The CEO’s Recovery Directive to Engineering

This series of posts covers the relationship between the engineering executive and the c-suite executives in a manufacturer. This post sets the background for this set of relationships, specifically in the context of the economic recession of the past two years and the projected recovery of the next two. This background will be the basis for future discussions and posts on this set of relationships.

Wanted: Profitable Growth, Wrong Answer: Cost Controls, Right Answer: Innovative Products

Optimism is good thing, right? After the violent storm that was the economic recession, it seems that the waters have calmed and some stability has returned. And whether c-suite executives see real opportunities or they are being driven by corporate chairmen and boards, many manufacturers are forecasting profitable growth again for the new couple of years. Furthermore, many executives have thankfully realized that the cost control initiatives that might have saved the company the last two years won’t be what drives growth in the next two. In fact, new sales, which is frequently led by innovative products, is generally recognized as a repeatable path to growth. That’s where things come to you, the engineering executive. We could debate the feasibility or plausibility behind such objectives until we’re blue in the face, but all in all, the point is moot. The goal has been defined. How will you achieve it?

You can’t do more with less…You do less with less… (nod o’ thanks to @Andrew_Boyd for quote)

So how do you get down to business. First, take stock. The recession for most manufacturers caused a serious trainwreck in engineering organizations. You took your fair share of the layoffs when the CEO and CFO needed to get costs in line with revenues. But it went further than giving low performers the pink slip. It took away some of your mid-level performers too. Now might seem the most appropriate time to trot out the age-old adage do more with less. However if we’ve learned nothing else from the past two years, it’s that being more aggressive with schedules and workloads without any other changes doesn’t magically make the organization produce more. It just makes your people more frantic, more prone to mistakes and ultimately more likely to leave the company at the first chance. The more pragmatic answer, the one to garner more alignment with your haggard organization, is to work smarter rather than harder.

The following posts in this series will look at additional trends in the relationship between engineering and the c-suite as well as some new strategies and initiatives to work smarter, not harder.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

Setting a Baseline for Generational Definitions

iStock_000012479981XSmallThis series of posts covers a number of issues related to the differences in generations, specifically in engineering organizations. Today’s post introduces some of the basic definitions for different generations and how it relates to engineering work.

What’s the dynamic like in your engineering group? Is everyone fresh out of college figuring out what it’s like in their first job? Or is everyone in the final leg of their career heading into retirement? All things considered, neither of those answers is likely. The average engineering group in today’s manufacturer is frequently a big mix of people in all different stages of their careers. Some are baby boomers with loads of experience. Some are part of generation Y and soaking everything in. And that fact matters. Actually, it really matters. Each of these generations have different attitudes towards life, technology and, most relevant to this discussion, work. Those differences can affect how you work with your peers. It affects how someone manages the engineering team. It affects how you sustainably build and maintain the engineering organization as a whole. And if you can’t work together or maintain the group as a whole, then you can’t continuously design great products.

Over the next few weeks, this blog series will dive into a lot of issues related to generational differences in engineering organizations. But before we get into details about building and managing multi-generation teams and organizations, we should all make sure we’re working against the same baseline of information about different generations. To start, here are basic definitions found at wikipedia.

  • The Greatest Generation, also known as the G.I. Generation, is the generation that includes the veterans who fought in World War II. They were born from around 1901 to 1924, coming of age during the Great Depression. Journalist Tom Brokaw dubbed this the Greatest Generation in a book of the same name.
  • The Silent Generation born 1925 to 1945, is the generation that includes those who were too young to join the service during World War II. Many had fathers who served in World War I. Generally recognized as the children of the Great Depression, this event during their formative years had a profound impact on them.
  • The Baby Boom Generation is the generation that was born following World War II, about 1946 up to approximately 1964, a time that was marked by an increase in birth rates. By the sheer force of its numbers, the boomers were a demographic bulge which remodeled society as it passed through it.
  • Generation X is the generation generally defined as those born after the baby boom ended, and hence sometimes referred to as Baby Busters, with earliest birth dates seen used by researchers ranging from 1961 to the latest 1981 at its greatest extent.
  • Generation Y is also known as Generation Next, Millennials, or Echo Boomers. The earliest suggested birth dates ranging from mid to late 1970s to the latest in the early 2000s. Today, many follow William Strauss and Neil Howe’s theories in defining the Millennials. They use the start year as 1982, and end years around the turn of the millennium.
  • Generation Z, also known as Generation I or Internet Generation, and dubbed the “Digital Natives,” is the following generation. The earliest birth is generally dated in the early 1990s.

In our next post in the series, we’ll take a look the typical composition of an engineering organization within a manufacturer and how it resembles a saddle. And nope, that wasn’t a typo from Texas.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

The Hero Work of an Engineer is Knowing Where to Put the X

Have you done any hero work lately? Nope. I’m not talking about donning a cape and heading out to fight villians. I’m talking about engineering hero work. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of work related to a frantic call from your manager talking fast about a project in dire jeopardy. And if you don’t fix the problem fast, things will go haywire. What follows is often a really long night or weekend at the office, a startling epiphany and you eventually being hailed as a hero (without cape). Well, a joke I read recently reminded me of this all to familiar joke (nod o’ thanks to Inflection Points Inc.).

There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later his company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multi-million dollar machines. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine fixed, but to no avail. In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past.

The engineer reluctantly took the challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. At the end of the day he marked a small “x” in chalk on a particular component of the machine and proudly stated, “This is where your problem is.” The part was replaced and the machine worked perfectly again.

The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service. They demanded an itemized accounting of his charges. The engineer responded briefly:

One chalk mark………………….$1

Knowing where to put it……..$49,999

It was paid in full and the engineer retired in peace

Now, I like this story. I like it for its happy ending, but I like more because the engineer comes out ahead. One day. $50,000. Ride off into the sunset. Wouldn’t that be nice. However, for many engineers, this sort of story isn’t some exception with a big payoff. It’s just modus operandi. It’s just the way things are done on a day to day basis.

The good news is that, for the most part, there are better ways of doing things. Over the course of the next few posts in this series, I’ll relate a few other similar scenarios and then talk about some alternative approaches that let you solve big problems without the long hours in the office.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

My Takeaways from PLM Connections 2010

Traveling to Dallas TX for PLM Connections in 2011 was great in terms of getting product updates. Here are some my quick thoughts, including those on my new company Lifecycle Insights, as well as my takeaways from the event as recorded by Dora Smith from Siemens PLM.