Minimising engineering and project problems and disputes

I recently commented in the context of ‘troubleshooting and fixing’ that “challenges and potential problems are an ever-present reality and ‘come with the territory’ in the engineering, projects and operations environment. How their likelihood is minimised, and how they are handled when they do occur, is therefore vital in minimising their potential impact and in effectively managing or dealing with the outcomes”.

In our professional advisory/consulting practice, one of our principal areas of practice is in ‘troubleshooting and fixing’, which includes forensic engineering and consulting. Through this, we also have particular opportunity to add to our own knowledge base and insights into what can and does go wrong, and associated contributory factors. In addition, we are also always learning from our own engineering and project experiences. In this column, I would like to share just a few (and, very obviously, non-exhaustive) thoughts towards achieving successful engineering and project outcomes.

An upfront and early (in the engineering & project life-cycle) investment in structuring, planning, analysis and front-end design offers a key contributory role in the reduction of engineering and project related risks, and hence in enabling the success of projects (a ‘front-end loading’ approach). This includes a thorough understanding of the engineering application and project scope, requirements, environment and circumstances, risks, constraints, and the like.

This is particularly pertinent to complex applications and projects involving infrastructure, systems and product development and implementation, and people, where the complexity of the projects and applications generally require a very structured, systematic approach in order to succeed. I am an ardent proponent of a structured systems engineering approach.

Within a front-end loaded and structured approach, it is also important to ‘be real’ and avoid a false sense of security. Some elements of that include:

  • Manage the risks – know (and understand) what you don’t know – manage the uncertainty.
  • Allocate the risks appropriately, where they can be best managed.
  • Design the solutions appropriately – don’t just do things by rote or ‘because that’s the way we always do it’.
  • Be proactive – don’t wait for things to happen – ‘anticipate and pre-empt’.
  • Understand your own, and your organisation’s, limitations and capabilities (and complement and supplement the capabilities, either internally or externally). Mentor and build the team.
  • Build-in (and stick to) a rigorous, traceable and quality assurance driven process at all stages (including appropriate milestone reviews) – and remember the benefit of external insights, including objectivity and freshness.

Ian McKechnie (CEng, IntPE(SA), PrEng)
CEO & Principal Advisor/Consultant @ Engenamic

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This comment originally appeared in the Write@theBack column of the August 2017 edition of Electricity & Control.