I have been amazed at the inexperienced personnel that have, on occasion, been allowed to manage capital projects. Such selections, as I have seen them, have usually been made by senior managers who rose through the production ranks and who give little thought to what it might take to manage a capital project, even one of a very modest size.
I am not aware of any undergraduate engineering program in mechanical, chemical, or electrical engineering that imparts the knowledge to manage a project in their own discipline. Some, but not all, civil engineering programs may do so.
These programs spend the precious hours they have in the classroom teaching the disciplines of the practice (thermodynamics, fluids, electrical theory and so forth) and have no time left to teach how to manage projects involving these disciplines. One learns how to manage projects either as an understudy to an experience engineer or by going to a specialized short course or graduate school in project management. Another great source of experience is the engineering consulting firms.
To throw a recent engineering graduate into a project management role without a capable mentor is inviting a disaster for the project and is doing a great disservice to the young engineer. I have seen careers destroyed out of the gate and young engineers, two or three years out of school change professions completely after being burned with too much too soon syndrome.
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As a rule of thumb, in today's dollars, I think a solo project manager should not be entrusted with a half million-dollar project until they have had five years' experience under a qualified leader. At twenty years' experience, they should be able to handle anything if they are ever going to do so (some never acquire the skills).
We do two things here a Paperitalo Publications to, in a small way, help fill the gap with young engineers. First, there is the book, "The Lazy Project Engineers Path to Excellence." For many years now, we have made sure every graduate of the pulp and paper schools in the United States leaves school with a copy. Whether they read it or not is another matter. If you don't have a copy, you can purchase one on Amazon. Just put the title above in the Amazon search bar and it will pop right up. Recently, we have added another little book, "The Proper Production (or Project) Meeting" to this portfolio. It is also available on Amazon.
The second thing we have done is offer the Engineering Manager of the Year Award. Recently, we have modified it to focus more on the younger managers. It is now the "Young Engineering Manager of the Year Award" and is offered to those under 35 years old that have "done an extraordinary project, one that almost defies belief."
We are interested in getting engineering projects done correctly by competent management for one simple reason: Production is saddled with whatever engineering completes for them. If it is not an efficient and competitive project, it can, in the long term, kill the mill. At the same time, we'll hasten to say the avoidance of failure does not involve and experienced production manager, of any age, suddenly thinking they are a capital project manager. This is not the path to success for anyone.
It goes without saying that poor projects are highly susceptible to poor safety conditions. They go hand in hand.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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