One of the major challenges that MSBTE students face during capstone project planning is unclear project definition and scope. When students are first given the task of developing their capstone project, many struggle to properly define the goals, objectives, activities, timeline and expected outcomes of the project. Without a clear project definition and scope established upfront, it becomes difficult for students to plan tasks, assign responsibilities and stay on track throughout execution. This leads to scope creep where additional requirements are continually added as the project progresses.
Related to project definition is choosing an appropriate project topic or idea. Many students find it challenging to select a topic that is innovative yet feasible to complete within the given timeframe and constraints of the capstone project. An overambitious idea may be impossible to fully realize while topics that are too narrow or simple do not allow students to demonstrate their skills. Selecting the right balance of innovative yet doable takes experience that many students lack, causing initial topic ideas to fail or require major revisions.
Once the scope and topic are established, a common struggle is creating realistic project plans and schedules. It can be difficult for students, especially those working on their first major project, to accurately estimate task durations, dependencies and identify all activities required to complete each project phase from planning to execution to closing. Without a solid project plan in place, it becomes nearly impossible for student teams to track progress, allocate resources properly and complete the capstone on schedule. Delays in one task can have domino effects on subsequent work.
Another major planning challenge is assembling an effective project team. Capstone projects involve collaboration between students from different disciplines and specializations. Some find it difficult to find skilled teammates with complimentary talents required for the project. Conflicts also commonly arise around roles, responsibilities and work allocation within teams. Without establishing clear expectations, guidelines and team processes upfront, inter-team dynamics become strained which negatively impacts productivity and quality of work.
During project execution, a persistent challenge is managing scope changes and requirement additions once the project is already underway. Inevitably during implementation, issues arise or improvements are identified that were not anticipated during the planning stages. Making adjustments to the project baseline mid-stream requires careful change management to avoid deviations from the original objective or timeline delays. Students lack experience navigating scope changes while keeping projects on track.
Resource and budget management poses difficulties as well. Students have limitations on funding, materials, tools, facilities access and more compared to real-world projects. Any budget overruns, resource constraints or alternatives required due to cost must be proactively planned for rather than reacted to, which poses a learning challenge. Time management is also a struggle as student teams juggle academics, extracurriculars and personal lives in addition to their capstone commitments.
Lack of experience with process methodologies presents challenges. Capstone projects are intended to mirror industry practices, yet students have limited exposure to project management frameworks, quality control protocols, configuration management, documentation standards, testing procedures and more. Following structured processes helps large endeavors succeed but requires students to self-learn many new skills and best practices on top of the technical work of the project itself.
Planning realistic scopes and schedules, team dynamics, change management, limited resources, time pressures, and inexperience with professional processes all contribute to difficulties MSBTE students commonly face in their capstone projects. With mentorship guidance and lessons learned through overcoming obstacles, capstone projects offer invaluable learning opportunities for students to develop the portfolio of competencies required to thrive in project-based careers.