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A Modular Project Management Approach to Undergraduate Senior Design Projects

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Teams and Teamwork in Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.68.1 - 22.68.13



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Paper Authors


Teodora Rutar Seattle University

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Teodora Rutar Shuman is a Paccar Associate Professor at Seattle University, Department of Mechanical Engineering. She received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Belgrade University, Yugoslavia, and an M.S. and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington. She pursues research in electro-mechanical systems for sustainable processing of microalgae. email:

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Brandon Shuman, MS

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Brandon Shuman is a graduate of the UW Mechanical Engineering Baccalaureate and Masters programs.  Since then he has been a medical device engineer for 15 years at Boston Scientific and Spiration.  His projects have included cardiac and pulmonary catheters and implants.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Seattle University.

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A Modular Project Management Approach to Undergraduate Senior Design ProjectsAbstractThis paper describes implementation of Modular Project Management (MPM) in capstone designprojects. MPM is a method used in industry to break down projects into modules for which oneindividual is responsible. This provides opportunity for ownership and responsibility whilemaintaining a framework for collaboration and milestones, and as such could fill the gap usuallyencountered in capstone design projects. In the 23-year history of year-long industry-sponsoredcapstone design team-projects at our university, projects often suffered from the followingshortcomings: failures to meet deadlines, poor contribution from some team-members, andincomplete use of available resources. Student teams have had problems completing projectswhen they overemphasize the prototyping phase. Furthermore, advice from our program’sindustry advisors indicates that engineering graduates should have some project managementskills and understand the importance and challenges of managing projects. This advice isconsistent with “The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century” (NationalAcademy of Engineering, 2005), and if heeded, should improve the employability and careers ofour graduates. The purpose of this study was to evaluate whether MPM mitigated some of theconcerns/shortcomings stated above.Methods: MPM was adapted in 2009 to supplement the formal engineering design methods inuse on senior design projects at our university. Projects were divided into 4 phases. Phase zerois the initiation of the project when the faculty advisor sets objectives and phase-end deliverablesfor the students on his/her teams. Phase 1 is the project concept phase where the students lay outthe project requirements based on the project goals set in Phase 0. Phase 2 and 3 are theprototype and project reporting phases, respectively. The final three phases roughly coincidewith the fall, winter and spring quarters. In phase 1 the students break the project up intodiscrete components or modules. The module owner is responsible for overseeing the work ontheir module and completing associated phase deliverables in each phase. Periodic in-classworkshops are conducted to guide students in revising and updating the modules and theschedule. A student group is not permitted to advance to the next phase until the precedingphase is approved by the project advisor. The relative success of a project group to meet thephase deliverables helps the faculty assign grades.Assessment: Qualitative assessment was achieved by comparing student performance to theprior years, student group discussion, and faculty survey. These point to the following: 1)students took more ownership of their duties on the project through involvement in planning andmodules; 2) students developed understanding of the importance of project scheduling andmonitoring the progress, 3) faculty advisors were for most part focusing only on the technicalparts of the project, effectively leaving the management to students and a few in-classworkshops. Quantitative assessment was achieved through end-of-the year student survey.While generally positive, the results indicate more work could be done to motivate the studentsat the beginning of the course. Lessons learned from 2009 will be implemented in 2010 anddescribed in the paper.

Rutar, T., & MS, B. S. (2011, June), A Modular Project Management Approach to Undergraduate Senior Design Projects Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17350

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