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Engineering Project Planning Documents:
Risks, Communication, Finance, Schedule, Quality and Resource

Essential Leadership and Management for Engineers

Engineering Project Planning Documents Include:

Risk Plan

Identify the key risks to the projects. Consider what could go wrong, together with the likelihood and severity of any risks? What could potentially knock you off your plan? Follow this by ranking risks in priority order with the highest at the top. Next consider ways of mitigating these risks. Think about how you would go about minimising or eliminating them. Templates and tools exist to help manage risks and are readily available – most are based on spread-sheets. Some are based on the risk identification, assessment, planning and implement model. The risk plan will probably see the launch of a risk register to capture this information through the project. Issues are also captured – these are risks that have now manifested into current problems, and as such should be being dealt with.

Quality Plan

Are there likely to be any significant quality issues - if so, what? How do you plan to check and maintain quality of any deliverables? Consider things like reviews, configuration management, audits, inspection, trials and testing, peer review and quality assurance. Customers expect good quality, whatever the product or service. They often won’t pay without it.


Communication Plan

Effective communication is fundamental to project management with so many players involved. The communication plan identifies how formal and informal communication will take place and what methods will be used. The plan spells out not only what will be communicated, but why, when, how and to which stakeholders.


Resource Plan

With resources typically being scarce in small businesses, resource planning considerations are crucial during project management. What skills do you need? How many people do you require, with what mix of disciplines? When do you need certain people? If you can work out an acceptable arrangement where you access key staff for an agreed portion of their time, your plan is more likely to be accepted. Also consider external expertise you may require.

Resource planning also requires you to state what facilities and capabilities you need. Are CAD skills, test lab facilities and somewhere to prototype or mock up production necessary? Again, external equipment and facilities may be an option. How about buying-in expertise and leasing kit and test facilities?

The resource plan is closely linked to the financial plan and the project plan (schedule), as your project will obviously require cash and time to be realised. Think about using past project knowledge to help inform resource estimations. Importantly, do have a go at estimating – put something down, rather than launching into the ‘fun stuff’, with no idea of the resources, time or cash required. Not to plan is a sure way to consume precious resources in an uncontrolled manner; and ultimately increase your chances of project failure.

Other project areas to consider at the planning stage include stakeholders, strategy, governance and others. Why not research further to get a greater understanding, and ultimately an appropriate level of planning for the size and complexity of your projects?


Finance Plan

Depending on the size of the project, this may be part of the project plan (see below) or a separate plan. The purpose is to breakdown what you expect to spend and by when. As the project progresses, you review and compare your actual expenditure against what you forecast. You may need to make adjustments accordingly, or report significant changes up to those governing the project. Ultimately, planning in this way ensures project costs are visible and therefore controllable. Financial software is available to help. However the general advice here is to keep things simple. Ensure essential costs are paid promptly such as materials, wages, outsourcing etc. Always keep an eye on cash-flow to ensure there is sufficient money to run the project at any one time. Some financial contingency should be included.


Project Plan

The project plan needs to be set out at the initiation stage. The plan will consider all the distinct phrases needed to undertake the project, breaking it down into chunks. The plan establishes specifically what tasks will be performed, as well as the sequence in which they will be completed. In addition, the plan looks at how long each task lasts and takes into account when they must be completed by. Depending on the level of detail, the plan can also list who will do what tasks, as well as the resources required. Some lead-time contingency should be included in your plan.

At this stage it’s worth mentioning the Work Breakdown Structure – WBS. This is a useful document often used on larger projects. Here, the key activities required to complete the project are listed. At the top level, larger activities are shown and at each subsequent level, these activities are then broken down into smaller tasks.

Tools exist to help planning. Probably the best known is the Gantt Chart. This sequentially sets out the project tasks, clearly stating when they are scheduled to take place. Milestones are included highlighting key targets throughout the project. The people responsible for tasks can be included, as can references to resources required.

The dependencies between tasks can also be illustrated, so it is possible to demonstrate what impact any changes to one task will have on others, such as delays. Project Management software can help produce Gantt Charts and other project plans reasonably quickly. However be mindful about the effort required to drive the software – sometimes this can become a task within itself, distracting effort from completing the real project activities.

A Gantt Chart serves a number of purposes. It is a communication tool for those working on tasks within the project. It also sets out a course of action, assuring senior managers the project is under control. In addition, it also enables the project manager to control activities, diverting effort and resources to mitigate risks and solve problems accordingly.

Engineering Project Planning Documents


Engineering Project Planning Documents: The People Aspect...

Roles and Responsibilities

The people aspect of project management is an essential factor. During project initiation careful consideration needs to be given to the key roles within the project and their respective responsibilities. 

  • Who is the project sponsor responsible for commissioning the project?
  • Who are the customers (the end users)? Is there a principle customer?
  • Along with the project manager, who else is in the project team and what are their roles?
  • Separate to the project manager (who’s concerned about delivering to time and budget) is there a Technical Lead - an expert whose focus is meeting quality, functional and technical objectives?
  • What is the project governance structure and what are the roles of those involved? Which members of senior management are involved? Are there a senior user and senior supplier representing a range of key stakeholders? How often do they meet?
  • How does tasking work once the project has started? How does the project manager access resources and staff?
  • Can the key roles and responsibilities be named and defined?
  • How often do project reviews take place and who is involved in them? What is the format and are details and actions recorded in any way?

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