Computer Engineering Project

Computer Engineering Project

Definition of Project

A project is defined as a series of activities leading to a specific objective which has to be completed within a traditional triple constraint of time, cost and scope. Often, a project will be carried out a team of members within an organization, and it is only a temporary endeavor undertaken to create this unique objective. The quality of the project will vary with these tripe constraints, and often being regard to the fourth constraint in project.

Definition of Project Management

Project Management is a unique discipline of organizing and managing all available resources, to ensure a project can be completed within the defined scope, cost, time and quality. For general project managements, there are 5 basic process groups and 9 knowledge areas. These basic concepts are applicable to projects, programs and operations. The 5 basic process groups are:

  • Project Initiating Stage. This stage determines the nature and scope of the project. This had to be done well so that the result of the project is in line with business’s need. All projects start with an idea for a product, service, new capability or other desired outcome. In particular it outlines the scope, goals, objectives, deliverables, assumptions, key people, benefits, costs and duration. If authorization to proceed is given, the contract is used to obtain formal agreement from the project sponsor and budget holder to start the project. This signifies the end of the initiation phase. The initiation stage should include a cohesive plan. Some of the points to take note when initiate a project would be:
  • Study and analyzing the business needs, quantify the goals in a measurable ways, e.g., cost saving of $10,000 per months, increase speed of processing to 10mbps, etc.
  • Review the current operations. Is there a need to initial a particular project?
  • Conceptual design of operation of final product.
  • Source of Resources required.
  • Financial analysis, profit & lost consideration, budget & resources consideration.
  • Formation of project team, leaders, sponsors, stakeholders, users.
  • Complete a Project charter, with proper authorized signatures.
  • Project Planning Stage. This includes planning of human resources, financial resources, equipment, work bays, etc. Proper planning is a guide to execution of project plans. Work breakdown structure, project Gantt chart, project charter are examples of project planning methodology.
  • Project Execution Stage. This stage is the production of the planned project. Goals and objectives are roll out from projects. This stage usually takes the most time and resources. Execution should follow as closely to plans as possible, to reduce variants, cost, and possible compromised goals and objectives.
  • Project Control & Monitoring Stage. Running in parallel to execution stage, so that any variants can be tracked, corrected and control. Various methods had been developed to control and monitor a project. For example a change control board to record and monitor all changes required when executing a project.
  • Project Closing Stage. Usually involves the end users, customers and other stake holders to gain acceptance of the project’s output. It can further develop into post-project follow up so that results of project are reviewed about 1 year after completion of project. This allows new project to have a better planning and estimates base on past successful examples.

These 5 processes overlap and interact with each other throughout the project and each phase of the project. Processes are described in terms of:

  • Inputs (documents, data, plans, design, etc)
  • Tools & Techniques (mechanism and methods applied to inputs)
  • Outputs (products, services)

The 9 knowledge areas commonly known are follows:

  • Project Integration Management
  • Project Scope Management
  • Project Time Management
  • Project Cost Management
  • Project Quality Management
  • Project Human Resource Management
  • Project Communication Management
  • Project Risk Management
  • Project Procurement Management

IT Projects & Engineering Projects

Information Technology (IT), as defined by the Information Technology Association of America, is the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems. IT uses electronic computers and software to convert, store, protect, process, transmit and retrieve information securely. IT project is neither easy nor pretty. They also face unique technology challenges, from hardware, operating system, network or database woes, to security risks, interoperability issues, and the changes manufacturers make to their hardware and software configurations. Information technology is especially difficult to satisfy because it’s always moving, changing, adapting and challenging business. IT projects are information in general, e.g. information system for banks, companies. The projects are usually very portable; they can be done almost anywhere, like inside office, a warehouse, as long as the basic infrastructure is available. The end product is equally portable. They can be transfer to new location with ease, and accessing the information is easy over the internet or individual intranet. The speed of transformation of IT project is fast. Technology advancement and computer improvements are blink of an eye. IT project have to keep up to new and latest technology to prevent obsolete. IT projects have to constantly update to keep up with current trends. Being software and information in nature, IT projects are often prone to virus attacks, hackers, hardware failures. IT projects rides on other hardware, for example the software, programs and information to control automation machines to build cars, information on Kerridge system commonly used by car agents to contain customer’s information, vehicle maintenance history, parts and sales information, report generations, etc. IT are often only part of a company business, but if without it, can lead to failed operation of the entire company, e.g. if the IT system in a bank failed or corrupt, the operation of basic banking need, ATM machines, deposit & withdraw, internet banking would be greatly affected. However, IT is non-labor intensive. Most companies either only keeps a core group of IT personnel, or out source the entire process. IT projects application are wide range, it can apply to any fields, e.g. banking, school, engineering firm, ship building, government organization, defense ministry, entertainment industry, sports, travel and manufacturing.

Engineering is the applied science of acquiring and applying the knowledge to design, analysis and construction of works for practical purposes. Engineering projects are the creative application of scientific principles to design, develop structures, machines, or process, to achieve a specific goals or objectives. Engineers combine physic and mathematics to find solutions to the problem at hand. They apply scientific method in deriving solutions, weighing different design choices that best match the requirements. Engineering projects usually will attempt to predict how well the plan designs will perform to their requirement. Things such as prototypes, scale models, simulators, destructive testing, non-destructive test and stress test, to ensure design can perform as expected, and with a safety factor.

Table of contrast & comparison between IT projects and Engineering Projects:

IT Projects Engineering Projects
Software, information, data, computer-based. E.g. Online CPF portal. Man, Machine, physical products. E.g. project Heathrow Terminal 5 project
Process & product highly portable. E.g. Access to CPF portal can be done anywhere as long as valid internet access Fixed or pre-define location. Usually no movement of setup. E.g. Manufacturing company does not shift their production lines more often than they shift their operation offices.
Speed of transformation – high. Electronic age fly by light speed. E.g. Pentium III computers are already obsolete. Speed of transformation is slow. E.g. Shipbuilding industry had not evolved to automation process such as car building.
Project inputs and outputs prone to virus, hackers, destructions. E.g. Internet banking face constant treat of Trojans & phishing attacks. Input & output affected by process and natural disaster. E.g. Nicole highway mishap is a lack of control & monitoring of the project progress.
Require constant upgrading to keep up with technology advances. Otherwise IT project become obsolete within short time frame, or gets virus attack. E.g. Constant upgrading of firewall and virus definition. Require regular maintenance, periodic overhaul, ad-hoc repairs, upgrading & improvement to keep up with requirement. E.g. production line machinery of hard disk manufacturers.
Wide application, control hardware automation, used in non-engineering application such as school, banks Restrict mainly in its core competencies. Feedback controlled process to main processor for instructions. E.g. Robotic machines controlled by IT software, for building car not used for building speed boat.
Less labor intensive. IT project uses less manpower. IT department one of the smallest headcount in companies. More labor intensive. Mainly the engineering department has the highest headcount. Can range from specialist engineers to general workers.

Project Management Methodologies

Over years, many experts had explored on ideas on how to manage projects successfully. They had applied the standard management process and had implemented new methodologies to specific projects to increase the rate of success and reduce risk, cost, and time.

The traditional basic type of engineering project management is Predictive type. Predictive methods focus on planning the future in detail. A predictive team can report exactly what features and tasks are planned for the entire length of the project, they have difficulty changing direction. The plan is design to be optimized for the original requirements and changing it can cause completed work to be thrown away and done over differently. Predictive teams will often institute a change control board to ensure that only the most valuable changes. An example of predictive methodolgy is the Waterfall methodology. Waterfall methods is the most predictive method. Primarily, a waterfall methodology structures a project into distinct phases with defined deliverables from each phase, wherein the requirements are fully defined and ‘locked down’, then a design is fully created, the product or service is completely developed, and all testing takes place at the end. Each phase is a complete activity that leads to the next. It steps through specific phase and only when all requirements are met, then it will proceed to the next, just like a waterfall from top to bottom. Generally, the predicitive method is similar to the 5 basic processes where a project passes each individual phase in an orderly manner. They are useful in managing engineering projects as problems are clearly identified, resourses available known, and the construction and testing of the solution had been known. Changes were kept minimum so that objectives and goals set initially can be achieved at the end of project.

Adaptive methods evolves from predicitve methods. Instead of completing and meeting all requirements in each phase before proceed, adaptive methods split and include all phases into different time boxes. In each time box, it will contain most or all the phases with different weightage. Each time box is tackle and progress along the main time frame of the entire project. Adaptive methods focus on adapting to changes quickly. During each time box, when needs of a project changes, the team can adapte and change as acordingly to achieve a changed requirement. Traditional waterfall methodology (a predicitive method) required the customers to tell the developer everything that they wanted in the project, and also those that they “might” want to have. This result in over scoping of project, and to overcome the rigiditity of traditional predicitive method, adaptive methods, also known as Agile methods are evolved. Agile method are more commonly used in IT projects rather than Engineering projects for the fact that technology and user requirements changes as their business changes. These changes can occur at a short period of time as technology advanced with high speed. An example of Agile method is the Scrum method. Scrum method treated a project as many subsets of smaller projects, known as Sprint, each of which caters to a particular user requirement. Each element of the subset is prioritized as to what is most likely to deliver value, and the highest is worked on first. Each Sprint is about 4 weeks in nature, begins with a planning meeting where team members organize and plan their work commitment to the Sprint’s current objectives and goals. Each day begins with a 15-minute meeting to communicate progress, re-align the team members work plans and identify obstructions to productivity. This frequent communication means that the entire development process can adapt to changes in requirement and content. At the end of each Sprint, the team will present their work for customers review and also start the next Sprint with new objectives and goals. As such, customer’s involvement in project increases, and they will also be able to visualize the end product as they go along. This visualization will help to project team and customer to align the final objectives and goals in an orderly and timely manner.

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