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How are engineering projects structured?

The way projects within engineering firms are structured is typically correlated to the engineering firm organization itself (Smith 2008, 221).
One can distinguish through the literature the following organizational structure types/strategies:

Generic organization designs:

There are two main generic engineering organizational structures: a structure based on discipline groupings and individual expertise known as a functional multidisciplinary structure and a structure focusing on projects and nature of works known as divisional structure. A functional multidisciplinary structure for engineering firms is a structure that derives its origin from the principle of grouping specialists under one entity. This leads to departments with specific sets of expertise that will tend to "build on specialist skills and dominate the organization through those functions" (Smith 2008). A divisional structure for engineering firms is in a way a response to what has been challenging with the previous structure: the lack of communication between departments. This structure focuses on the "specialist nature of the work or project rather than individual expertise" (Smith 2008).

The following table (adapted from Smith, 2008) compares the two structures in terms of benefits and challenges:

Exhibit 1: Engineering firms organizational types comparison (Adapted from Smith, 2008)

Other structures:

Engineering firms can also organize their work and package their activities using other more sophisticated approaches. In fact, the project itself can serve as a temporary organization within the parent organization (Turner and Muller 2003). The advantage of such a structure is its ability to follow the continuous change that a project can see through its lifecycle. However, flexibility can be challenging unless a very qualified engineering project manager is assigned to the project (Hermone 1998). Other structures include networks (Tekeuchi and Nonaka 1995), virtual organizations (Reyck, et al. 2005) and matrix-based structures (Hermone 1998).

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