Engineering project management: Avoid thrashing

Automation System Integration Blog defines and explains how to avoid thrashing when managing an engineering project. Heed this advice and see the diagram example from Anthony Baker. Add your advice below.


Diagram shows a root cause analysis/mind map of thrashing; sideways orientation on the web page allows for maximum size. Realizing how thrashing happens is the first step to avoidance. Courtesy: Callisto Integration, Control Engineering Automation SystemEngineering project management requires careful quantifying of scope, attention to scope creep, and expectation management, as explained in recent posts. To tie this off there is one other topic that is worth noting: Thrashing. It’s a lot like it sounds. Like a fish out of water, flopping around while you are trying to hold it down, thrashing can also happen in system integration when your scope is so out of control that nobody seems to know what to do next. Unfortunately, like the fish, there are not a lot of great options at this point. The trick is to not get caught.

The picture at bottom is a root cause analysis/mind map of thrashing. (Sorry for the sideways post, but that allows the maximum size.) Realizing how this happens is the first step to using the tools to mitigate the risk of project thrashing. As a reference example:

It’s the final days of development, the team gets to the FAT (factory acceptance test), and the operator (whom nobody has ever met before) says, “There is NO way this will work. The process just doesn’t work that way.” What happened?

Follow the branches in the tree.

1) Why? The requirements exist, but the team (as a whole) does not understand them.

2) The operator knew what needed to be done, but the development team, or client contact, did not.

3) Why? Requirements exist but have not been communicated.

4) The example is a classic case of “nobody asked the operator.” It is a communication breakdown.

5) Planning (see the green flag in the diagram): If the team had planned earlier to bring in the operator, this could have been avoided. A well-circulated functional design specification (FDS) or a project road map that included “ask the operators” would have avoided this.

And so on.

Think through the last two or three times you have experienced thrashing in your projects. Was it a late design change that nobody understood? Perhaps the requirements you agreed to were not supported by the technology, and you had to adjust. Maybe a team member changed groups (internally or externally). Get out the map and take a look. It will probably show you how it happened, and what you might do to avoid it in the future/get back on track.

Engineering interaction: Have additional project management advice? Use the comment box at the bottom to add to the list based on your experiences.

- The Automation System Integration Blog aggregates expert advice from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration. This blog provides integration advice in plant-floor controls, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and manufacturing consulting, from the factory floor through to the enterprise. Andrew Barker, P.Eng., Callisto Integration, compiled the advice.

Callisto Integration is a CSIA member as of 3/1/2015

See other Automation System Integration Blog postings linked below.

Diagram shows a root cause analysis/mind map of thrashing; sideways orientation on the web page allows for maximum size. Realizing how thrashing happens is the first step to avoidance. Courtesy: Callisto Integration, Control Engineering Automation System

Diagram shows a root cause analysis/mind map of thrashing; sideways orientation on the web page allows for maximum size. Realizing how thrashing happens is the first step to avoidance. Courtesy: Callisto Integration, Control Engineering Automation System

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me