For most engineers progressing in their career, the most difficult skill isn’t programming/technology related. In actuality, the overwhelming majority of engineers have a hard time getting a handle on it. This skill is project planning. Project planning effectively requires a collection of aligning cognitive traits; decisiveness, communicativeness, and meticulousness to name a few.

Unfortunately, engineering work is very much solitude in nature. Those traits can’t be developed in that space, they require consistent interaction with others. Like most things in life though, project planning can be learned as an engineer when given proper direction. That’s what we’re doing in this series, and to start, we’ll be looking at the team.

Why Understanding Your Team Matters

Project planning is all about timelines, clearing unknowns, and milestones. Although, there is a step prior to these objectives that must be taken care of for the best outcome. This step is understanding your team.

All the number crunching and date estimations are meaningless if you don’t have a grasp of the people involved. People have tendencies, skillsets, communication styles, and life events that all must be taken into consideration. Without doing so, no plan can be accurate or have the ability to get an accurate progress status at a moment’s notice.

How To Get That Understanding

Getting to know people is very straightforward, and only has one solid approach. It just takes time around someone and putting in the effort to unbiasedly get an idea of how they operate. There is no shortcut to this, and people aren’t going to be upfront about their tendencies. Especially those that would be viewed as shortcomings. It can only come from large amounts of time spent in genuine situations.

So no forced happy hours or awkward team lunches. You just have to let people be their natural selves, and meet them there. This could be something around figuring out the best avenues for a calming 1:1 conversation, like grabbing coffee or going out for a team lunch every now and then to see how the team naturally groups themselves.

What To Look For In Team Members

Knowing you’ll need to get to understand your team is one thing, actually understanding what to look for is another. From my experience, there are a few things to keep a look out for when communicating with others. Transparency, ability to ask for help, clarity in communication, and changes in speech tone and pace.

All these play a key factor, one way or another, in how people communicate the work they do. Understanding how someone speaks and the demeanor they present at times is what you’ll need to be aware of. Especially in times when things are falling behind, and nobody wants to admit something was miscalculated or taken too lightly at the beginning.

In Closing

Project planning is a core skill for career advancement, and something on the opposite end of what engineers do typically. Gaining this skill takes putting in the time and effort to get a strong grasp, and there are a lot of aspects and nuances to understand. That’s why in this series we’re going to take it slow, and digest this information piece by piece.