Professional Performance is a valuable tool for engineering students

The Warren Centre and its partners have been introducing the PPIR Protocol to the engineering profession and industry. As an extension of this, we approached tertiary institutions to include a final-year unit on Professional Performance, to prepare engineering students for their roles in industry. But as the program has progressed, it has turned out the scope for Professional Performance in engineering education is far broader than we expected.

The early years

In their early years as engineering students, the transition from pure classroom learning to project and team-based assignments introduces new, and often challenging, problems:

  • Analysing a “real world” task and developing an effective structure and methodology for addressing it
  • Understanding the relationship and expectations with other team members, supervisors etc.

Professional Performance has been introduced at the second year level to all La Trobe University engineering students. Importantly, the Professional Performance techniques and philosophy are not only taught through lectures and case studies but are fully integrated into assignment-based subjects throughout the course. Thus students are required to structure their initial assessment and planning of their work using the Professional Performance template and the same structure is used for ongoing individual or team reviews and reports to supervisors.

Work-integrated learning

In later years, students are increasingly involved in WIL (work-integrated learning) activities in which the students need to work with industry clients. Experience has shown that students often lack the skills and tools to effectively interface with their stakeholders. The Professional Performance methodology provides a defined structure to assist the students to ensure effective collection of information, development of a project approach and regular feedback and discussion with both clients and supervisors. A project being run from the University of Western Australia A together with other institutions throughout the country, and aimed at the development of a ‘virtual WIL’ program, has selected Professional Performance as a key component of the program structure.

Final case studies

The final years of most engineering courses include subjects on major projects. In this area, the Professional Performance philosophy can be applied at the level of the organisation (as with the PPIR Protocol for Engagement) to understand the way in which a project can best be structured, and organisations can work with each other, to provide the best project outcome. The Warren Centre has a rich portfolio of case studies which can be used to deliver real life understanding of projects and project issues, and the role that the engineer and manager can play to achieve best outcomes and avoid failures.

Professional Performance and Project Management

There has been considerable discussion about the applicability of Professional Performance within more intensive Project Management subjects or post-graduate courses. It is apparent that a Project Manager will generally use formalised processes for project scope definition, schedule and cost control, and risk management, which replicate many of the Professional Performance elements. What is clear, however, is that a project requires not only the application of top-down procedures but also the active engagement of the project team members in the management of their own ‘mini-projects’ at the working level and the ‘bottom-up’ flow of information from individual engineers to their supervisors and managers.

This change management aspect of PPIR – building better-performing teams – has been a major focus of the industrial roll-out of PPIR and deserves inclusion in a project management curriculum.

Find out more about Professional Performance and the PPIR Program

About John Nurse

John Nurse leads the development and delivery of training and change management programs within the PPIR Program. He is a professional engineer with over 40 years experience in project development, project management, corporate management and change management.