Engineering Innovative Practice in Managing Design Projects

Engineering Innovative Practice in Managing Design Projects

Fernando Abreu Gonçalves (CEG-IST, Portugal) and José Figueiredo (CEG-IST / DEG and Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2012070102
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Most references to innovation relate to the development of new products. This paper does not address innovation in these terms, but as changes in practices an engineer creatively adopts during engineering design projects. The authors adopt Actor-Network Theory as a way to understand these change processes (translations). The authors design a perturbation index inspired in Earned Value management to measure translation effort having in mind the management of scope. The paper then assesses changes of regime in resource allocation of tasks and concludes some changes that can lead to innovative results. That means a wider view about scope, and scope management is gained, being able to observe and change good practices, something crucial in engineering design projects where requirements and goals drift.
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In engineering processes adherence to good practices is positive for replication and efficiency, but limits innovation. In his day-to-day work an engineer has always opportunities to innovate, but this means challenging good practices. In this paper we address a way to challenge innovation in engineering design. Good practices sometimes crystallize losing their edge and missing innovation opportunities. Innovation in engineering design is not only about the design of new products. How thus the engineers commit themselves with innovative practices? Can we manage the adoption of innovative practices? Is there a possible compromise between good practice and project (design-projects) goals? Can we manage the degree of perturbation in project translations in an advantageous way? These questions define the focus of our quest.

Project Management standards cover different issues on project management within a roll of defined contexts. Maybe it is difficult to generalize but engineering design and technological innovation (R&D) are topics not specifically addressed in the project management core standards (body of knowledge). In fact the uncertainty about the outcomes implies the scope to be dynamic (Pons, 2008) and scope management to be influenced and fertilized by different techniques.

Engineering design is characterized by complex interrelated activities and large uncertainties about precisely which solution path will be taken, such that the full scope of the project can often not be anticipated beforehand (Pons & Raine, 2005). When dealing with engineering design projects a main problem is related with evolving uncertainty (Sonnemans et al., 2003). Uncertainty at the formulation level, what the problem is, with all the negotiations with the key stakeholders in order to formulate the problem well. Uncertainty at the resource level, how can we grab and convince some crucial resources to be part of our project. And uncertainty at the execution level, how can we estimate things that were never done before, and how can we cope with such an amount of different solicitations and demands (strategic nature, operational type, product portfolio) (Pich et al., 2002).

The concept of design drift can enhance the chance of achieving effective design goals and in most situations efficiency can be asserted in other phases of the project lifecycle. Design drift could traditionally be intended as a negative prospect in project management, a way some projects slip away from what the customer actually wanted or simply away from requirements. With a different approach, much inspired by Ciborra (2004), Monteiro and Hepso (2000), Orlikowski (1996), and Hanseth and Braa (2000), we understand design drift as a strategy to take advantage from the fuzzy front end of requirements in engineering design projects. Design drift is a process in which what we obtain at the end of the implementation process is not what was intended originally. In fact, for us, design drift is a way of dealing with positive design risk.

The view of scope as the result of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with its hierarchical formalism may convene impressions of a neat way to go about the scope management of a project. But as all project managers are well aware these impressions are illusory except for trivial cases. Ford and Coulston (2008), recognizing a socio-technical co-evolution of products and markets, deal with the need to manage the “fuzzy front end of product development.”

‘So the phenomenon we are tackling is not inscription per se, but the cascade of ever simplified inscriptions that allow harder facts to be produced at greater cost’ (Latour, 1990). A fact is harder if the number of aligned allies is bigger, as is the case of a project where the cost of change builds up with time.

This is a very general description of innovative practice in engineering design but we argue that scope management can be entailed as an actor-network building, where things are negotiated with stakeholders, environment and restrictions. These negotiations are mainly translations.

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