East West Manufacturing Blog

How A Project Manager Sets You Up For Success

Written by Patty Rasmussen | June 19, 2017

If the Head of Engineering is a surgeon, the manufacturing Project Manager is the operating room charge nurse — making sure all the right players and tools are in the surgical suite, ready for action, managing details and looking for any red flags that might cause delays or problems.

The Project Manager (PM) has myriad responsibilities throughout the life of a project but especially on the front end.

  • The PM will create budgets, timelines and line up resources from suppliers.
  • They help product development engineers stay on track with their tasks through the deft use of schedules and checklists, and monitor the progress of projects.
  • Using data from engineers and other stakeholders, the PM creates status reports for management and follows the project through to completion.
  • The work doesn’t stop there, the PM convenes a post-project inquiry to learn from the mistakes and successes, which are then incorporated into future projects.

Here’s an overview of some of the steps that go into managing a manufacturing project. We’ve tried to keep it somewhat generic as different manufacturers will use their own tools and processes.


The Project Initiation meeting takes place when early stage items like final drawing approvals, tool planning and prototyping are already complete. The purpose of the Project Initiation meeting is to develop Project Charter. This document is the Magna Carta of the project, outlining details at the macro and micro levels. Questions to be addressed include:

  • Who are the stakeholders? (Customer, Suppliers)
  • What is the scope of the project? Define the testing requirements and PPAP requirements (Level I, II or III).
  • What manufacturing processes are involved? 
  • What sort of tooling needs to be built?
  • What is the business objective? What sort of financial amounts are expected? 
  • Why is this project deemed valuable?
  • What are the sampling requirements? What are the customer's expectations?

As these questions are answered, they are built into the Project Charter document, which is then shared with the engineering team and other business units for approval. A modified charter (usually limited to 2 pages) is sent to the customer to get their approval. At this point, the scope of the project is set and the Project Charter becomes the basis for all communication about the project.


Once the Charter is finalized, the Project Manager communicates with the team gathering facts to build a fact-based project schedule. Sometimes negotiations have to be made in order to marry customer expectations with supplier capabilities. Topics include:

  • Highlight any potential risks.
  • Application of ‘lessons learned’ from previous projects.
  • Schedule is developed by asking the following questions:
    • Material — How long will it take to source material, especially if it’s a new supplier?
    • How long to build the tool?
    • How long if something goes wrong?
    • When is the final sample run?
    • What are the testing requirements?
    • Transit times?


Though they typically move in the background, the PM is critically important at this point as they negotiate between business units, managing real time with customer expectations. The PM uses a management tool, for example cloud-based management program Easy Projects, to monitor the progress of the project. In some cases, the PM is the one following up with business units, suppliers, or customers for information, however in other cases the project engineer has that task. Whoever is tasked with follow up, it is typically the project manager who is responsible for generating the reports tracking the project’s progress.  


After samples are sent and approved and the project is moving forward, the PM calls a Lessons Learned meeting — basically an after-action meeting to discuss what worked, what didn't, where the ball was dropped or home runs were hit. This is one of the most valuable steps in the process as the information gathered is used to inform future project processes and schedules. Ultimately, data from the Lessons Learned meetings can be analyzed to find common threads in project successes and failures. 


A good project manager knows the details, and in fact likes to know the details. In a way they’re like a good pair of binoculars, able to move effortlessly between the micro and the macro of a project. And they realize that all data, positive or negative, has value when it’s used to make the team better at whatever they do best, whether engineering or production. It never hurts to have an objective eye on your side, and a wise customer will look for a contract manufacturer that offers solid manufacturing project management.

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