An engineering approach to HE project management

Development Monthly | #2 October 2021 | An engineering approach to HE project management

Hazel Clifton

Senior Programme Manager, The Dyson Institute 

Project management in Engineering is based on the approach of iterative design and development. But what happens when you apply this methodology to a brand new higher education provider? 

You get mock terms, a more professional and streamlined organisation, and a unified staff body with common goals and visions.

Just over five years ago, The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology opened its doors, offering approximately 40 undergraduates per year the opportunity to study for a degree delivered and awarded by the University of Warwick, while also being employed within Dyson’s global engineering team. With the aim to become the first provider to get New Degree Awarding Powers.  It quickly became clear that we needed to use Dyson’s award-winning expertise is project management to make this is a reality. But not only that, project management would be one of the keys to the Dyson Institute’s continued success.  

Building a Project Team 

In Engineering we bring a team of multi-disciplined experts together to create innovative Dyson products; combining the knowledge and experience of many different areas of the business ensures a holistic view of the problem. Applying this approach to higher education by bringing together people regardless of their function ensures that the problem can be accurately defined, and the solution delivered upon within a timeframe. The project manager’s role is ‘steering the ship’ navigating what’s in scope and what’s not to keep the project on course. Identifying a ‘project sponsor’ in a senior member of staff helps to keep the pace up, drive through barriers and manage routes through the organisation. 

Design, Test, Repeat

Sir James Dyson designed 5,127 prototypes before he had the first working version of his upright vacuum cleaner. This iterative design approach is something we’ve implemented into improvements at the Dyson Institute. We organised a ‘Mock Term’ to test new systems, staff signed up as students, and we held a condensed academic term over the course of two weeks. Allowing us to test our systems, work out issues, and hear directly from users, making improvements and changes directly allowing us to move real students onto the software with confidence. By failing fast you can allow time to make the necessary changes before the deadline.   

Start Strong, Make change 

At Dyson project management is used to affect change across the whole organisation, from product development right across to site improvements. This means implementing new change, streamlining existing processes and shutting down archaic processes. Effecting change takes time, and although all improvements are valuable, by taking the time to set up a project correctly, one that has a clear goal, aligned stakeholders, a realistic timeline and dedicated resources, disruptive, and pioneering change can be made in a more sustainable fashion.  

About Hazel 

Hazel is a Senior Programme Manager at the Dyson Institute. Prior to joining Dyson, she leads projects for the BBC, the Police and Ofsted. At Dyson, she has worked in the programme management function in Engineering at all stages of the product lifecycle. Hazel was also one of the successful bid team members who secured Dyson the Association of Project Management (APM)’s  “Project management company of the year” award. Hazel championed Project Management approaches for Dyson’s recent successful NDAPs submission. She holds three of the top qualifications in project management and her professional interests are focused around how to innovate the approaches and processes that form project management. Her session entitled “Engineering a project management approach in higher education” will be at the AUA’s Autumn Conference

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