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Thomas Lewis, Part-time Professional and Executive Programmes

Planning and prototypes

Summer term has been busy from a work point of view, with time quickly heading towards the end of my second year on the graduate scheme. I have been involved in a wide range of activities as part of two separate placements. It means that I have had plenty of opportunity to continue to make use of my knowledge from my Project Planning Management and Control course (PPMC).

The majority of this has been during my six weeks based at the Jaguar Land Rover Solihull plant supporting a prototype vehicle build event. The experience gained through PPMC (and from applying it since), made it a lot easier to understand and follow the various complex timing and dependency diagrams that go hand in hand with building a set of comprehensive prototype systems.

Some of the key areas included:

• Judging impact of part changes, containments and delays of supplies on the vehicle build, and working to minimise this

• Understanding what the critical parts and processes that could stop the build, to enable the appropriate course of action to follow if this should happen

• Improving communication techniques by understanding the difference between a problem and an issue when feeding back to management and programme teams

• Insight into the background of the organisational structure making it easier to assess the best placed person when an action or approval was required, and identifying centres of expertise

Apart from these activities within the launch team, my focus has mainly been on finishing off and making the most of the last few months as a graduate. I’m sure, come September, there will be some exciting opportunities to help support my full-time role further.

Putting my knowledge to use....

Spring term has been a bit different to the norm, having spent the time in a non-engineering environment as part of the Jaguar Land Rover Graduate Scheme. While I haven’t been on any further TAS module courses, I have still had opportunities to utilise the learning gained from the Project Planning Management and Control module completed during the autumn.

Planning for Sweden

One example of where the added knowledge helped was in the planning and scheduling of preparation activities for an event, in Sweden, that I was involved with during my placement. This involved pulling together arrangements required for the vehicles and drivers that were going to be making the trip. I personally organised and scheduled in workshop time and logistics to ensure the correct winter tyres were fitted to the right vehicles. This was done within a three-day window, in order to fit in the rest of the preparations required before the vehicles would be leaving for Sweden.

The tools and techniques covered for scheduling, task dependencies, and stakeholder management were particularly useful for initial planning and smooth implementation of the activities.

Another example, of actively utilising the course content in the business environment, was in the development of a resource management tool for my home team’s development workshop. As part of this I used the examples of resource planning through man-hours, gannt charts and histograms practiced on the course. These were used to generate an automated tool in Microsoft Excel that would enable the engineers to plan and demonstrate the day-to-day estimate of man-power over time, based upon a standard set of tasks and engineering programme gateways. This enabled the team to visualise and demonstrate the peaks in activity, and also provide the potential to start applying resource smoothing to more evenly spread the workload and reduce the number of peaks and troughs.

I also attended a one-day workshop as part of the TAS scheme. This is effectively a condensed version of a full week long course designed to provide an introduction to a topic. As someone with limited exposure to the area, I attended a course on Electrification and Hybridisation, with a view to gauging whether it would be worthwhile applying to do one of the week long courses in a similar subject, as an insight into the technologies that the Automotive Industry is heading towards.

I found the workshop really useful, it was a really good overview of the topic areas and effectively advised on the additional content and topics that would be covered if I were to sign up for one of the related Hybrid and Electrification Technology related modules. Though unlikely to fall within this academic year, attending one of the full courses is definitely on the cards as a future possibility, and thanks to attending the one day course, I will be much better equipped to select the most appropriate options available.

A ’lightbulb’ moment...

Why TAS?

First of all, although there is a lot of content, it is mostly made up of a LOT of relatively simple concepts which, if you have worked in an engineering environment such as Jaguar Land Rover for any period of time, you will recognise a lot of, or at least be able relate to day to day activities.

Secondly, the man who teaches the majority of the week, Adrian, is an exceptional tutor with the knack for explaining the different concepts in a relatable manner, with a huge range of relevant and to the point anecdotes and stories that help put some of the more abstract ideas into a real world context, and was happy to attempt to explain concepts in a different manner if someone was having trouble with his original explanation.

Autumn term kicked off with a big one – the Project Planning, Management and Control TAS module. This is one of the more popular modules, especially among the graduate populace, due to its transferability and the external Association of Project Management (APM) qualification that you can get for completing it. It is, however, also widely held as one of the most intensive and time consuming due to the amount of study required outside of the taught week itself. A quick outline of the time requirements of the course:

  • A two hour induction session to outline the requirements and receive the study guide
  • Two weeks in which to learn the material in the 140 page study guide and pass a quick multiple choice test to confirm your position on the taught course
  • Five day taught-course with a large folder of course material to get through homework in the evenings and a mock exam on the Friday
  • Two weeks to revise for APM exam
  • Three hour APM written exam
  • Two and a half months to then complete a 5000 word report around the application of the project management techniques covered on the course in a project you have been involved in

A lot of time is invested, and all while doing a 40+ hour working week (I don’t envy those with kids or a more demanding management role). There were a lot of points at which I asked myself why I was putting myself through this, was it really worth it?

It most definitely was.

My lightbulb moment came during the part of the course that covered different organisational structures and their advantages and disadvantages when working with projects. This shed a lot of light on the internal structuring and organisation charts that I had seen plenty of times at work, but I had previously struggled to grasp the logic behind something that seemed incomprehensively over-done.

Similarly, some of the tools and techniques covered were ones I had not even considered before, but could see exactly where they would have fit into, and prevented problems experienced in, the running of previous projects I had been involved in.

Before I had even finished the PMA, and since completing the course, I have already had plenty of opportunities to apply some of the concepts I learnt about, and will talk about some of these in future posts.

Thomas Lewis

Thomas is an engineer at Jaguar Land Rover, studying on the part-time Professional Programmes, TAS scheme.

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