According to the Project Management Institute, over 10% of all project funds are wasted on inefficiencies and poor performance; 32% of projects experience scope creep, 47% run over budget, and 51% are finished late. In fact, in a study by Wellingtone, only 37% of UK-based teams reported finishing projects on time more often than not.
Clearly, something's got to give.
In the current climate, high quality strategy and project planning may be the difference between success and failure, between contract renewal and devastation.
So, while technical know-how and hard-earned skills will never lose their value, an increasingly integral part of electrical engineering in the ‘new normal’ will be carefully cultivated, exactingly efficient project planning.
What does proper planning look like?
Many pay lip service to the importance of planning, but few ever seriously consider what a robust project plan actually involves.
While simply relying on an outline of costs and timings may allow things to tick along reasonably for a while, truly effective project planning looks at the full scope of the work and endeavours to identity three key areas: efficiency, effectiveness and contingency.
Efficiency is all about doing more with less, about making better use of your time, energy and resources. Whether it be finding cheaper connectors, saving man hours by investing in automatic tools or simply sourcing all of your cabling needs from a single supplier, there are a myriad of ways engineers can improve their efficiency and thereby their results.
This is often a fraught topic: for some, ruthless efficiency is the ultimate route to a better bottom line; for others it implies a lack of diligence. The key to successful planning is striking the right balance: being as efficient as possible without cutting corners or compromising on quality.
We have to understand that the overall success or failure of a project is down to an array of elements, and increasing efficiency in one area is only a positive if it doesn’t result in a negative effect elsewhere.
For example: cutting costs on cable markers might improve your bottom line, but not if doing so causes confusion further down the line and therefore slows overall progress.
Running through scenarios will help avoid such unforeseen issues, as well as ensuring maximum preparedness across the entire operation.
Those in the know often find efficiency through innovation
Using state-of-the-art tools and keeping pace with new and exciting technical trends can give you a huge edge on competitors who are stuck in their ways. Many green energy approaches, for example, produce huge efficiency gains both in how they are implemented and how they use energy.
Ultimately, efficiency often comes down to how engineers think about their work: discerning what is and is not necessary and being willing to challenge conventions can produce not only more efficient, but more effective ways of working.
Moving forward, we’re going to need far more of this kind of thinking in the sector.
Planning for effectiveness is a no-brainer: clearly, any good engineer should be looking to produce the best results possible. However, most projects could be improved with better planning and more clarity about the ultimate end goal.
This is about communication, identification and lateral thinking: having a clear understanding of how the finished system needs to operate will help prioritise resources and encourage engineers to think intelligently about the process they undergo.
It is vital that we take a long term view
Effectiveness is not simply about getting a project signed off or being happy with yourself after you’ve finished a bit of work – it’s about robust, consistent and above all functional systems.
Factoring in things like wear and tear or how systems might be overhauled in the future will give a clearer view of the long term needs of a project; ultimately, it will help produce more satisfactory results.
Similarly, having a clear understanding of the market – the tools and accessories available, the new processes and practises being developed – will help engineers make better decisions about what they use and how they work.
If the global pandemic has taught us anything, it is the urgent importance of contingency planning. While efficiency and effectiveness are unquestionably important, any planning that fails to take into account unexpected problems, risks leaving projects unimaginably vulnerable.
Contingency planning really comes down to a simple observation: we never know everything about anything, and every situation contains far more possibilities than we can reasonably anticipate.
Given this, it might seem like a lost cause: how can we plan for something if we don’t know what it is?
While a reasonable concern, this slightly misses the point: contingency planning isn’t about planning for anything specific unexpected occurrence. Instead, it’s about being antifragile: maintaining reserves of time, resources and financial means to cope with the unexpected - whatever that happens to be.
Having an emergency stock of accessories and tools is a simple but effective way of doing this
It isn’t about having any specific product; it’s about being prepared for any potential outcome and making an educated guess as to what could conceivably be needed. You obviously can’t keep every product on the market in stock, but at least a small collection of essentials will almost inevitably prove a solid investment.
Contingency planning is often overlooked in this regard because it’s tough to justify seemingly unnecessary expenditure. But the reality is, the costs of not having what is needed far outweigh the costs of potentially overspending.
As budgets tighten and new challenges emerge, what is and isn’t ‘necessary’ will continue to be debated.
One thing’s for sure, though: the value of proper planning is only going to increase.