Researchers gain insight into importance of project management training

May 24, 2018

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 23, 2018) -- Researchers and engineers from the U.S Army Research Laboratory participated in a three-day "hands-on" project management training course at APG where they created a project plan using the "consensus approach," May 1-3.

Using the consensus approach, participants said as a team, they yielded a project plan that all were fully in support of. Using this approach, the team's buy-in to the plan naturally results during plan creation.

"Manage your project, don't just experience it," said Rik Meininger, instructor and aviation systems engineer from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Engineering Directorate, pointing out if you aren't actively managing your project you will only being "experiencing" what actually happens and it usually doesn't end well.

Meininger said a quick, proper daily morning meeting is the single most valuable meeting you can run. He said this meeting should not be the typical "let's go around the room and see what you've done for me lately."

"Use it to reiterate the previous day's accomplishments and problems, review the tasks to be focused on for the current day by the team and solicit problems and issues needing action by the team," Meininger said. "This facilitates effective use of the team's time and resources."

The team learned they should at a minimum be accountable to each other. The team should accept no less from each of its members and if this rule is followed, the rest takes care of itself and there is no need for outside intervention.

"The team should strive for a no-fear environment where all tough issues can be openly discussed without personalization," Meininger said. "This is the only way that the really tough, persistent problems can be identified and lastingly resolved. Otherwise no one will want to speak up for fear of retribution."

The participants were taught to speak up, but also only to speak with good purpose. He said complaints and excuses put forth alone are not good purpose.

"Do not accept chronic complaining or excuses," Meininger said. "The team deserves the best effort from all."

Complaints should be coupled with well-thought proposed solution options while explaining rationale for something is ok as long as it does not cross the line into just being used as an excuse to deflect one's own lack of performance. Speaking with good purpose lays the foundation for facilitating the team moving forward.

Some technical people have never been given the proper theory about managing a project or shown how to use effective tools to enact the project management in a way that is meaningful for them.

"Project management is not at odds with sound engineering practice, it is one in the same even though it looks different," said Dr. Chol-Bum "Mike" Kweon, division chief in ARL's Vehicle Technology Directorate. "It is still developing a theory of what should be happening -- creating a plan, working with that theory -- working the plan and determining whether the theory is true or not -- measuring progress against the plan."

Kweon said project management is not taught at schools during their normal coursework, thus most of the graduates do not have these experiences.

"Most of the people learn this during their industry career," he said. "However, researchers in the laboratories often do not have an opportunity to learn project management and most of the researchers think project management is not a critical part of the project. Indeed, project management is a responsibility of the principal investigators yet it is a team work. Success of any project depends on the team work, accountability to each other, good communications and most of all dedication. It is not about working harder, but working smarter."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: May 24, 2018