskis &Ashley, 1991
Engwall & Jerbrant, 2003
Knowledge Schwalbe, 2013 Data and information that is processed and generated by project resources through use of project technology and according to processes used across the project. Knowledge includes management and engineering information as well as the insights and understanding gained from delivery of the project
Yang, Chen, & Wang, 2012
Alhawari, Karadsheh, Talet, & Mansour,2012
Johansson , Moehler, & Vahidi, 2013
Reich, Gemino, & Sauer, 2012
Culture Yazici, 2009 The patterns of working across the project, including the level of openness and sharing of project knowledge by the project resources. This includes the social dimensions of the project and its surrounding environment, such as trust and norms of reciprocity between team members
Firth&Krut, 1991
Kadefors, 2004
Sabherwal, 1999
Munns, 1995
Impact Frow &Payne, 2011 The overall outcomes generated by the project, which includes delivery of the project milestones as well as wider (holistic) benefits arising. The benefits can include new business generation, societal, environmental as well as skills enhancement and human resources development
Griffin, 1997
Sivarajah, Lee, Irani, & Weer-akkody, 2014
Straus, Tetroe, & Graham, 2013
Ayas & Zeniuk, 2001
Tab.1  Summary of Critical Success Factors for Engineering Projects Identified by Literature Review
Fig.1  Conceptual model for integrated systems perspective of engineering projects.
Sub-system Key activities
Processaa Project was managed according to PRINCE2TM international project management standard
Project reporting to senior management was via periodic highlight reports as well as deviations beyond the scope of the project communicated via exception reports
Use of standardized project documentation, such as project initiation document (PID), which was approved by the university portfolio review board
Business case assembled for the project, which included recognized business and financial practices, such as Net present value (NPV) calculations for the expected investment by the project funder using the discounted cash flow technique
Other planning included resource profiling and project scheduling, which was undertaken at periodic stages during the project
Project risk register developed at start of project and updated periodically
Technology Microsoft Project TM used for Gantt chart preparation (project scheduling) to capture overall schedule, critical path analysis and key project dependencies
Project costing software used to develop initial budget and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software used to monitor and control project costs against the budget
Technical risk management via failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) approach was administered through a Microsoft Excel TM spreadsheet template developed for use across the project
Regular video-conferencing between United Kingdom partners and suppliers based in USA
Other technologies used by engineering design team in support of the project
Resources Project resourcing included a project director with overall responsibility for project delivery. Project managers were assigned to manage the project at both the university and main industrial partner
Technical working group formed, which provided a multidisciplinary team of project members to support the project. The group included consultant engineering team (mechanical, electrical and structural engineers as well as quantity surveyor), technical staff (technician and academic staff from university as well as industrial staff), safety engineers, management representatives and administration staff
Project governance achieved through regular meetings of a project board, chaired by the project director but with other senior management representatives from the university
Knowledge Initial technical assessment of the project carried out by independent structural engineer contracted to undertake feasibility study of the facilities development project
FMEA technique developed to ensure engineering risks were captured from the early part of the project and necessary process controls were implemented in the final engineering design. FMEA process supported by multidisciplinary inputs from technical working group. FMEA worksheets used to formally capture engineering data and information related to the facility design, including operating conditions for the high-pressure equipment and infrastructure engineering specifications
Systems integration exercise to ensure compatibility of procured equipment with laboratory services
Technical analysis and equipment operational modeling carried out to ensure compliance of equipment with European Union’s Pressure Equipment Directive (PED)
Culture Initial meetings of technical working group hampered by lack of agreement on technical direction of project and social norms as well as poor team dynamics, which had not been fully established. Further meetings designed to have more overall direction from the meeting chair as well as structured discussions, which enabled social norms to be established
Trust was developed within the team due to the common approaches used as well as a shared sense of the technical challenges faced
UK team also established trust with suppliers based in USA, initially through face-to- face meetings and thereafter through regular video-conference meetings
Overall culture developed within the project was characterized as being open and honest, with regular sharing of information and communication across the project and with key project stakeholders
Impact ? Balanced scorecard approach adopted for the business planning stage of the project. Scorecard included financial perspective (based on NPV calculations on project investment), customer perspective (based on the number of PhD and MSc level students that would be able to use the new facility for research), internal process perspective (based on the availability of new equipment and related processes) and learning and growth perspective (based on the scientific areas to be investigated using the experimental research facility)
? Wider impact for the industrial sponsor through supporting improved technical capabilities for new engineering systems
? Establishment of the new research facility allowed the academic team to undertake research in new areas, which is analogous to company’s developing new business areas. The teams involved with the project were able to develop new skills and competencies, for instance related to the engineering design process as well as the use of structured engineering risk tools such as FMEA
Tab.2  Summary of Case Study # 1 Findings According to Sub-systems Areas
Sub-system Key activities
Process Project was managed according to PRINCE2TM international project management standard
Project reporting to senior management through regular meetings with key project stakeholders
Feasibility and design project approved by the university’s portfolio review board
Business case assembled for the project, which included recognized business practices, such as business modeling based on revenue generation from medical scanning activities
Other planning included project scheduling and bench-marking studies, which compared modeled scanning costs with comparable data streams
Project risk analysis carried out on broad range of risk areas
Technology Microsoft Project TM used for Gantt chart preparation (project scheduling) to capture overall schedule, critical path analysis and key project dependencies
Project costing and other financial management through Microsoft Excel TM spreadsheets
Technical team employed various clinical related technologies (including diagnostic and testing systems) to support feasibility study.
Other technologies used as part of facilities design process
Resources Project resourcing included a project director supported by a facilities project manager. The project director reported to a steering group that provided guidance on strategy
The project director provided overall leadership and was responsible for the business modeling while the project manager was responsible for operational management of the engineering feasibility study
Steering group was a multidisciplinary team representing different areas, such as senior leadership, facilities planning, finance, health S safety as well as general administration
Liaison with academic faculty members was through a series of individual consultations and this allowed a broad range of clinical academic staff to be engaged in the engineering design process
External engineering teams engaged to support detailed design, including M&E engineers, quantity surveyor and safety engineer
Knowledge Improved understanding developed on how the clinical scanning facility would complement other facilities operated by the university, thereby allowing an overall view to be established for the entire scanning services offered across the university
Knowledge generated on the clinical research areas investigated through use of the medical scanning facility. This knowledge was acquired from the academic faculty consultations and covered areas such as neuroscience, cardiology, pharmacology and oncology.
Information relating to sponsor needs was obtained, including potential scanning funding opportunities with research councils and charitable foundations
Data and information also acquired relating to the operation of the medical scanning equipment including operating conditions, throughput levels and maintenance regimes
Culture During the initial meetings of the steering group a common understanding was developed of the project requirements including high-level technical details related to the medical scanning facility.
Regular meetings allowed trust to be developed within the team and communications within the team were generally open and honest.
The academic faculty consultations were conducted in an open manner, which enabled faculty members to share their needs in regard to current and future clinical research avenues being pursued and the corresponding medical scanning requirements
Overall culture developed within the project that was characterized as being supportive, with regular sharing of information and communication across the project and with key project stakeholders at the university
Impact completion of the feasibility and design stage project enabled an improved understanding to be gained on the need for medical scanning to support clinical research in several academic departments at the university
The project team developed enhanced skills and competencies, especially relating to business modeling techniques, including profiling different business scenarios and financial sensitivity analysis
The scanning facility was designed to provide an efficient and cost-effective clinical scanning service, which can be included as part of research proposals submitted to a range of medical funding organizations
Potential long-term societal benefits associated with improved health-care delivery arising from research projects that utilize the scanning facility
Tab.3  Summary of Case Study # 2 Findings According to Sub-system Areas
Project sub-system Research questions Data and information requirements
Process How can the optimal balance of procedures be identified at the outset of a new project? Project schedule, financial and performance dataProcess configurations and related protocol informationData and information relating to the overall project requirements as well as environmental and organizational constraintsProbability data on likelihood of external events impacting projects (for deterministic studies)
How can process adoption for projects be adaptive to emerging issues and opportunities?
What processes need to be designed to support an integrated systems perspective of engineering projects?
Technology Can project life-cycle technology be used to track the overall impact delivered for projects? Data and information on wider impact generated by projectsArchitectures and specifications of web-based project management systems.Architectures and specifications for mobile technologies (i.e. “apps”) to support management of projects
How can web-based technology solutions be configured to support engineering projects?
How can mobile technologies (i.e. “apps”) be integrated with ERP based project technologies?
Resources What is the project leadership skills needed to manage according to an integrated systems perspective? Information on project leadership skills and competencies related to the integrated systems perspective of project management.Data and information on resource types for planning methodologiesProject decision related data and information along with systems modeling techniques
How can resources be more effectively allocated across projects that have competing needs?
Can project decisions be modeled in real-time as a decision support tool?
Knowledge How can the project management knowledge be integrated with organization-level knowledge management systems? Project-related data and information correlated with appropriate organizational data and informationData and information on social characteristics of projects in addition to traditional hard (technical) data for engineering projectsData and information to allow improved knowledge management systems to be designed for projects
How can knowledge from projects be configured to incorporate a socio-technical systems approach (i. e. managing hard and soft data)?
What knowledge needs to be understood to support the integrated systems perspective of project management?
Culture How can the level of trust be measured for engineering projects? Data and information on the different drivers for trust within a projectProject cultural characteristics and determinants correlated with data and information for organizational culturesData and information on working pa– terns and behaviors, levels of openness and norms of reciprocity for certain project instantiations
How are projects influenced by organizational cultures?
Are certain types of cultures more, or less, suited to particular types of projects?
Impact How can metrics be developed to address the integrated systems perspective of engineering projects? Data and information relating to systemic impact and benefits for engineering projects, including long-term, societal or broader stakeholder benefitsKnowledge architectures to support translation of research projects and evidence-based outputs to improved practice and operational managementData and information on project skills and competencies generated from adopting an integrated systems perspective
How can achievement of “iron triangle” targets be reconciled (or balanced) against long-term, societal or broader stakeholder benefits?
What are the optimal mechanisms to support translation of research projects into societal benefits, i. e. environmental, sustainable energy or health-care
Tab.4  Future Research Areas And Suggested Data And Information Requirements
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