Why Network Drives Kill Engineering Project Management

Posted by Steven Gentles on Mar 17, 2017 2:33:07 PM

In 1898, Edwin Seibel invented the vertical filing cabinet. Replete with multiple drawers and file folders, this approach to information management was seamlessly carried forward into the PC age (think of your network drives as filing cabinets and you get the picture). If you use shared network drives to manage and control your engineering project information, consider downgrading your computers back to slide rules.engineering-project-control-slide-rules-ARC-1943-AAL-4961-orig.jpg

Tech Library Organization & Control

If you work in the engineering project management world (and because paper just never seems to go away) you’ll probably find a room somewhere in your building filled with a bank of old school vertical filing cabinets that are guarded and protected 24/7 by someone who works in document control. They’ve organized all the important project documents and records in cabinets, drawers and file folders using an approved, defined, systematic document control procedures. If you need something and you ask, they’ll quickly find it for you – and it’s ALWAYS the right version.

Contrast: Network Drive Chaos

Contrast this experience with finding the information you need in the network drives from your desktop. In a typical engineering project, there may be hundreds of people creating, retrieving, updating and filing critical engineering and project documents and electronic files every single day. Folder hierarchies are created so that engineers, project managers, project coordinators, expeditors and, yes, even document controllers, can follow the bread crumbs to the information they need to do their jobs. Even if the structure and naming conventions of these hierarchies are defined, tightly managed and controlled (and no one is allowed to save files to their desktop), there’s a data volume tipping point where the network drive and Windows file folder approach falls over.

Case In Point: 3,000,000 Files, 5,500 File Folders

Here is a real world example for you. A few years ago we were working our way through an engineering document migration plan for an Electrical and Instrumentation Design company. They had rightly come to the correct conclusion that it was time to move on from a century plus old approach to information management. To scope the migration properly, we completed an audit of their network drives: 5,500 file folders and over 3,000,000 files (representing over 3TB of data and information) with lots of duplicate files and many variations of the same file.

Impact: Search Always (Find Sometimes)

Is it any wonder that the engineers and project managers were having problems finding the information they needed? And when that information was found, there was always the nagging question: is this the latest version? Arriving at a ‘yes’ answer would take even more time. And if the document or electronic file they were looking for with the intent of reuse couldn’t be found, they were starting from square one – more wasted time because drawings and other (engineering documents) had to be authored from scratch. The main impact of a combination of document control gaps and a reliance on network drives to manage project information was productivity. This drove up project costs, impacted project profitability and insidiously ate away at the bottom line of the company (check out my blog on Calculating Project Control Software ROI? Start With Search). Thankfully, this company worked in sector where the misapplication of the wrong version of something like a HAZOP would not result in explosions, plane crashes, bridge collapses and other nasty events that keep us engineers up at night.

Engineering document management is not easy if your tool of choice is network drives and Windows File Folders. Even with a team of capable document controllers, mature processes and a tight high functioning engineering project team, search and version control challenges will abound. 

Impact: You Cannot Control What You Cannot See

Every engineering project boils down to the scheduled delivery of engineering information. Your team of engineers tell you that their work packages are tracking well, but how do you validate this? If you're fundamentally struggling to find the files and documents they are authoring on the Network Drive, you can't. So how do you steer and control your project? At best, inefficiently and with difficulty. Check out my blog on How to Improve Engineering Project Control for information on how this can be addressed.


Topics: Productivity, Problem Framing, Project Control

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