Engineering projects can be characterized as widely complex due to the variety of disciplines involved. Whether it is mechanical or civil engineering, projects will require specialists or teams for drafting specifications, conducting research, building design, controlling manufacturing, delivering installation, and in many cases – providing support or taking care of recycling. Usually, they are valuable and costly specialists. Often their paid hours make the largest share of the total cost for an engineering project. Therefore engineering companies seek to optimize resources – hire as many specialists for each discipline to completely fill their agenda with valuable work. However tough optimizations of resources end up in slower growth, missed deadlines, even burnouts, and loss of competitiveness.
Project managers and team managers have to balance resources both long and short term to keep teams productive and make sure the work is done on time. This is workload management. It has lately become another discipline of engineering project management.
So how is workload to be managed? Let’s discuss the workload management for engineering teams.
Workload management overall
As a term, workload management stands for all actions and methods used to ensure that the workload is divided equally amongst all the team members and in a way that allows delivering the project on time.
As such it focuses on two key areas – keeping the team motivated and delivering the results on time. Both of which are quite simple on their own, but become more difficult when mixed with one another and the remaining project constraints. Thus, to ensure both of these conditions are met, project managers use a variety of practices to manage the workload and to find the right balance between the two goals.
Workload management for engineering teams
When talking about workload management for engineering teams, we must first understand that these teams are composed out of professional and highly individual people. They are often experts in their own field and as such expect to be respected and have their opinions heard. Simply handing down tasks and expecting everything to be delivered can work, but will not be preferable in engineering teams.
Instead, there has to be a strong emphasis on collaboration and a sense of purpose in what the team is aiming for. Thus, when talking about workload management for engineering teams we must think about helping the team members in taking on the right tasks and having sufficient time to complete them. It is more about guiding the team instead of scheduling them to do the work.
Workload management practices for engineering teams
Each engineering team is different in their rhythm and the style of work, however, there are several practices you should follow when managing their workloads.
1 – Define your team’s capacity
To make sure the workload is managed in the best possible way, you should first define your engineering team’s capacity. See how many people you have, what are their work hours and understand how much can be done in a week’s time. This will help you in setting due dates and prioritising which tasks should be taken on next.
To make sure specific team member schedules are not forgotten, use workload management tools and define how much time each of your colleagues has. You can mark on which days they are available to you, as well as how many hours they have which is especially useful when sharing resources with other project managers. By noting this information down, you can check everyone’s availability and don’t worry that you might have forgotten something.
2 – Assign tasks based on priorities
Another important practice to help workload management for engineering teams is assigning the most important or urgent tasks first. This concept will be more familiar for those using Kanban practices but can be applied in teams that use other methods as well. All you need to do is prioritize the tasks on your to-do list. You can do this by assigning numbers (giving the most important task number 1, the next number 2, and so on), categorizing tasks into several priority columns (Priority 1, Priority 2, etc.), or putting them in a list from most to least important.
Once the tasks are prioritized, start assigning them to your team members. The way to go about this is taking on the most important task first and seeing which colleague should perform it. As the first task is taken, go onto the next one and continue until all your team member’s workloads are used up. Ideally, you should reprioritize tasks and assign them to the team members on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This way you will be more receptive to change and work on the most important tasks at all times.
As most engineering teams are quite self-sufficient, it is often the team members themselves that pick which tasks to perform. This is perfectly fine, as long as you prioritize the backlog (or the to-do list) and participate in the task assignments to make sure no one is taking on too much work on themselves. If the team is using a Kanban board for task assignments, simply check the workload view after to make sure no one is overstretched.
3 – Integrate personal goals
Most engineers are highly motivated people that seek growth and mentorship in their professional lives. Thus, you should create a habit to add personal growth tasks into the workload. Whether those tasks are project related or a bit off-topic, make sure your team members have some scheduled time each week for their own personal growth. This will keep them motivated and allow the growth of skills in the team.
It is easy to fill the workload with tasks that have to be done for the project and forget about personal goals or ambitions. But keeping your team member priorities in mind will result in a happier and more skilled pool of talent for you.
4 – Review and adjust the workload
Keep reviewing and checking the workload while the team is working. This is especially important for teams that have high-urgency tasks or schedule their tasks for longer periods of time.
We all know that project plans have a tendency to change. This is due to a variety of reasons often ones out of our control. Thus, another good workload management practice for engineering teams is to review regularly. This will allow you to spot if any team member is struggling and reassign important or urgent tasks to other team members while there is still a possibility to deliver them on time. If you are using a project management tool like Teamhood, the task board information is replicated in the workload view. You can switch between views with one click. It makes it easy to track live information and adjust the course of action.
5 – Consult with your engineering team
Lastly, take advantage of the most important resource you have – the engineering team. Ask them how they like to plan the work and set practices and schedule that suits their pace of work as well as needs. This way you will be able to build a process that works for both you and them while respecting the work-life balance.
Moreover, the team members will have an opportunity to discuss how they manage the workload personally. Sharing the best practices, what works for them, and giving tips as well as ideas for the rest of the team. Involving the engineering team will keep them engaged in the workload management process.
Engineering project management software
Workload management for engineering teams is not an easy task, but picking the right tool for it can make big difference. According to the state of engineering project management report, 52% of engineering companies already use project management tools, and out of those that don’t most consider starting in the next 12 months.
With Teamhood you will get a full project management platform that allows you to manage projects on several different scales. As a manager, you can review the big picture with the portfolio view, while your team uses visual task boards to track daily tasks and mark any important changes. Use built-in time tracking features to see if the team meets estimations and bill clients according to the time spent on them. With the customizable dashboard, you can create quick reports that show just what you need, and by having all of the project information in one place, you can eliminate status report meetings.
Check this short video to see how easy it is to manage workloads in Teamhood.