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The 3 Blades Propeller of Knowledge for Shipyard Project Managers

Nowadays the Shipyard Project Manager should be an integral professional. Technical knowledge is not enough to manage a project, it is necessary to have other kind of knowledge to have successful projects and to contribute with company improvement. The shipyard project manager not only should focus on the technical aspect of the project, he also needs to control resources, costs, time, risks, manage people, learn about the main company KPI’s and understand how he support them, give new ideas, be alert of the market trends and propose new strategies based on lessons learned.

In this article I am going to explain the essential knowledge that every Ship Repair or Shipbuilding Project Manager should have. I have divided the previous in three areas:

  1. Project Management
  2. Technical
  3. Business

The Project Management and Technical knowledge have been divided into basic and advance, because this article not only will be directed to Project Managers but also for Head of Departments, Functional Managers, Supervisors, Engineers, Planners, Estimators/Invoicers, among others involved on this kind of projects. This division between basic and advance knowledge will help the reader to understand which knowledge you should have depending of your position in the Ship Repair or Shipbuilding project.

As a second topic I will suggest certifications that can give you or sharpen the theoretical knowledge. However the theory should be put in practice in order to master it.

A funny fact are the reasons why I chose a Fixed Pitch Propeller to describe this 3 essential knowledge for Shipyard Project Managers. The first reason is because a propeller always is turning to move the ship, which means continuous improvement of your knowledge to move your career. The second one is because the propeller is Fixed Pitch system, which means that the knowledge should be fixed for every Project Manager on this industry; there is no room for a leak (like in the CCP systems).

The 3 Blades Propeller of Knowledge for Shipyard Project Managers

As I mentioned before, the Shipyard Project Manager should cover certain areas of knowledge in order to have better results in projects. According to the PMI report called Pulse of the Profession®: Capturing the Value of Project Management:

“High-performing organizations are demonstrating that adhering to proven project, program, and portfolio management practices reduces risks, cuts costs, and improves success rates of projects and programs. This focus emphasizes the need for all organizations to get back to basics: By embedding a project management mindset in their culture, they will be better able to create a sustainable competitive advantage”.[1]

“Our Pulse research shows a number of factors contribute to this success, including a focus on what we consider the basics:

  • Fully understanding the value of project management
  • Having actively engaged executive sponsors
  • Aligning projects to strategy
  • Developing and maintaining project management talent
  • Establishing a well-aligned and effective PMO
  • Using standardized project management practices throughout the organization”[2]

With the stated before I can conclude that it is necessary to have a common and standard understanding of the Project Management in the company and part of it is to develop the company talent management.

As a part of the company talent management, shipyard professionals involved in project should comply with these three essential areas of knowledge:

  1. Project Management Knowledge
  2. Technical Knowledge
  3. Business Knowledge

This article will be more focused on the Project Management Knowledge rather than Technical. I have researched many Shipyard Project Manager profiles and I have found that most of them are coming from a technical background either with experience onboard or with technical studies such as Naval Architect or Marine Engineer, so I consider that is not necessary to go deep with technical knowledge but just mentioning it.

The Figure 1. Essential Knowledge for Shipyard Project Managers should be read on clockwise for better understanding.


Figure 1. Essential knowledge for shipyard project managers

Do you want to download the Figure 1 in PDF?, just click here: ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE FOR SHIPYARD PROJECT MANAGERS

  1. Project Management Knowledge – 1st Blade

On the Figure 1, we can find 3 categories: Basic, Advance and Soft Skills. For the Project Manager there is no excuse, this position should comply with all of this 3 categories. Either Shipbuilding or Ship Repair projects are multidisciplinary projects where each member has their own specialty such: electrical, propulsion, piping, steel construction, design, among others; but as they have their own specialties the Project Manager should be the project management specialist. The Project Manager is the one who leads the team efforts for a common goal, he is overseeing the project from project management perspective, and he should not be the member with the technical expertise.

Below I will explain the 3 categories in the Project Management Knowledge blade:

Basic: This basic knowledge refers to the elementary things that a Project Manager should know but not enough to handle this position. For other positions like management, head of departments, estimators, engineers, etc, the “Basic” is a MUST. Everybody in the shipyard needs to speak the same project management language.

In order to have a basic knowledge in Project Management you should know minimum about:

  • Scope: Requirements management, to define the scope, to create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and a WBS dictionary, to verify and control scope. For more information you can read my article WBS FOR SHIP REPAIR PROJECTS
  • Time: How to create a schedule, to define activities, to define predecessors and successors, to define task relationship, critical path concept, critical chain concept, the software to develop a schedule (Ms Project, Primavera P6).
  • Cost: Resources estimation, to determine a budget, to determine budget reserves based on risks assessment. To Control costs, this is one of the most important things in project management, and one of the best techniques to do it is called EVM (Earned Value Management) where you can define metrics and KPI’s to control your project based on time and cost and take decisions on time, not just wait until the end and realize that you have a cost overrun or that you are behind the schedule. One of the things that I like the most of EVM is that can predict the future with the forecast formulas.
  • Risk: To identify risk, to define risks acceptance criteria, to develop you own risk matrix, asses identified risk, to score them, to plan risk responses, to control risks. You can find more information on my article RISK MANAGEMENT FOR SHIP REPAIR PROJECTS
  • Stakeholders: To identify stakeholders and manage them is vital for the project. If you do not identify and analyze the stakeholders and their requirement your project can be mess up at any time by one unidentified stakeholder with high influence and high power causing big impacts on your project objectives, that is why is better to identified them at the beginning of the project.

Advance: This knowledge should apply only for the Project Manager position, as for the other positions, it is not necessary.

  • Human Resources: To select your team, to identify their strengths and weaknesses, to develop and evaluate them.
  • Communication: To make a plan for communications with all stakeholders involved in the project, what should be informed and to whom, how will be informed (in written, by mail, verbally), when the information will be informed, etc.
  • Change management: Very important topic for the Project Managers, this is related to additional jobs or changes in the requirements and/or project scope. This process should be very clear about how to manage it, remember that every change impact project schedule, project cost and may come with new project risks.
  • Negotiation: A Project Manager should have well developed negotiation skills. Project Managers negotiate daily with supervisors, client, bosses, subcontractors and team members. One of the most important aspects to negotiate for Project Managers are the contracts and final invoice. It is necessary to have methodologies to negotiate that can be acquired by courses.
  • Procurement: Type of contracts, which one is better to use, make a procurement plan aligned with project schedule, to create strategies to control procurements, to identify and to assess procurement risks and create responses based on that to be included on the contracts.
  • Quality: To use company quality process, industry standards for planning and controlling deliverables’ quality. Even company quality processes can be improved.

Soft Skills: Not only a Project Manager should know about “basic” and “advance” knowledge of Project Management, it is necessary to work the human side of the profession. Project Managers at the end become “People Managers” for that reason it is necessary to sharp these skills. It is not enough just to know how to control the schedule and the costs, how to create a WBS for your project or how to make the project plan; but it is also necessary to know how to organize the people in order to achieve what you have planned. Below I will mention the most important and relevant soft – skills for the shipyard industry: 

  • Leadership: If you have a position where you have people in charge, you should be a leader. Leadership is about kindness not toughness, is about caring about your people, and is about being part of the team not the boss behind the desk.
  • Decision-making: In this shipyard industry Project Managers are always facing issues that need to be solved as soon as possible, but it is not only just to make decision it is to do it wisely. You as a Project Manager have a lot of tools in order to make correct decisions, look in the tool box and select one that can help you on that (e.g. EVM, Expected Monetary Value, Decision Trees, Schedule, etc). But one thing is sure, at least in ship repair projects, you should take decision in almost 5 seconds because time is running and pressure is increasing, so part of this decisions are based on experience.
  • Realistic point of view: In this industry you should have a realistic point of view, you have to make realistic plans, to know how the workers productivity is and do not make false promises to you clients. Make you team to adopt this skill as well.
  • Coordination: This is one of my favorites and I will keep it simple. If you as a Project Manager cannot coordinate the efforts of your team members to make the plan happen, then you are not in the right path.
  • Coaching: As some companies are not aware of the real value of project management, as Project Manager you should coach your team members by demonstrating them that the project management tools have a meaning in the project and they will follow it.
  • Conflict Management: This is the day-to-day life of a Project Manager. Conflict is inevitable but Project Managers should know techniques to manage conflicts and use them appropriate according to the situation.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Shipyard Project Managers should focus on customer satisfaction, but one of the most important things is to understand your client behavior. People have different cultures and customs, and we need to understand it in order to be smart and get the best from the relationship. You can find more about multicultural negotiations on my article SHIPYARDS – CORSS CULTURAL NEGOTIATIONS
  • Stress-Resistant: For this industry you should be a stress-resistant person. You should learn how to manage all kind of pressure from all sides. It is important to create some habits to release the daily stress like going to the beach, enjoying your family time, listening to your favorite song before get work, etc.
  1. Technical Knowledge – 2nd Blade

I will not dig deep on this particular knowledge, as I mentioned before most of the Project Managers working for Shipyards come from a technical background.

For the Project Managers at least they should comply with the “basic” knowledge, which means, to know the theory of the technical knowledge but mixed with experience, see Figure 1. This will turn it into such basic knowledge where the Project Manager understands how a technical job is performed and have the enough knowledge to discuss with the client the project deliverable. If something more technical arise, it is responsibility of the specialized team member on such topic to give advice. If the Project Manager has an “advance” technical knowledge is an advantage but it is not necessary.

For the other shipyard positions like head of departments, supervisors, designer and Engineers it is a MUST to have “advance” technical knowledge. In some shipyards it is required for estimators to have an advance technical knowledge if they face client in order to sell a project.

  1. Business Knowledge – 3rd Blade

This knowledge is included on the propeller because the today Project Manager can not only stay managing projects without thinking about company strategy. Nowadays, it is not enough to consider project results individually but for the total company results. The Project manager need to understand how their projects impact on company objectives either positive or negative, it is not only about the managing of projects metrics and KPI’s but to understand also company KPI’s and metrics.

The Project Manager needs to collaborate with the company’s improvement, giving new ideas, proposing solutions based on lessons learned from each project. The Project Manager vision should be in 360 degrees (customer, team members, workers, market, and management). All of this depends on the type of shipyard management but the ideal top management should support this initiative and take the Project Manager as one of the key roles for company strategy. The Project Manager should not be known as the person who handles the daily project issues and still complying with project results demanded by the company, instead he needs to be considered as a key member for the company’s objectives and strategies and be part of it.

Management and Executive level should have a deep understanding about Program and Portfolio management as shipyard are business project oriented. A program is defined as a group of related projects, subprograms, and program activities managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not available from managing them individually[3]. A portfolio refers to projects, programs, subportfolios, and operations managed as a group to achieve strategic objectives[4].

Here you will find my suggestion for every Shipyard Project Manager to think about and start to act according to Figure 1. Essential Knowledge for Shipyard Project Managers:

  • Lessons Learned from each project and look for improvements
  • Customer relationship and satisfaction and look for improvements
  • Market situation: current and forecast
  • Company Strategic Planning
  • Business KPI’s
  • Business Metrics
  • Business Marketing
  • Business continuous improvement

To sum up all the mentioned above, the table below will show which is the minimum knowledge needed, based on the job position in the shipyard.


Table 1. shipyard positions vs knowledge

Even on table 1 all the shipyard positions need to have a “Basic” project management knowledge, every position might have a different level of knowledge. For example, the level of project management between a Supervisor and an Engineer will be not the same but should keep the same principles.

I want to state that the table above is only for minimum knowledge that each position should have stressing the need of project management on each one of them, but if some positions have more than the minimum required, that will be an advantage, also this depends on the shipyard organization and the roles defined in it.

Recognized Certifications for Shipyard Professionals

There are some recognized certification that can apply for the professionals of this industry. These certifications can enhance your knowledge, but it does not mean that if you are a PMP certified then you will be the best Project Manager. It is important to get a certification because it gives you the theory but then to complete the cycle you should practice what you learned and only at that moment you can hold your certification with honor.

Below you will find on Figure 2, which certification can apply for you depending on your interest and position in a shipyard. Maybe I am missing some of them on the technical background, but as I mentioned before, the purpose of this article is project management.


Figure 2. Recognized certifications for shipyard professionals

Hereby I will provide the links to get more information about those certifications per blade of knowledge.




 The goal of this article is to demonstrate the value of recognized project management standards and also to suggest the minimum required knowledge in order to manage projects in an organized manner. I want to call for the attention of the Shipyard Project Managers to be more aware of the benefits given by using standard project management approach and also I want to get the attention of shipyard management and executive personnel to support the use of it in shipyards. Also it is necessary for the project team members, the head of departments and functional managers to acquire basic project management knowledge, in such way the company can understand and speak the same language.

One thing I am always wondering, as ship’s technology is improving every day, often shipyards invest on new technology to work faster and better, why not to improve the project management process of the company with an updated and recognized project management standard? I can guarantee that this will bring a lot of benefits to the shipyard and will avoid a lot of headaches.


[1] Project Management Institute. Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Capturing the Value of Project Management. Project Management Institute. 2015

[2] Project Management Institute. Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report: Capturing the Value of Project Management. Project Management Institute. 2015

[3] Project Management Institute. (2013). Introduction. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) – 5th Edition (p 9). Pennsylvania, USA: Project Management Institute, inc.

[4] Project Management Institute. (2013). Introduction. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide) – 5th Edition (p 9). Pennsylvania, USA: Project Management Institute, inc.