APPLICATION OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES IN UNDERGRADUATE SENIOR DESIGN PROJECTS
American University of Sharjah (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
Engineering students are usually required to complete a senior design (capstone) project as part of their degree requirements. This can extend over one semester or two semesters. In this project, students are required to apply their knowledge and skills to complete a project as part of a team. The students are required to demonstrate proficiency in applying what they learnt to real life problems. This is usually a difficult time for students and faculty alike. Several projects end without achieving the initial objectives or end up with reduced scope or quality due to time limitations. Additionally, students spend countless hours towards the end of their project which affects their performance in other courses. Students proceed to the implementation part of their projects without careful planning which leads to unnecessary and costly changes. Project management techniques can help alleviate most of these problems. These senior design projects are similar to any other project in that they have a specific start and end and they go through a life cycle consisting of project initiation, planning, implementation, control and close out. The use of project management techniques allows the students to effectively manage the design project from initiation to completion. Project management techniques allow the students to balance the triple constraints of time, cost and scope. This paper shows how these techniques can be implemented in senior design projects. The main techniques used are Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for scope definition, Critical Path Method (CPM) and Earned Value (EV) for scheduling and project controls. The process starts with project initiation in which they develop the project charter that outlines the project objectives and responsibilities of team members. Then students proceed to the planning phase where they develop a project management plan including communication, scope, time and cost plan. Students define the scope of work using the WBS technique. This is also a team building exercise that improves the students’ working relationship in addition to improving their understanding of the type and amount of needed work. The WBS is then used to define the activities and to develop a schedule. The schedule is calculated using CPM and a bar chart is developed. The budget, in terms of effort, is also developed. At the end of the planning phase, students present their proposal (orally and in writing) to the faculty advisor and the other department faculty for approval. Once approved, students proceed to the execution phase where they complete their task in accordance with the approved project plan. As part of the control phase, students use Earned Value Analysis (EVA) to monitor the project performance. Finally, during the closeout phase, students prepare and present their final report in addition to documenting their lessons learned. Several students, under the supervision of the author, have used these techniques at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). A sample project is used in this paper to demonstrate the use of project management techniques in senior design projects.