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.

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:

How can I manage my relationship with my boss?

Before we answer this question, let’s first ask: What is a boss? In the past, bosses were people who were in charge. They knew what had to be done and knew how to do it, and so they controlled the workforce using a combination of reward and punishment to achieve the desired outcome. In the knowledge-based era, outputs are often intangible, and technology is moving so fast that even where there are tangible outcomes, bosses can no longer keep up with how to do a task. Team members often know best how to do their jobs and do not need bosses for their task-based expertise or experience.

So why do we still have bosses? Google is an example of a company that believes in flat structures and empowered employees. In 2002 Larry Page abandoned management structures but soon found he was inundated with so many diverse requests that he had to re-create some management structure. In essence, he needed a few go-to people who owned areas of the business. Without that structure, even the leaking toilet becomes the problem of the owner or founder of the company. Bosses exist to own an area of the business and handle all those issues on behalf of their bosses. They are the conduit of information and single point of responsibility for specific areas of the business. In an empowered environment where skilled staff deliver outcomes directly to customers, is this not a contradiction?  The answer is no! Despite knowledge-based workers producing outcomes themselves and often delivering them directly to the end customer—either internal or external—the so-called boss is still directly responsible for the outcome when reporting upwards to their bosses.

What this means for me is that even though I do not necessarily need my boss to provide any missing skills to do my job, I need my boss to ensure my contributions are used effectively to produce business outcomes. In most businesses, this is not always limited to the person to whom I report in the organizational structure.

My real boss is the person held responsible by their bosses to meet the needs of the ultimate customer – which is a balanced mix of the investors, external customers, and staff. In many cases, I therefore have multiple virtual bosses. To be effective I need to manage their needs and treat them as customers.

Managing my relationship with my boss is not about controlling them, changing them, or manipulating them to get what I need. It’s about understanding that they hired me to deliver outputs to their bosses and learning how to meet those needs and deliver those business outcomes. It’s about me learning how to adapt my style to match the style of my boss. It’s about me learning how to get the right business outcomes, even when my boss has weaknesses or poor communication skills. It’s about me learning how to be a better follower. It’s about learning how to communicate upwards effectively and escalate issues in a way that gets results.  Managing my relationship with my boss is about managing myself!

Further develop your skills in EPD’s Managing Up and Managing Across: Leadership Beyond Your Team course, or contact Tom Smith.

AWWA Panel on Asset Management

EPD Program Director Thomas Smith will be speaking at the American Water Works Association: Water Infrastructure Conference in Atlanta on October 27, 2014. Smith is a member of a panel that will address “The Leading Edge of Asset Management.” In his presentation, he will describe the new ISO Standard 55000 for Asset Management and its potential impact on infrastructure. As an US Delegate and Task Group Leader for the committee that wrote the ISO standard, he is a frequent speaker on this topic.

Further information about the Standard, including a series of free white papers: can be found at:  EPD also offers a very unique course on the Standard, taught by Thomas Smith and other members of the Standards committee. A full description of ISO 55000: the Future of Asset Management can be found at:

The Dilemma: To Coach or Not to Coach

By Rick Huber, PhD
UW-Madison Engineering Professional Development Instructor

Why should you worry about coaching others to do their job, some of whom don’t even report to you? After all, you already feel stretched thin and like your work-life balance is out of whack. Let’s think about this dilemma for a moment. After decades of technology and process improvements, product and service quality that meet or exceed customer expectations are absolutely imperative. Going forward, the competence and commitment of employees are the real differentiators in a globally competitive marketplace. If you’re thinking, “That’s obvious. Of course, having talented employees is a must, but what about my full time job and my quality of life?” The following are a couple alternatives that may help you address this leadership dilemma.

Option 1: Only Hire Winners. In others words, if you don’t have the time for or want grow the skills of existing employees, hire people that have already demonstrated the skills you’re seeking. Realize that you’ll need to be ready to pay top dollar and then hope that they stick around when the next recruiter calls. Plus, you’ll probably need to spend some time rationalizing with your current employees as to why they’re not winning material. Definitely a quick fix, but over time this option may be really tough on team morale and development.

Option 2:  Grow Your Own Talent. This alternative requires a leader skilled in coaching and mentoring others. It also requires workers who want to develop to his/her optimal potential on the job. This collaborative approach is based on the belief that a “Win-Win” partnership between a leader and an individual is the best way to grow the talent of others. It also recognizes that individuals want to be more autonomous and self-reliant. In the long run, this option is likely to build an individual’s self-confidence and self-motivation along with their skill set. Thus, it develops self-directed employees that save the leader’s time. Alas, you ask, “Given, I absolutely have Net Zero time to address my leadership dilemma, where do I begin?”

The Dilemma’s Solution: Fortunately, there’s a proven solution to your time-constrained dilemma that has been applied by technical leaders on a global basis for more than 35 years. It applies the Situational Leadership®II approach developed by Dr. Ken Blanchard and others. It includes developing the following three leader skills: setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) goals; diagnosing an individual’s demonstrated competence and commitment; and, then providing just the right amount of direction and support needed for a given situation. This matching of a leader’s efforts to an individual’s specific needs results in rapidly building competence to perform job tasks and commitment to organizational goals. Best of all, it’s a leadership approach that’s easy for everyone involved to understand, implement and sustain.

If you’re interested in learning how to master these time and energy saving leader skills, check out EPD’s next Coaching and Mentoring for Technical Leaders, November 13-14, 2014, in Madison, Wisconsin.

For more information, contact:
Thomas W. Smith

UW-Madison Launches Online Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering

MADISON, Wis.—The University of Wisconsin-Madison is now offering an online Master of Engineering degree in Environmental Engineering. Students may now apply for the program with classes beginning in September 2015.

The Environmental Engineering degree prepares engineers to tackle tomorrow’s increasingly complex environmental challenges. Its courses are designed to provide the depth of skills needed for those engineers seeking to advance their career.

“We are very excited to launch the Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering degree,” said Lee DeBaillie, program director.  “This degree program provides environmental engineers with the competencies needed to solve environmental challenges effectively across technical, organizational and social boundaries.

Environmental engineers are critical to solutions for some of society’s biggest challenges. Leading teams toward successful solutions will require that environmental engineers understand the viewpoint of members of interdisciplinary teams, social concerns including public health, environmental quality, government regulations and requirements, and sustainability concepts. This degree provides the foundation for graduates’ success in consulting practice, government service, and industry.

UW-Madison’s Department of Engineering Professional Development has worked closely with faculty from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering in designing this comprehensive program.

“We’ve carefully crafted a practical and applied program for environmental engineering practitioners,” said Michael Doran, PE DEE, professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UW-Madison’s College of Engineering. “Furthermore, the program was specifically designed to deliver the body of knowledge established by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists as needed for professional practice.”

The Environmental Engineering program builds on the strengths of UW-Madison’s online graduate engineering programs, which are ranked #3 overall by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information on the new Environmental Engineering degree, visit, or contact Lee DeBaillie, PE, program director, 608-262-2329 or