Make no mistake: engineering is a highly technical field. Designing new products can require complex mathematical formulas and equations as engineers try to predict product performance. Yet, it has long been proposed that the technologies that are most frequently and consistently used by those making design decisions are documents and spreadsheets. Now, we have some hard statistical findings show that is, indeed, the case.

Looking at this finding, there are a few key pieces of information to keep in mind.

  • The survey did not ask for what purposes documents and spreadsheets are used. It simply asked how frequently and consistently they were used. To be clear, these tools can be used for an incredibly wide range or applications ranging from managing Bills of Materials (BOMs), running stress and deflection calculations, managing requirements, authoring specifications and far more. The question of how these tools are used is outstanding and a good prospective topic of a future study.
  • Note that this finding does not focus on everyone in the engineering organization, but those making design decisions. I believe that documents and spreadsheets provide capabilities to assist design decision making to an extent, but it is limited. In my mind, this calls a serious question to mind: how much time do those with design decision making responsibilities actually spend making design decisions? This may shed light on a broader issue. Documentation is important. However, design decision makers may be caught up in bureaucratic activities that keep them from making decisions faster and thus accelerating the development cycle. Solutions that help them make better decisions faster would provide value. Yet, solutions that automate the documentation process would also free these stakeholders up to spend more time on design.