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Creepy Projects

11 Apr

In an engineering environment, there are a lot of stakeholders that are concerned with the functionality of the final product.  On top of that, there are cosmetic concerns as well as packaging considerations, especially when dealing with diagnostic devices for veterinarians.  When a plastic component of a device is modified, even a little to improve manufacturability, everyone gets involved to ensure that the proper testing is taking place.  When engineering made such a modification to the cover of their device, the stakeholder list was long.  Everyone from quality assurance, manufacturing, procurement, quality control, supplier quality, engineering, instruments and the three lines of business that this component touches was consulted to determine the correct testing necessary.  Portny et al. (2008) recommends creating this type of stakeholder list to ensure all the groups that are affected by the change or support the project are involved.  With the direction from the stakeholders, testing was divided into four categories: device final assembly (do the parts fit together correctly), assembly equipment (can the automated equipment put the final device together), functional testing (does the device still do what it is supposed to do), and instrument testing (does the device still function in the instruments that read the results).

The cover change involved qualifying new tooling to manufacture the component at the vendor’s facility.  Also incorporated was a small feature change that would allow for easier assembly and reduced defects.  The tooling validation is something that had been performed many times in the past making it relatively straight forward to set the proper scope and deliverables.  The required expertise was present within the company to ensure the project could meet its goal and buy-in from the various areas affected was received (Murphy, 1994).  The testing plan was developed and presented to the stakeholders for preliminary approval.  Though it covered most everything, there were a few small areas that needed to be altered prior to final approval.  By engaging the project audience from the start, the important information that was missed that could have affected the final outcome of the project was included (Portny et al., 2008).

A final meeting was scheduled to go over the changes and receive the go ahead to begin testing.  During this meeting, a representative of an affected group wanted to include additional testing for a new instrument that was in production.  This group wanted to include the requirement to build a wide variety of sample devices for testing, just to make sure the feature change would not affect their instrument.  This additional testing would add at least three weeks to the schedule for assembly alone, forcing the delay for the tool.  When changes like this arise, project managers need to be able to manage the situation properly without insulting anyone (Portny et al., 2008).  The PM should talk to the people involved and let them know that their ideas are valuable and talk through them to make sure everyone understands was the scope of the project is (Stolovich, n.d.).

After going back and forth for a week discussing the proposed addition, it was finally mentioned that the instrument in question was not yet functional and these parts would be used for future testing.  Van Rekom (n.d.) offers that a good project manager needs to be able to say “no”, stick to the priorities and be aware that you will not be able to do everything for everybody.  After discussing the project scope with the parties involved, it was determined that the additional testing would become a new project and would not hold up the existing as suggested by Stolovich (n.d.).

Though the proper team members were involved and the stakeholder list included all relevant parties, a statement of work was not formally accepted by the group at the outset.  When a formal process for handling change request is not implemented, project managers can get themselves into trouble (Portny et al., 2008).  A formalized change control system could have eliminated the scope creep by having a formal proposal and review of the request.  If that had been done from the start, the need for this particular change request would have been clear from the outset.


Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stolovitch, H. (n.d.). Project management concerns: Scope creep.  . Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 12, 2013 from

Van Rekom, P. (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Barriers to project success.  . Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 5, 2013 from


Effective Communication

20 Mar

There are many alternatives to workplace communication such as email, texting, voicemail, social media and face-to-face meetings.  The variety of options only proves to highlight the importance of selecting the most appropriate method of communication to facilitate the conversation (Richman, 2012).  Based on the given situation and message that has to be exchanged, the correct medium must be used and the proper cues must be included.  Communication is not just the words that you use but also the spirit and attitude that is employed (Stolovitch, n.d.).

In the face-to-face meeting presented, I felt the real urgency of the matter was lost a little in the facial gestures and the tone of the speaker.  Though she was professional and courteous, the casual nature of the interaction really detracted from the true meaning of the message.  The speaker’s posture of leaning on the wall gave that non-verbal cue of that the request is no big deal.  The smiling and more informal nature of the in-person meeting contradicted the urgency of the request.

The audio request eliminated the non-verbal cues of body language and facial expression that the face-to-face meeting had but still lacked the urgency of the request.  Though I would have expected the voicemail request to be less effective than the face-to-face meeting, I actually felt like there was more of a sense of urgency to the request.  The pace of the speaker seemed more direct and inflective.  Even though both the face-to-face and verbal methods of communication were cordial and professional, the voice mail conveyed the true importance that was required.

Surprisingly, I felt the most effective means of communication in this particular instance was the actual email.  Though it eliminated all tone, inflection and body language cues, it also eliminated any confusion those cues offered.  When communicating, the goal is to avoid any ambiguity in the message by being clear and concise (Portny et al., 2008).  In this case, the email followed the correct format of effective communication as presented by Stolovitch (n.d).  It showed a clear statement of purpose, stated the situation, exact requirements and potential consequences.   By offering alternative methods of communicating the data back to the requestor in a business friendly and respectful tone, I, as the recipient, felt most compelled to help.

According to Stolovitch (n.d.), the important information should be communicated live and in person with a written follow-up to ensure there is a record of the meeting.  When reading, listening to and watching the three different presentation formats, I was surprised that this postulation was not the most appropriate manner of communication in this instance.  Communication techniques are not one-size-fits-all proposals so they need to be tailored to the audience and environment individually (Stolovitch & Kramer, n.d.).  In this case, the email was the most appropriate way to communicate the message.  Words in a written communication must be taken at face value and, as long as there is no room for misinterpretation, the message will be conveyed completely.  Since this request was not complex it could be communicated through email in the most effective manner.  Words, facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, body language and tone are all factors in the interpretation of a message.  If any are conflicting with another, there could be confusion in the delivery of the meaning.



Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Richman, B. (2012, August 17). Face-to-face communication can help you accomplish business objectives. Retrieved from

Stolovitch, H. (n.d.). Communicating with stakeholders.  . Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 19, 2013 from

Stolovitch, H. & Kramer, C. (n.d.). Project management concerns: Communication strategies and organizational culture.  . Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 19, 2013 from

A Project Post-mortem

14 Mar

Installation of a new piece of equipment for a new product is never easy.  There is always something that goes wrong.  When creating a validation plan for the installation and subsequent testing of the equipment, you have to make sure all the possible failure modes are examined and challenged.  Sometimes, new things pop up that cannot be predicted.  This was the case when trying to validate a 1-gram desiccant pouch into our product.

The original product design used a 3-gram silica gel desiccant sachet in sealed bag for moisture control.  The project was to change to a 1 g desiccant for an annual savings of $400,000.  The 1 g desiccant would be from a new supplier and also require a different style cutter on the equipment.  The cutter assembly was contracted to an outside firm and the test samples were obtained.  After installation, we found that the new supplier did not keep as tight of a control on the straightness of the packets on the spool which caused the packets to jam in the drop chute.  We also discovered that they did not seal the seams in the same manner causing detection issues with our optics.  The 1 g packet was also significantly lighter than the 3 g causing a placement issue in the final bag.  The first two problems were easily rectified with a minor design change to the chute and an optic change.  The placement issue, however, is still troubling us today.

We have now set up another project team to deal with the placement issue but there are some things that we are learning that we missed when the new desiccant entered production.  The biggest takeaway is the interaction between the new, lighter desiccant and the coefficient of friction in the foil of the final bag.  Lower coefficient of friction combined with a lighter desiccant yields positional issues, something that was masked with the weight of the heavier desiccant.  Due to the lack of some initial planning, a second project is needed to deal with the unseen consequences of the first.  Unidentified issues will always be part of project management, but knowledgeable managers can locate answers to undefined issues and take educated guesses for others (Portny et al., 2008).

There was a failure in the initial project team.  Portny et al. (2008) mentions that you must define the roles of the project team members from the outset.  In this case, we never involved the foil SME in the implementation of the new desiccant as we never considered the correlation between foil and desiccant.  It is the project manager’s duty select the team members and to identify both the roles and responsibilities (Murphy, 1994).  By neglecting to include a SME on the foil left some potentially key information hidden until after the problem was realized.  It was my failure as project manager to not create more diverse and better represented project team.

Another failure point was that we did not perform a full failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) from the outset, this relationship may have been discovered.  An FMEA is a step-by-step analysis of the process in an attempt to identify all potential causes of failures in a process and the consequences of their effects.

Failure modes and effects analysis also documents current knowledge and actions about the risks of failures, for use in continuous improvement. FMEA is used during design to prevent failures. Later it’s used for control, before and during ongoing operation of the process. Ideally, FMEA begins during the earliest conceptual stages of design and continues throughout the life of the product or service. (ASQ, n.d., n.p.)

Like the ADDIE process, an FMEA is a systematic approach to a problem.  If we had conducted a logical review of the potential problems, we might have caught the issue or, at a minimum, realized that we did not include the appropriate groups from the outset (Van Rekom, Achong, & Budrovich, n.d.).  Systematic tools like ADDIE and FMEA are excellent means of determining the true character of a problem in a methodical manner (Clark, 2011).


ASQ. (n.d.). Failure mode effects analysis (FMEA). Retrieved March 13, 2013 from

Clark, D. (2011, September 26). ADDIE model.  Big dog & little dogs’ performance juxtaposition. [Blog Posting].  Retrieved from

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance & Instruction, 33(3), 9–11.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Van Rekom, P., Achong, V., & Budrovich, V. (n.d.). Practitioner voices: Scope creep.  . Lecture presented for Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved March 12, 2013 from