Compose or decompose - resource allocation in engineering design projects

Year: 2013
Editor: John Lawlor, Ger Reilly, Robert Simpson, Michael Ring, Ahmed Kovacevic, Mark McGrath, William Ion, David Tormey, Erik Bohemia, Chris McMahon, Brian Parkinson
Author: Berglund, Anders
Series: E&PDE
Institution: Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Sweden
Section: Projects
Page(s): 362-367
ISBN: 978-1-904670-42-1


This is a paper that reviews the planning, execution and reflection of the collaborative writing efforts made by students when composing their final design project reports. Past research has indicated collaborative writing (CW) as one of the most challenging task that could be assigned to student groups [1]. CW is a process that involves project management, including resource allocation and essentially a great portion of writing skill. Whereas numerous engineering design projects highlight the uniqueness and creative aspects brought forward and the process in which this was created – the final piece of the puzzle how the final report was established is a phenomenon that get dimmed. There is dualistic propagation of parallel processes where the ‘artifact’ constitutes the main design work and where the efforts made to produce a written report relates to the other. A tradition that maybe is obsolete in some places but that has a life of its’ own in other domains. The more administrative work involved with compiling a report of ‘good enough’ character whilst motivating and supporting each other should be balanced against the activities involved in producing the final output/design/prototype. This study is based on interviews and written ‘pros and cons’ reflections with project participants, project documentation and lecturer’s reflections. Early indications show that communication and iterative work processes, allowing cross-checking, validation and confirmation is crucial for engaging greater commitment to the collaborative writing process. Independently of project management style and delegations made; labour intensity and work distribution of activities seem to propagate a skew execution of work. This is especially noticeable when administrative functions are weak amongst project members, which can be a consequence when putting students from various programs/disciplines/schools in a joint exercise of this type. Based on the findings, the paper stipulates a set of preventive coaching tips to guideline collaborative writing efforts and endorsing increased rigor to the final report and its process. Establishing this set of awareness among students would ultimately minimize uncertainties and dilemmas prior to ‘entering the boat’ – when the ship has sailed so has also its crew and based on how well they master to serve and execute their skills – so will also the trip be remembered – pleasant or horrific – taking them to paradise or hell.

Keywords: Collaborative writing, project work, resource allocation, reflections


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