Development of a project management tool for undergraduate product design teams
Author(s)Loomis, Amy E. (Amy Eleanor)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Mechanical Engineering.
David R. Wallace.
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A project management tool was developed for student use in a product development course, Product Engineering Processes (known as "2.009"), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The goal was to equip students with a management tool to support their work effectively throughout the class, and establish product development habits that will serve them professionally. Productive use of project management tools is often a challenge in industrial practice; requiring effort to learn, prescribing workflows, and is considered time spent away from actual product development efforts. Use of project management tools in an educational context presents similar challenges. It is an important issue, as good project management is shown to improve team effectiveness, and poor project management is regarded as one of the most significant influences on negative outcomes. The primary intention for a custom project management tool in the product design course was to provide a core set of features that meets critical project management needs for student teams in the context of 2.009, without the distraction of additional features seen in other tools. Those core features include: a shared calendar, shared task lists, a file repository, and chat rooms, within a structure that allows for use of these features in sub-groups of a team, as well as a whole team. The alpha prototype of this project management tool was developed and provided for student use in 2.009 during the fall of 2015, without chat functionality. Had the tool had been thoroughly integrated into a team's workflow, such that every team member would refer regularly to the tool website, it was believed that it would have helped teams more efficiently schedule meetings, assign project work, and understand the current state of the team's workload. Most teams did not use the new tool at all, while some teams used select features of the new tool with, however, only one or two team members utilizing the functionality. After the course ended, students indicated that the provided tool did not sufficiently meet specific needs of their teams; that students preferred using collections of features in tools they were familiar with prior to the course, and that the project management tool was not well integrated with other tools that students already use. The selection of familiar tools of their own choosing, rather than learning a new, recommended tool seems to be a common trend amongst students. It might be compared to the phenomenon known as the "Ikea effect", where a person finds greater value in assets that he or she influenced somehow, whether by making customization choices or contributing to the formation of the asset itself. While 2.009 students consistently choose to use project management resources other than those provided or suggested by the course, there was no evidence they enable better project management or greater team-wide adoption. Results from implementing the alpha version of this project management tool in 2015 indicate that there are several challenges in increasing adoption by 2.009 students, but that there are also multiple mechanisms through which to encourage greater use; by both design and extrinsic motivation. The design of the tool must include the chat feature in its next iteration, for the communication channels of email and apps like Group.me and Slack were perhaps the most effectively adopted elements of project management for teams. In a broader scope of design, other features that would add to the usefulness of the tool include: timesheet entry, and a budget-tracking feature that helps course administrators interact with teams and MIT's financial system more smoothly. In terms of extrinsic motivation, the tool should be marketed more forcefully; even intrinsic motivation by students to adopt alternate project management tools generally failed, so requiring teams to actually use this tool, and establish repercussions for teams who do not, might increase real adoption. This approach will more closely mimic the experience of working for a design firm, which will have certain tools and processes that employees are required to use.
Thesis: S.M., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Mechanical Engineering, 2016.This electronic version was submitted by the student author. The certified thesis is available in the Institute Archives and Special Collections.Cataloged from student-submitted PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (page 31).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology