How to Ensure Your Content Management System is Effective

The foundation of most of our business processes—including project management processes—is effective content management. Content management is important not just because of organizational efficiency, but for legal reasons. Using the wrong version of a drawing or document can lead to significant errors in the field as well as contract disputes and lawsuits.

For engineering organizations, content usually consists of drawings, 3-D models, photos, video and 3-D scans. These content pieces differ in size and data formats, so they are often housed in separate databases, or with shared files on a common server and individual files on desktops or laptops. These systems may not be well-managed or linked in any useful way. Business processes may create conflicts between department level systems and enterprise systems.

At minimum, an effective content management system will provide security, access control, and version control and workflow management. Advanced systems may offer additional features.

International standard management systems such as ISO 9000, 14000 and the new ISO 55000 for asset management all require effective documentation and content management to ensure the content is available and up to date. Mergers and acquisitions, along with some other financial transactions, require various forms of content discovery.

Useful technology for content management is available from many vendors. The process of system selection and implementation can be quite complex, but the key is always an effective statement of requirements. Something that is useful even if the implementation is done with existing tools or open-source systems.

Before getting started on a content management system, a project team must first agree on several things:

  • What content will be tracked: proposals, plans, budgets, agreements, memos, emails, etc.
  • Where it will be tracked: which areas and in which databases
  • How it will be labeled: file and folder naming conventions
  • Who has access to the content: internal users, partners, vendors, etc.
  • How it will it updated and organized. Note: This is a shared responsibility in most projects
  • What communications tools will be used and how will they access the content [note: email attachments are not normally an acceptable way to share content]

To learn more about how to improve content management in your own organization, watch for our new course on information management systems for asset management.

Break It Down

Planningby John Davis, Program Director

A key reason projects fail is because project teams do not fully grasp the scope of work required to produce the project final deliverable. While failure can be defined in any number of ways, it is often characterized by lateness or being over budget. However, the root cause for poor project performance, in most cases, is failing to spend enough time on the front end of a project to plan properly. With the creation of a work breakdown structure (WBS), projects can run more smoothly and with better deliverables.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the greatest military leader from the “greatest generation” once said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Eisenhower clearly understood that military or project plans seldom, if ever, unfold as planned. But, he also clearly understood and appreciated the importance of front-end planning. Organizations that consistently deliver their projects late and over budget would be wise to take a step back and recommit to spending more time on planning. Doing so would benefit project teams by giving them the time they need to properly define the scope of their projects.

The scope of a project is better defined and more fully appreciated when project teams perform or create a WBS, which is the process of subdividing or breaking down the project deliverables and activities into smaller and more manageable components of work (sub-deliverables). With WBS, each subdivision provides increasingly detailed definition. Upon completion, the activities associated with the sub-deliverables define the total project scope. A WBS is considered complete when the identified project activities or tasks are manageable (not too large); when they can be assigned to a single organization, functional department or individual; and when these activities can be accurately estimated in resource and duration.

Why is this important? The obvious and most important benefit of WBS is that it helps project teams fathom the scope of their project work. The secondary benefits are also important. Project teams are well-armed to manage scope creep when project scope is accurately identified and defined. A WBS assists in accurate time and resource estimation, and is used to develop precise project schedules. Accurate project budgets and schedules allow for rich data mining during the execution phase of a project. Access to performance data translates into meaningful project monitoring and control. This enables project teams to define thresholds for early warning signs of poor project performance, and gives them insight into powerful corrective actions. Furthermore, a well-done WBS creates accountability and eliminates the finger-pointing prevalent in a project environment because activities have a single source responsibility.

Today, too many projects are fast-tracked, and too many promises are made. And all too often, stakeholder expectations are poorly managed. Perhaps we need to embrace the discipline of a military man’s life and heed Eisenhower’s advice, which is “let’s plan more and firefight less.” Doing a WBS during the planning phase of a project will help you understand the scope of your project and increase the likelihood of hitting the target.

UW–Madison’s Online Engineering Graduate Programs No. 5 for Veterans in Latest U.S. News & World Report Rankings

MADISON, Wis.—The University of Wisconsin–Madison ranked fifth among schools offering high-quality online graduate engineering programs for veterans by U.S. News and World Report. The ranking comes just months after U.S. News ranked UW-Madison in the top 10 for online graduate engineering programs.

Schools were evaluated on program reputation, faculty credentials, retention rates, and graduate debt loads. To ensure academic quality, all schools included in the rankings were first ranked among the top 75 percent of schools in U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 Best Online programs.

“The College of Engineering is committed to providing access to academically rigorous programs through distance education and supporting veterans and service members in their professional interests and career goals through authentic online learning experiences,” said Gary Henderson, Student Services Coordinator in the UW-Madison College of Engineering. “This ranking is a welcome validation of those commitments. We are proud to serve and support these students in their career development in the military or in their transition to the civilian sector.”

Veterans and active-duty service members gain most from distance education that is affordable, accessible, and reputable, according to U.S. News. These rankings also consider financial benefits available specifically to people with military experience. Because veterans and active-duty service members often wish to take full advantage of federal benefits to finance their education, programs included in the rankings must belong to an institution that is certified for the GI Bill and that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

“UW-Madison’s online programs are particularly attractive because veterans can attend a highly-regarded institution while being covered under the Post 9/11 GI Bill or Wisconsin GI Bill,” said Joe Rasmussen, UW-Madison Veteran Services Coordinator. “The UW-Madison College of Engineering brand is strong and is it known among veterans to be an outstanding program.”

Corey Chonsky, Reactor Mechanical Division Officer in the U.S. Navy, graduated from UW-Madison’s Master of Engineering Management program in 2014. The program offered him the flexibility to take classes that fit into his busy schedule, were immediately applicable on the job, and gave him a new outlook; on his work.

“Being exposed to different perspectives either through the other students in the cohort or through different courses throughout the two years [of my program] allowed me to think outside the box on issues and come up with unique solutions to problems,” he said. “Additionally, many of the course lessons and assignments applied at work the following day, which brought a fresh perspective to how my organization was conducting business.”

UW–Madison’s College of Engineering and Department of Engineering Professional Development offer online engineering graduate programs in subject areas including:

More information on all of UW–Madison’s online engineering degree programs can be found at, or contact Gary Henderson, Student Services Coordinator, at 608-262-0133 or, or Colleen Barrett, Marketing Director, at 608-263-6314 or


What does it mean to “know your audience”?

When writing a report or designing a presentation, hitting your target audience is essential to success. But knowing what that target looks like and what portion of it you should aim for changes constantly. How can we plan to consistently hit the mark?

First, we must try to understand and define our target audience. A few questions to consider:

  • Who do you consider the target audience? (a boss, a client, a co-worker, a user-group, etc…)
  • Who needs this information most? (this may differ from your answer above)
  • What content will motivate that target to listen/read? (what will you communicate that might serve the target’s self-interest?)
  • What pressures is the target dealing with? (deadlines, budgets, other concerns?)
  • How could your message(s) help alleviate any of those pressures for your target?
  • What past experiences does the target bring to your communication topic? Can those experiences be classified as positive, negative, or neutral?
  • What past experiences does the target audience have with you as a communicator? Can those experiences be classified as positive, negative, or neutral?

Once we have a picture of who our target audience is, we can plan and design our communication approach around them. Regardless of our medium (report, presentation, email, etc…), a basic tenant of human psychology can help us here. Humans love a good story. The more we can build our communication around a storyline, the more successful our message is likely to be.

Organizing our communication into a story may sound simple, until we recognize that the story needs to be customized for our target audience. Here, it helps to review basic story elements and return to our audience analysis questions that we started with above. That analysis might look something like this:

Basic story elements: Who are the main “characters”?
From your audience’s perspective: Is your audience acquainted with these players/entities? What is the nature of that relationship?

Basic story elements: What is the “setting”?
From your audience’s perspective: What context does your audience have to understand your topic? What background might they need? What level of detail do they need? What do they expect this communication to “look” like (here, format and design questions can be considered)?

Basic story elements: What is the “problem”?
From your audience’s perspective: What is the motivation for your communication to this particular audience at this particular time? What is the driver (from their perspective)?

Basic story elements: What “solutions” exist to solve the problem?
From your audience’s perspective: How can you organize the material in your communication to present the solutions in a way that is easiest for your target audience to understand, compare, and retain their details? What level of detail is appropriate for this audience?

Basic story elements: How do the “characters” resolve the “problem” and move forward?
From your audience’s perspective: What critical ideas should your audience walk away from your communication with? What are the next steps they/you need to take to move forward?

Of course, our communications often have more than one, well-defined target audience, and sometimes it can be tricky to balance mixed audience needs in a presentation or secondary and tertiary audiences in a written document. These considerations can make our audience analysis more complex and threaten to bloat our storyline with too many details to suit every audience that might ever be interested or involved with our communication effort. When that threat looms in your design process, it helps to pull back to the basics and remember that less is more for most audiences.

When we take the time to answer these basic questions and critically analyze the purpose of our communication before we begin crafting it, we set a defined trajectory to hit our target with precision.


UW Alumnus Engelstad Recognized as “Engineer of the Year”

UW-Madison alumnus Commander David Engelstad was recently selected as the National Park service engineer of the year. Engelstad earned his Master’s of Engineering through UW-Madison’s online engineering management program in 2007.

As design branch chief and project manager for the Project Management Division (PMD) at Yosemite National Park, Engelstad was selected for his leadership skills, successful project initiatives, contribution to the engineering profession, and community involvement.

Engelstad was also recognized as the 2015 Public Health Service engineer of the year and named one of the ‘Top Ten’ federal engineers of the year by the National Society of Professional Engineers. He was awarded these honorable titles at the 36th annual Federal Engineer of the Year Award Banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26.

He is a professional engineer registered in Wisconsin and is an active member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Engineers without Borders, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service.

As the design branch chief, Engelstad is valued for his mentorship and support of the PMD leadership team. As project manager, his ambition to resolve complex challenges and willingness to take on extra projects has helped elevate PMD’s reputation as the division that overcomes obstacles for Yosemite National Park and its approximately four million annual visitors.

Engelstad also serves as a board member for Yosemite Community Church; champions Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Tanzania, East Africa, for Yosemite’s Sister Parks program; and mentors solar-lighting business startups in northern Tanzania.

Engelstad is a USPHS officer, global citizen, and international traveler. His wife, Jill–a skilled physical therapist with significant exposure to health issues in sub-Sahara Africa– is his greatest advocate in reaching his career goal to use his professional talents to help address water and wastewater health challenges in Africa. They are both driven to improve global health, to increase sustainable resources in the developing world, and positively impact those in extreme poverty.

Asset Management is a Team Sport

Team workThe complexities of asset management have increased substantially in recent years, due to new social, environmental, and economic issues. New tools, techniques, and technologies to track and manage assets have also had an impact, along with the introduction of a new international management systems standard. It is no longer possible for a single asset manager, regardless of experience, to fulfill all of these expectations. A team approach, with a committed executive sponsor, is needed. While the team makeup will vary, it will usually include finance, design and construction, maintenance, operations and IT.

Modern asset management, as described in the ISO Standard 55000, is definitely a team sport. It is hard to imagine one individual possessing the competencies required to address all – or even most – of the standard’s requirements. These requirements cover all areas of the organization, from environmental scanning through stakeholder analysis, business planning, capital planning, operational planning, execution and review. They include significant requirements for financial analysis and accountability, and risk management. The actual operation of the management system calls for expertise in talent management, systems analysis, monitoring and control, information management, and quality systems.

The Institute of Asset Management (IAM) has produced a Competencies Framework, with 28 core competencies expanded to more than 150 specific skills and notes regarding another 140 supporting areas of knowledge. A new consortium with members from Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, and the U.S. has drafted competency requirements for asset management system assessors similar in scope.

The IAM Competencies Framework recognizes the possibility of an asset management team, but this team of practitioners is lead by one manager, as opposed to a team of managers led by one executive. This type of team may work well at the operational level, but not the management systems level. Consider the following examples:

  • A brewing company that wants to consolidate asset management information and management practices across 10 breweries with roughly 100 production lines developed an asset management council. The Council’s seven working members represent Asset Management Systems, Manufacturing Systems, Capital and Long Range Planning, Electrical Engineering, Quality, Information Technology, and Finance. The council is sponsored by the Director of Asset Management, the Director of Manufacturing Systems, and the Vice President of Operations Finance. This integrated approach will allow standardization of asset identification and performance measurement at the production level and support effective long-range planning in many dimensions.
  • A water utility facing severe draught has developed a water conservation unit. The unit employs technical specialists, planners, and public relations specialists, and performs its own performance monitoring. This “non-asset solution” makes up a significant portion of the utilities budget and must be integrated with the organization’s plant and plumbing.
  • A transportation utility needs to integrate bus and train transportation. There are different operational parameters and different planning horizons as well as capital requirements. Customer expectations are based on total trip time and reliability, regardless of mode, requiring a team approach.
  • A university campus’ goals for safety and security, as well as open access, conflict. There are separate management functions for classroom space, laboratory space, facilities and grounds. A team approach to integrated planning and management is needed.
  • A retail organization focused on customer experience needs to integrate its interior design and furnishings, product selection and display requirements, supply chain, and exterior design and access requirements. This integration can be done with a team of specialists under one manager, as long as the configurations remain roughly the same. When the store expands to multiple types–including urban, suburban, big-box, and pocket size, and then adds a supermarket and a food court, the team requirements escalate to a team of managers under one executive.

The introduction to the ISO Standard 55000 for Asset Management defines the management system as comprehensive, integrated and data-driven. This standard provides an effective framework for the asset management team and assurance to stakeholders that the job is being done correctly.

UW-Madison now offering online master’s degree in Environmental Engineering

By Shannon Kelly, Engineering Professional Development writer

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is now offering an online master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. This professional degree joins an industry-leading lineup of distance education options for working engineers at UW–Madison and allows the university to address the evolving needs of the environmental engineering profession. The first classes start in Fall 2015 and applications are being accepted now. The program is designed to allow students to attend class part-time and online, while working full time. Students will work within a highly interactive cohort of their peers and will be able to complete the degree in three years.

“This particular degree program is designed to assist both working engineers and recent graduates,” said Lee DeBaillie, a program director for the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development (EPD). “Our intent is to offer a practical master’s degree to working environmental engineers who can’t move their life back to college. Additionally, the program works well for recent environmental engineering graduates want to earn a graduate degree but don’t want to delay entering the workforce. With this program, they can do both.”

Within the Environmental Engineering curriculum, students will learn to apply advanced knowledge in biology, chemistry, and engineering to craft solutions to environmental resource problems. Environmental engineering master’s degrees are highly valued, and can lead to advancement in the workplace or provide an entry credential to engineers in other disciplines. The educational objectives of the degree program are guided by the Environmental Engineering Body of Knowledge, as developed by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists.

According to Michael Doran, Academic Director, the university created this degree to meet an evolving set of needs for working engineers. “The program was designed to provide the breadth and depth of knowledge that a environmental engineer needs to enter professional engineering practice,” Doran said. “Our environmental challenges are more complex every day, multimedia in nature, and require greater understanding than you can attain with a baccalaureate degree. This degree will fill that gap.”

Doran said that as the existing pool of environmental engineers who emerged around the time of the Clean Water Act retires, they will need to be replaced by a body of young engineers equipped with the tools and competencies to face the new challenges of our time. Just two of the many issues on the horizon include balancing the nutrient cycle and making fresh water available to people in difficult conditions. “It’s a very rapidly growing field,” Doran said. “It’s probably one of the most rapidly growing of the engineering disciplines. And I think it is just because all the challenges we’re facing have environmental roots and require environmental engineering solutions. We’re trying to also make most everything that we do more sustainable and strive for smaller resource footprints. And some of the decisions that we make can be informed by the things that students learn about in this program.”

For more information on the program, visit our website, or contact Lee DeBaillie, program director, 608-262-2329, email:

Never Underestimate the Influence of Project Stakeholders

By: John G. Davis, P.E.
University of Wisconsin – Madison

A project stakeholder is any individual or organization with an interest in or influence on your project. A stakeholder can be internal (e.g. project sponsor, management team, functional departments, other project teams, employees) or external (e.g. customers, regulatory/government agencies, vendors, interest groups, the public, the community). Too often, project teams ignore their stakeholders or assume that they already know their stakeholders’ needs or, worse yet, that they know more than their stakeholders. This is a very dangerous trap to fall into. Project teams should talk to their stakeholders directly. Many stakeholders have the power to aid or thwart project success. Failure to identify stakeholders and their needs and expectations may lead to project failures. Therefore, spending time in the initiation phase of a project to perform a stakeholder analysis is critical.

The first step in a stakeholder analysis is to identify who your stakeholders are. This is typically achieved with a brainstorming session. Think of all of the people who are affected by your work, who have influence or power over it, or who have an interest in its successful or unsuccessful conclusion. Identify relevant information for each stakeholder, things like their particular interest in the project, their role in the project, their level of authority, and their needs and expectations of the project. It is equally important that you also understand the priority that each stakeholder places on the triple constraints (time, cost, quality). Ask them to clarify the driver, middle constraint and weak constraint. This will help you and your project team prioritize corrective actions to exploit the weak constraint when you begin to see early warning signs of poor project performance.

Next, identify the potential impact or support of each stakeholder. This can be done fairly quickly using the subjective measures of high and low to help categorize stakeholders and determine where project teams should focus their stakeholder management efforts. The horizontal axis of the grid identifies the stakeholder’s level of interest and measures how much they will be affected by the outcome of the project from low to high. The vertical axis of the grid identifies the stakeholder’s level of power and is a measure of how much they can affect the outcome of a project from low to high. The resulting 2×2 grid will have four squares.

  • The top left is high power, low interest. These stakeholders should be kept satisfied.
  • Top right is high power, high interest. These stakeholders should be managed very closely.
  • Bottom left is low power, low interest. Stakeholders in this square should be monitored.
  • Bottom right is low power, high interest. Keep these stakeholders informed.

A project manager should maintain engagement with stakeholders and customize his or her communication based on the output of the stakeholder analysis. Managing stakeholder expectations is imperative. Furthermore, the project manager’s goal should be to leverage stakeholder relationships and build coalitions that foster project success. Warning signs that your stakeholder management is suffering include missed deadlines, scope creep, confusion, conflict, and churning.

It should not be a stretch to recognize the additional benefits of performing a stakeholder analysis. The outputs from a stakeholder analysis are key inputs into communications, risk, and scope plans.

Stakeholder analysis is important because it helps an organization achieve its strategic objectives by involving both internal and external environments and by creating a positive relationship with stakeholders through good management of their expectations. Good stakeholder analysis and management is a key component of a healthy project environment. Never underestimate the importance of performing a stakeholder analysis. An ignored key stakeholder may view your project as a failure—even if you and your project team delivered a high quality product or service under budget and ahead of schedule.

More information on UW–Madison’s Engineering Professional Development project management courses, contact program director John Davis at 608-2652-8724 or

UW–Madison’s Online Engineering Graduate Programs Ranked in Top Ten by U.S. News & World Report

MADISON, Wis.—The University of Wisconsin–Madison ranked sixth among schools offering high-quality online graduate engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. This is the fourth year in a row UW–Madison has ranked in the top ten.

UW-Madison is one of only six institutions that have maintained top 10 rankings since 2013, when rankings for best online programs were first published.

This important distinction was announced today as U.S. News & World Report released its most recent ranking of online master’s of engineering programs, which required eligible programs to pass rigorous standards for quality education in the areas of faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, student engagement, and admissions selectivity.

“UW–Madison is honored to again be recognized by U.S. News and World Report as a leader in providing accessible, high-quality education that allows engineers to continue working while they complete graduate studies,” said Wayne Pferdehirt, Director of Distance Degree Programs for UW–Madison’s Department of Engineering Professional Development in the College of Engineering. “Graduates tell us they appreciate our educational approach, which is optimized for experienced professionals. Our students are practicing engineers who value interaction with world-renowned faculty, and projects with peers from world-class engineering organizations. These rankings affirm that UW-Madison is committed to providing practicing engineers with high-impact education that they can access anywhere they live, work or travel.”

UW–Madison’s College of Engineering and Department of Engineering Professional Development offer a variety of online engineering graduate programs, in areas including:

  • Sustainable systems engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Engineering management (professional practice)
  • Engine systems
  • Polymer engineering and science
  • Technical Japanese
  • Electrical and computer engineering (power electronics)
  • Mechanical engineering (controls)

More information on all of UW–Madison’s online engineering degree programs can be found at, or contact Wayne Pferdehirt, Director of Distance Degree Programs, at 608-265-2361 or, or Colleen Barrett, Marketing Director, at 608-263-6314 or

EPD Phone Room Favorite to Graduate from UW-Madison

Patrick HruskaIn summer 2010, Patrick Hruska met Phil O’Leary, chair of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Engineering Professional Development, when he waited on Dr. O’Leary’s table at the Hawks Landing Golf Club restaurant. When Phil learned that Patrick would be attending UW–Madison in the fall, he gave him the opportunity to interview with Sandy Krentz, the Program Assistant in charge of the student employees who man the phone room at EPD.

Four years later, Patrick has become a staple around the department, working primarily in customer service and also assisting with department-affiliated events like the annual Wisconsin State MATHCOUNTS competitions and Grandparents University. He also worked closely with Bob Mincberg, the now-retired marketing manager, to help create and hone the EPD system of email course updates.

This December, Patrick is preparing to graduate with an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering and move onto graduate school at UW–Madison in the spring. He will pursue a master’s in Mechanical Engineering while working in the university’s solar energy lab. He will certainly be missed around the department, but he acknowledges that the connections forged as a student employee never truly break.

“I will remember all of the potlucks and holiday parties. It seemed like every other week, there would be a celebration of any number of things,” said Patrick. “I’ll also remember all of the great people I have worked with and have had the privilege to get to know over these four wonderful years. I couldn’t have asked for a better job as a college student.”