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By Phillip Power
Risk assessments are a common requirement in many industries today. But what’s not common is an understanding of who owns risk assessments, when they are needed, and how to perform them. In this brief article, I hope to help answer some of these questions and provide useful insights along the way.
Risk assessments are rarely done proactively; even proactive risk assessments are usually being done to satisfy a regulatory requirement, such as ISO 9001 or 21CFR. They can spring from just about anywhere: process failures, customer complaints, audit findings- you name it. Companies oftentimes underestimate how frequently risk assessments need to be completed and, because of that, struggle when they start rolling in. I propose a few useful recommendations to roles and responsibilities to help with this adjustment later on.
All too often, a risk assessment begins with an argument on who should own it. If you ask Quality, it should be Operations, because they are familiar with the processes. If you ask Operations, it should be Quality because they are the group reminding everyone it’s a regulatory requirement. Who usually ends up winning out is the party that writes the procedure on risk management; since it’s a rare day someone from Operations volunteers to write a Quality procedure, to the victor go the spoils. But is this effective management? In my opinion, just as it is true that everyone owns quality, with Quality a bit more than everyone else, so too with risk assessments. Quality is responsible for ensuring they are completed (it is a requirement after all) but that does not absolve them from taking part in them. Risk assessments must be a multi-disciplinary approach where people from various departments include their perspective and expertise. By design, not everyone within a company shares the same vested interests. A risk to one person may seem insignificant to another, but it is only by combining a spectrum of knowledge and experience that you begin to assess the full risk.
While risk assessments can belong to any department, I don’t necessarily think anyone should lead one. It takes a strong leader to manage a risk assessment team, preferably one with a solid understanding of risk analysis and decision making. Not every member of the team will understand how the assessment comes together. For example, the difference between a severity rating of 3 and 5 can be the difference between wearing gloves or a hazmat suit. Developing people from within each department to lead risk assessments should be a priority of every company that is required to have a risk management system. Companies can create their own training materials, but I think the most economical solution is to provide the resources for select employees to study the Engineering Management Handbook and take the CPEM exam. This will give the employees an industry-recognized credential in return for their willingness to take on the additional responsibility, as well as giving them the tools they need to professionals in risk management.
Most people don’t associate risk assessments with teamwork but it’s a critical factor in determining how well and how quickly a risk assessment can be completed. Risk assessment teams are often groups of people who are not in the same team to begin with and haven’t had time to develop the same kind of relationship as they would with people whom they regularly work with. People may be unfamiliar with each other’s personalities and management styles. On top of all of that, everyone is being asked to provide their input and come to a consensus on somewhat subjective tasks. This is one of the reasons a strong leader is imperative. The leader’s role is not to determine the risk so much as to steer discussion and be a moderator when things get heated. If you haven’t been on a risk assessment team, you might be surprised at how passionately some people defend their opinions. There is not enough time in a risk assessment to go through the five stages of team development so the leader is often left with a poorly formed team stuck in the storming phase. Input should be weighed in proportion to the expertise of the team member providing it; oftentimes, the leader is not the subject matter expert.
There are several tools available for risk assessments; the key is selecting the right one. A mistake I have observed is to prescribe a single risk assessment form that everyone must follow. This inevitably makes the form an improper tool for most jobs, thereby discouraging its use and, consequently, the use of risk assessments altogether. If the people performing the risk assessment are nott trained well enough to select an appropriate risk assessment tool, don’t expect the risk assessments they complete to be of much help. The tool can be as simple as a gap analysis or as complex as a failure mode effects analysis (FMEA), depending on the nature of what is being assessed. Once the appropriate risk assessment tool is selected, walk everyone on the team through how it works and what input is expected of them. This is often the most frustrating part of risk assessments: getting consensus. At the end of the day, you can only put in a single number or category for a risk. How probable is it that a failure will occur again on a scale of 1-5? Should the failure occur, how severe are the consequences on a scale of 1-5? These are highly subjective questions, even when the scale is well defined, and everyone’s perspective will be different. Healthy debate is encouraged but it’s important that no one person dominates the discussion. Everyone must feel comfortable sharing their opinion and disagreeing with the consensus. One suggestion to help with this is to have everyone write down their assessments at the beginning of the exercise without anyone discussing them openly. Then each person shares their risk numbers or categories with the team one at a time. This helps prevent a strong personality from biasing input.
Once the team has come to a consensus on the ratings and categories, a process that can take several meetings, it’s the job of the leader to polish up the assessment and submit it to the appropriate location, typically controlled and attached to an investigation. It’s important that, wherever the risk assessment ends up being stored, it is linked and accessible. It is not uncommon for multiple risk assessments to be completed for the same risk because no one could find the previous assessment- sometimes there is no one left who even knows it exists. As the risk assessment leader for your department, you will be grateful if this was done for you by others and others will thank you when you do it for them!
Phillip Power, CPEM is a Pharmaceutical Technical Specialist for Zoetis, the world’s leading animal health company. In this role, Phillip manages investigations and CAPAs, operational improvement projects, and risk assessments to ensure the market has access to the highest quality medicines for companion animals and livestock. He earned his B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering and his M.E. in Engineering Management from the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Phillip lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife and two sons.
[This post by: Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM, ASEM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE/I) Director]
February is National Black History Month. Orchestrated by historian Carter G. Woodson, National Black History Month (Black History Month) is an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans and an opportunity to recognize the central role of Blacks in U.S. history. Not only is it a time to celebrate and commemorate the past; but, for me, Black History Month represents a call to action to imagine and build, though a Black-centric lens, a more inclusive, equitable, and just society for all. From righting infrastructural wrongs such as Baltimore’s Highway to Nowhere to addressing facial recognition bias to tackling racism and biases embedded in medical technologies, the urgency of this call for us, as engineering leaders, is growing. It is critical that engineers think and act inclusively and equitably. And, as I detail in the newly launched ASEM Engineering Handbook, 3rd Edition, “this way of being for the engineer is core to advancing a technological future that is considerate to the full diversity of humanity.”
The theme for Black History Month this year is “Black Resistance”; elucidating how “African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression—in many forms—from America’s earliest days into the 21st century.” And, as illustrated in the beforementioned examples, these many forms include oppression enabled by and through engineered systems (see Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble). Thankfully, the works and efforts of a new generation of Black changemaking engineers such as Drs. Tahira Reid Smith, K. Renee Horton, Yvette E. Pearson, Logan D. A. Williams, Jessica Rush Leeker, and James Holly, Jr. exemplify how Black Americans are not only confronting and dismantling “engineered oppression” but blazing new pathways in catalyzing and conceiving more inclusive, equitable and just approaches to technological design, deployment, and management. The future is truly bright and ASEM is stepping up.
From (1) our flagship webinar series that explored DE/I in technical management and technological development contexts (of particular relevance to Black History Month, be sure to check out both the Black in Robotics and the Race Matters in Engineering and Technology webinars) to (2) the inclusion of a chapter in the Engineering Management Handbook, 3rd Edition on DE/I in Technological Development and Technical Management, to (3) the creation of a new Directorship to lead DE/I efforts and initiatives, ASEM is bolstering its commitment to advocating and amplifying anti-oppressive voices and perspectives in engineering. While work is happening, more is needed. Please join us. A roundtable is being proposed for IAC 2023 to define a DE/I roadmap for ASEM. To participate or for additional information and/or questions about ASEM’s DE/I efforts, please contact me, Woodrow W. Winchester, III, at email@example.com.
As James Baldwin states in his New York Times essay, As Much Truth As One Can Bear, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM
[This post is by Don Kennedy]
There is a retail spot near my house where I watched many businesses come and go over the years. One business was, yet another, specialty burger place struggling to stay afloat. The owner had a fairly well-paying job on the side that was helping meet the expenses of this restaurant. Near the end, the owner told me that he was struggling to find more ways to cut costs. His vision was to squeeze a few extra dollars profit out of a small revenue number. Most everyone knows that increasing profit is the end goal but there is no clear formula to achieve that.
Cutting costs seems like a sure thing, but how? Does lowering hourly salary for workers achieve better results, or aggravate turnover and the quality of the worker? Maybe increasing wages entices more productive workers and saves in recruitment or training costs. In the burger joint case, it seemed that the only way to get more income was to increase revenue. Raising prices might work or might reduce the number of customers. Lowering prices should increase numbers of units sold, but will it be enough to make up for the lower revenue per unit? Advertising should increase revenue, but again, will profits be enough to cover the ads? This owner did not have sufficiently deep pockets to find out.
The most recent tenant was a person who started out selling refinished furniture out of her garage. She was almost making enough profit to pay herself a minimum wage, $1600 per month. There is a common adage that one should go big or go home. The concept of economies of scale implies that boosting sales will result in savings in raw material bulk costs, reduce the impact of overhead costs per unit, and create organic growth through word of mouth. The artist realized that selling from one’s garage makes customer awareness very difficult. She correctly surmised that a storefront would attract customers simply from foot traffic. Setting up shop in this retail spot was effective at increasing sales. Two months into operations at the new location, sales and gross profits both doubled. Now that she was making $3200 per month, but then there was the new cost of $3000 rent and only $200 left to pay herself. I see a For Lease sign in the window of the spot once again.
Success in business is complex without any simple formulas to follow. Good concepts often fail due to a lack of understanding of the basic principles.
Dr. Donald Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., IntPE, CPEM, FASEM is a long time contributor to the Practice Periodical. After spending a few decades in the world of heavy industrial construction and operations, Dr. Kennedy finds himself approaching a one year work anniversary in the world of ERP driven operations and assembly line style manufacturing.
[This post is by James Brino, EIT, CAEM]
When I joined my current organization in August of 2021, and before I took over daily management of the engineering department, we did not have a goal setting program. There were informal goals discussed in yearly performance reviews, but there was not a formal process for our Engineers to develop, document, track, and report on their yearly goals (if they had set any at all). In December 2021, I rolled out an Engineering Goal Setting program at PIC Design for the 2022 calendar year, and at the conclusion of the 2022 program, we had a 90% goal start or partially completed rate, and a 78% full goal completion rate.
The following article describes the method I took to develop, implement, and track the program, and helpful tips when developing a program for your organization.
The first place to begin is with your manager, or the engineering department’s direct supervisor. Pitch the idea of implementing an engineering goal setting program with the goal of keeping your engineers accountable to the “big picture” goals or initiatives the company is looking forward to in the coming year.
The second step is to set a time and place where you can kick off the new program. I started with a 1-hour meeting where I introduced the program, but this upcoming year I have scheduled a 2-hour lunch-and-learn workshop, where we will review the goal program, workshop goals together for the 2023 year, and enjoy lunch. I know my team, and know food motivates, but do what you think is best for your audience. Giving away company swag is always a plus!
Additionally, be prepared with materials to successfully launch your program. I developed a PowerPoint presentation (screenshot of the agenda below) that accomplished a few items; Defined what a goal is, the significance of goal setting, framework to developing goals (SMART method), how to track progress, and how to stay accountable.
I also developed a handout that was instrumental in my team’s goal formation (screenshot of handout below). It was a fillable document that helps develop a SMART goal. This is also an effective way for the goal program administrator to collect the finished goals to start tracking progress towards completion.
Once you have kicked off the program, it’s now time for you and your team to draft, workshop and refine the goals. Whatever way you choose to aid your team in the development of the goals, it is important to focus their energy on attainable goals. Overly ambitious or unrealistic goals stifle progress and derail an engineer’s “kinetic energy”, not to say a stretch goal should be thrown out altogether though. A stretch goal is one where you would consider its completion a personal “stretch”, based on interests, resources, time constraints, etc. Finally, remember your own skillsets and available organization resources, and to stay consistent with your role.
It also may be helpful to break goals into “targets”, which are individual tasks or milestones to accomplish your overall goal. Use targets to break-up your goals into smaller “bite-sized” pieces.
The worst thing that can happen is you and your team spend all this time developing goals and then they are forgotten about until the next yearly goal setting meeting! That is why it is important to have check-in/goal tracking meetings throughout the year. This also helps with keeping people accountable for the actions they said they would take.
The frequency of these meetings all depends on your type of team and business. I would host these at the end of every quarter and seemed to be well received (First week in April, July, September, last week in December before the holidays). Having each member of the team share the progress they have made towards their goals aloud is important, so the team can keep each other accountable.
Keep yourself and your team accountable, including timelines and deadlines! I have a calendar reminder set for the end of every month as a “personal self-review”, along with the quarterly check in with the full team, as described above.
Keeping detailed notes on the status of the goals and making a game plan on what should be achieved between check-in’s is important. There are a few tools that can be used for tracking, including but not limited to written documents/notes, Excel templates, and productivity software such as ClickUp and OfficeVibe.
I also encourage my team to print out their goals list and tape it on a wall near their desk, so they are reminded of their goals every day, not just on check-in days.
Goals should guide you, not be an end-all-be-all. Goals should also be fluid; just because you set a goal in January does not mean it should be the same in December. They should evolve, change, or be abandoned as business needs change or as other strategic items arise throughout the year.
Do not be afraid of failing, asking for help, or for resources. If you do fail; laugh, look internally, diagnose the problem(s) and try again. Finally, build a network that will help and support your goals! Share accomplishments with your co-workers and engage management.
As I always tell my team every morning, “It’s a great day to have a great day, let’s crush it!” Every day as an Engineering Manager, strive to bring new and exciting methods and principles to your team. I would love to hear your stories on how you have developed your engineering goal setting program, or the methods you currently implore. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Brino is currently the Engineering Supervisor – Applications, Product & Process Development at PIC Design, a division of RBC Bearings, located in Middlebury, CT. Before assuming responsibility of new product and process development, James was a Senior Applications Engineer at PIC Design/RBC Bearings. Additionally, James is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Hartford Barney School of Business, teaching in the Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurial department. He graduated from the University of Hartford (West Hartford, Connecticut USA) with his MBA in May 2022. James has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Hartford.
[This post is by Mohamed Sedky, ASEM Professional Member]
When it comes to engineering management there are many practices and strategies that have been developed through the years and it all starts with an organization’s strategy, mission, vision, procedures, systems and more. In other words, the focus tends to come from the top down. In this article I will focus on another perspective which is the lower block in the organization, specifically how engineering managers can change a company’s behavior and achieve operational excellence from the ground up.
While you cannot instantly change a system that is already established within your company, you can focus on particular areas that are related to you, your own department for example, and drive positive change.
Here are five steps I follow to achieve smaller scale, but impactful optimization:
Following your company’s mission and vision, you should define clearly what the objective of the project is. Is it to increase profit, save cost, enhance safety, or optimize operations? There are a lot of objectives that are somehow related to each other, but you need to understand what language your company speaks. Most companies are concerned about safety, reliability, and cost. You need to figure out which strategy you will follow depending on your company’s situation. Will you be focused on enhancing reliability at whatever it costs, or will you be more oriented towards cost optimization? Maybe your company suffers from a lot of safety incidents, driving the need to focus on operating more safely. Determine what your management is talking about and it will make it easier for you later.
Start writing down all the processes and operations you do on a daily basis, reports you prepare, and actions you take. Ask yourself this: How does this department operate? How does it think? Start building small blocks of things you do and listing the stakeholders, suppliers, or other departments you deal with. Write it all down and then try to record how much time each process takes. You should be careful about all the steps you do in order to have an integrated map of all processes.
Start dividing your operations into categories. For example, put all the procurement operations together, collect all reports in one section, and after that you can work individually to break things down to see all related processes then analyze each work group who are involved. How long does it take? What are the obstacles we face? How can we improve this process?
After you are done building your map including all the processes of your department, now you should figure out the gaps you have. This could be done by asking the following questions:
What problem (outcome) are we trying to solve (improve)?
Why is that what we want? Is it specific?
Where and what are the process(es)?
Where does the process happen?
What are the steps, inputs, and outputs at each step? Where do they come from and where do they go?
How good is the process?
What work are people doing? What does it cost to run? How efficient and effective is it?
What’s most important now? How are we doing it today? Who’s doing it? What is measured? What does and doesn’t work? How is it managed?
Take only one work group to start with. For example: the procurement cycle. Don’t go too far with gaps that need a management decision or investment, just start with the gaps you can manage following these steps:
Make the process visible
Break it down into steps
Create work standards where it matters
Ensure the layout & flow can be seen to all involved in the process
Use visual management
Make targets clear at each step
Define what supervisors do
Enable the right behaviors
Make it happen
Following the above-mentioned steps is very simple compared to how it may look in reality. Great success will come when you only start with one gap to solve. Remember the cycle of strategic management to follow. Situational analysis is very important to measure your current situation and assess the gaps before you can build your strategy, apply it, then measure how it is working. Never forget continuous improvement!
Mohamed Sedky is a young Professional Engineer with more than 5 years’ experience in Oil and Gas. Mohamed’s passion for engineering management lead him to joining ASEM as a Professional Member, earning his Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) and a master’s in engineering management. Mohamed’s current work focuses on digitalization and optimization in maintenance engineering projects.
By Neil Thompson
There’s a lot of talk about quiet quitting these days. People who aren’t going above and beyond – quiet quitters. If you as an engineering manager find out that the reason the quiet quitters who report to you are quiet quitting is because they’re unmotivated, they don’t feel like their contributions are valued, or they dislike your leadership style, perhaps a different approach is in order.
I’m a firm believer in leading the way people want to be led. If you’re so hell bent on leading your way, and the people don’t like that style of leadership and are just following you because you’re the leader, you may find yourself leading a bunch of quiet quitters.
While there are different approaches to leadership, since people prefer to be led in different ways, there are certain traits that everyone can appreciate.
I worked as a research associate at a startup company. A lot of lab work. Do experiment. Write down what happened. Repeat. My first boss was a new leader. He had never had a direct report. For a year, I thought I was doing well… until my performance review. It was then when I learned that he was deeply disappointed in my performance. I didn’t show initiative, he said. I didn’t know that he wanted me to show initiative, though. He never even mentioned it until that performance review. He wasn’t clear in what he wanted. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that inclined to follow him after that. To be clear is to be easy to perceive, understand, or interpret. A performance review is not the place to be caught off guard. If my boss was clear from the start, I would have known that showing initiative by suggesting experiments to run was something he wanted. Being clear with others makes it more likely that they’ll follow you.
I had a boss at another company. Similar work. Do experiment. Write down what happened. Repeat. This boss would often ask for my thoughts on how to do something. I’d offer my thoughts. Then we’d do everything the way he wanted to do them all along. This was a regular occurrence. Eventually, I was not motivated to offer ideas, and I certainly wasn’t interested in following him. My boss didn’t listen. To listen means to take notice of and act on what someone says. This boss rarely acted on anything I said. To be an effective leader, you have to be a listener. No one knows everything. No one always has the best idea. Listening means that you are open to the thoughts of others. Listening to others also makes it more likely that they’ll follow you.
The CEO of a company I worked for was a cantankerous brute. I have no idea how he became CEO. No personality whatsoever. I had to do project status updates in front of him and the rest of the executives. Snapping at other executives was a frequent occurrence for him. “Well, that was dumb” was something he’d often say to them in regards to a decision they had made. For those other executives, I figured they must have been making a lot of money to accept being spoken to like children. The CEO was not thoughtful. To be thoughtful is to think of others and modify one’s conduct as to avoid hurt to others. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if, at some point, the other executives tuned the CEO out, stopped following him, and simply did enough to keep their jobs. If you’re a leader, be mindful with your words. You don’t want to elicit an unnecessarily negative reaction. Being thoughtful of others makes it more likely that they’ll follow you.
There are many ways to lead. However, there are traits that we all can appreciate in our leaders.
Essentially, as a leader, when you talk, be clear and thoughtful. When others talk, listen.
If you implement these traits into your leadership style, you make it more likely that people will gladly follow you and less likely they become quiet quitters.
Neil Thompson is the founder of Teach the Geek. An engineer, he works with technical professionals so they can present more effectively, especially in front of non-technical audiences. Learn more about Teach the Geek at teachthegeek.com.
By: James Brino, EIT
Are you a young professional newly promoted to an engineering management role or recently started a new job, and you are now responsible for a team of engineers? Do you have any idea how to manage a team of young and experienced technical minds? Are you struggling? Is Imposter Syndrome setting in?
I was in this exact situation just a few months ago. I started at a manufacturer of precision gearing and mechanical components as an Applications Engineer in August 2021, with no direct reports, working independently with new customer and applications. I was really enjoying my workload and responsibilities. I was in business school at the time, with about a year left in my MBA studies, knowing I wanted to manage a team one day. Fast-forward to May 2022, I was asked to take over applications, new product development and process development for PIC Design, with three engineers reporting directly to me, all three weeks before I graduated with my MBA, and less than eight months with the organization!
You may have found yourself in a similar situation, trying desperately to stay afloat and not drown in the new role. I have spoken to many new engineering managers who have described the exact or similar situation, from all walks of life, industries, with and without an MBA. The three areas of weakness for new engineering managers that have been consistently brought up in conversation after conversation are: 1. People Management, 2. Conflict Resolution, 3. Establishing Credibility.
Of the three, conflict resolution may be the easiest to learn how to handle as there are many resources available, through ASEM (EMBoK 5th Edition is a great place to start!) as well as other sources, that teach techniques, tips and tools to manage conflicts, and how to mediate conflicts to a positive resolution.
Establishing credibility with your team is not as easily achieved, especially as a young engineering professional with no other management experience, or as a new member of an organization. One trick I have used to establish credibility with my team is to communicate my expectations at the start of every project making sure to present examples of work I have done previously in order to show the quality I expect out of the deliverables.
People management is in a category all on its own. You can speak to seasoned engineering managers who say they still struggle with people management. Every company, department and team will have its own unique set of personalities and interpersonal conflicts. Try using a different leadership style with each member of your team. Unique people require unique approaches to leadership; there is no one size fits all leadership approach, as I learned the hard way!
As I always tell my team every morning, “It’s a great day to have a great day, let’s crush it”. Every day strive to bring a new and exciting possibility into your journey as an engineering manager. Many others are in the situation, so know that you are not alone in your struggles of transitioning into an engineering management role.
I would love to hear your stories on how you handled your transition into engineering management or would like a friendly face who is in the exact same situation you are in, email@example.com.
James Brino is currently the Engineering Supervisor – Applications, Product & Process Development at PIC Design, a division of RBC Bearings, located in Middlebury, CT. Before assuming responsibility of new product and process development, James was a Senior Applications Engineer at PIC Design/RBC Bearings. He graduated from the University of Hartford Barney School of Business (West Hartford, Connecticut USA) with his MBA in May 2022. James has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (May 2020) from the University of Hartford.
by Annmarie Uliano
According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, a mere 21% of employees are engaged at work and 33% of employees are thriving in their overall wellbeing as measured by their hope for the future, feeling about self, and connection to meaningful work. Some coined phrases to describe this are "living for the weekend," "watching the clock tick," and newly "quiet quitting."
What is quiet quitting? @zkchillin on TikTok's viral video captures the idea well: “You’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor or productive output.” The idea of quiet quitting has become widely debated, sparked a great deal of important research, and opened an important public discussion about the nature of work.
I had been exposed to the concept of quiet quitting pretty early on into my career. I joined a department where half the staff had turned over in the 3 months leading up to my joining (no, I didn’t know before I joined). Quiet quitting was pretty obvious with the few that remained. While me and the five others that joined around the same time were passionate, excited and ready to make an impact in the organization, I watched those veterans come late to work and watch Netflix way past their lunch break. Eventually the energized outperformed the “quiet quitters,” which led to a newly defined department with mission, vision, and shared values.
A few years later, the pandemic hit and while all industry was hit with too much work with not enough resources, healthcare got the hardest blow. An already overworked and understaffed workforce was pummelled. There was no money to reward staff for their hard work either. During one of the pandemic years, leadership told us they weren’t sure if we could even get a cost of living adjustment (luckily, we did). After a few months, I started to see “quiet quitting” get picked up by coworkers who once shared my energy to rebuild our department years ago. This time we were working from home, and it could be hidden much more easily.
As my department dwindled due to burnout and new leadership took over, the ones that remained, including myself, were quietly quitting. One coworker got another job to make money, and worked both jobs side by side, mainly due to not getting fairly compensated or acknowledged. Another picked up a health and fitness hobby that seemed to run the schedule of their day. For me, I found my work/life balance became work/couch balance, and I no longer felt I was giving 100% in all of my tasks.
For some of us, the quiet quitting reaction is simply a response to anlack of respect from the organization, i.e. “quiet firing”. According to the Washington Post, employers avoid providing all but the bare legal minimum, possibly with the intention of getting unwanted employees to quit, denying raises for years, failing to supply resources while piling on demands, giving feedback designed to frustrate and confuse, or granting privileges to select workers based on vague, inconsistent performance standards. Those who don’t like it are welcome to leave.
I realized perhaps, for me, a contributing factor to my quiet quitting was being an engineer in an organization where the role was misunderstood, working in a sea of medical professionals - people with a different set of credentials. I always felt I lacked good mentorship in analytics and had to work extra hard to find someone to fill that gap when I needed it.
I recently learned about inclusive leadership and want to propose it as a possible solution to combat the quiet quitting/firing trend. The Harvard Business Review defines inclusive leadership as leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired. Another definition provided by Dr. Meghan Pollock from Engineer Inclusion is a set of leader behaviors that focus on facilitating group members feeling part of the group and retaining their sense of individuality while contributing to group processes and outcomes.
What I come to reflect on here is the effect of the leadership cascade on the members of my department. More inclusive leadership, as was demonstrated by my original boss in the original turnover of my department, is what was needed when things broke down over time. At various points in time, my department had interim leadership in place, and my organization went through a large merger and a pandemic. You can imagine that leadership at all levels could not keep up with steady and inclusive leadership with such a changing organization.
For employees and managers alike, if you are struggling with engagement in your work, try learning more about inclusive leadership. The six key traits for inclusive leaders are depicted in the diagram below.
Feel free to comment and engage on how you think these characteristics may or may not help with the quiet quitting phenomenon.
Annmarie Uliano is a Healthcare Systems Engineer in Boston, MA currently pursuing her CPEM certification. She is serving as ASEM Secretary and has loved being involved with ASEM since starting a student chapter during grad school at Northeastern University in 2016. Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter.
[This is a post by ASEM Fellow Donald Kennedy]
I have heard a recurring theme at ASEM conferences where academics talk about how to calculate earned value and the practitioners say they have never actually seen earned value calculated in the field. This is an article about a simple way to do earned value analysis that actually works! I have used this method in controlling a billion dollar project (and smaller ones), so it should work for you, too.
One question that Project Managers should try to answer is “are we above or below budget”. That is the question I am going to show how to answer here. The variables I mention in the title are those you find when you do a literature search on earned value, such as BCWP and ACWP. Every so often, I re-learn the meanings of these variables, but I find I quickly forget them through lack of actually ever using them. Earned value analysis determines which of the four permutations of over or under and schedule or budget reflects the status of your project (e.g. ahead of schedule and over budget). To figure out if you are ahead or behind schedule, you simply update the plan with the most current information and see what your new completion date is (that is all I will say about that topic here). For budget, you can simply do a similar exercise. The forecasted completion date is just the original plan updated to reflect the most current information. The forecasted cost at completion should also just be the original cost estimate updated with the new information. I have seen other project teams struggle with forecasts -- making it a focused task, perhaps done quarterly, going through an entire re-estimation of the entire project. This is not only time consuming, it results in getting information sporadically and too late to make any corrective changes.
Going into a project, you should organize your work breakdown structure (WBS) so that every piece of information you receive about cost (bids, quotes, invoices, or a payments, etc.) will be represented by an item in your budget / forecast. Accountants tend to group costs by asset type for depreciation and other long-term company purposes, so you probably cannot just rely on the standard coding practice. On the billion dollar project mentioned above, there ended up being over 30,000 transactions, so many people stated my method would be too difficult to use. However, in keeping with the Pareto principle, 4000 of these items represented 95% of the costs. Having a “Miscellaneous” line in my budget representing $50 million sounds rough to the inexperienced, but it proved quite manageable. Tracking 4000 items by sifting through the 30,000 transactions required a couple of hours a day, or about 10 hours a week. I will also note that due to the company’s ERP system set-up, the accounting data came in the form of a several inch thick hard copy printout. Items such as quotes and bids were sourced through phone calls to the responsible people. The point is this system is manageable if set up well to start.
So I will proceed with a demonstration using a simple children’s play area as an example. From the experience of others you hear that the type of play area you want to build will cost about $2200. Your estimating department provides the following estimate based on the scope you provided:
Now a common error that is well documented is that details provide a confidence that may not be well-founded. The problem comes from listing all the knowns, and there will be unknowns. The difference between the sum of knowns and the typical cost from experience can be called ‘contingency.’ This should then establish the budget. The tool you can use to manage your project will look like this:
In order to properly manage a project, you need to know the most accurate information. If you simply add a buffer to each item “just in case” or to avoid blame for being wrong, this distortion impedes understanding. Showing the uncertainty as contingency helps you remember it is there for that reason. Changing numbers to fool others (such as your management) comes with the risk of ending up fooling yourself. Let’s say you inflate each line to allow for some contingency on each item. Halfway through the project, your spreadsheet may look like this:
So far, every item has come in under budget. Things appear to be trending well and you are starting to feel comfortable. You may forget that you padded each line with a buffer, and the real costs are actually all coming in higher than you expected. Using my suggested format with an allowance for unknowns, the snapshot for the same real costs now becomes:
The false comfort from before now becomes concern as everything is clearly trending higher than you expected. Let’s say a new development is that you realize the wood you purchased was for the quantity required, forgetting that 20 feet of board in two 10ft pieces cannot be cut to make three 6ft lengths, even though the total required is 18ft (2ft less than the amount ordered). The order for the additional wood is $100. As well, you learn that you need to light the area and have the design stamped by a professional engineer under your jurisdiction’s local regulations. These unplanned items cost $327 total. You also get a rough estimate from a contractor engaged to provide the labor for $500. Based on past experience with this contractor, your best guess is that the final cost for the work will be 20% more than the rough guess. The snapshot of your cost performance now looks like this:
Every time you get new information, you enter it into the spreadsheet and you get a new forecast. At the point shown above, you now see that you have spent 1350/2200 = 61% of the budget, you have committed 4% more than the budget and you are forecasting an 11% overrun. What you actually report at any time within your organization or to other stakeholders is up to your discretion as the project manager, but at least you know yourself where you sit.
So just to lay out my rules explicitly:
1) The budget should be expressed as a detailed estimate. If this is not the first project of this type you are doing, the spreadsheets from the previous jobs can become the basis for this detailed estimate. Changes in quantity can be accommodated.
2) The budget for each item should be what you expect the costs to be. Padding the numbers misleads you on your original expectations.
3) The coding for the costs as they come in should parallel as much as feasible the structure of the estimate.
4) The difference between the approved budget and the total of the detailed estimate is your allowance for unknowns, or contingency. If the budget is lower, then you are in the situation often joked about by project managers: “I haven’t even started yet and I am already over budget!”
5) A common request I have heard from the team is that the contingency must be higher to cover inflation. If you know the costs are going to be higher than last time, then the budget for those items should be increased. If you are pretty sure an unknown is going to happen, then it is not an unknown by definition.
6) The forecast is the budget updated with the latest information.
7) The forecast for an item starts as its budget.
8) When new information comes in, the forecast for that item should reflect this new information. If a line item is tendered as a contract, the forecast can be changed at the time the bids are opened. The bid you expect to be the winner can be used as a basis for the new forecast amount (perhaps with some additional for expected cost extras on the contracted price).
Using this method provides the answer to where you sit on the cost performance of the project. Even if it does not look like Earned Value, that is what it really is. The forecast starts out as the budgeted amount and then it is replaced with the actual amount. The amount of work “earned” is the budget amount that is replaced by the actual cost.
[This post is by ASEM Fellow Donald Kennedy]
A common critique of my articles is that I often do not have a recipe to offer to avoid the pitfalls of events I discuss. Management is complex and therefore explicit instructions tend to have other pitfalls in execution as severe as the situation they intend to fix. Most often my point is to simply be aware of how things really work. Two people working physically close may have very divergent interpretations of the status of the processes in their organization. The one with a more accurate view will be the one that will consistently make better decisions.
I am going to provide an example of what I call “faux automation” to show how I intentionally provided false information to reach completion in the most effective route. I did not believe it was my role to inform the management above me that things are not always the way they believe they are. To stop processes and work through things would not add value to the current endeavour.
I was working on one of my $100 million projects. The chief inspector would provide progress from the contractor in terms of percent complete for the various elements of the work breakdown structure. These values determined the amount of the progress payment for the contractor on a lump sum contract. The reported progress had zero impact on the total money the contractor would receive at the end, it only set the amount of the partial payment for that period. The inspector derived the percentage complete basically by holding up a thumb and looking around the construction site. “Uhm, piping is 37% done.” The inspector would write the numbers on a piece of paper, scan it, and email it to the contracts clerk. The clerk would type the numbers into a spreadsheet and inform the contractor how much they could invoice that month. The VP learned of this method and we discussed it in a management meeting. I volunteered to automate the system.
Four months later, the project was completed. The VP asked the clerk how the automating of the invoicing went. The clerk said it worked perfectly as the step of manually transferring the inspector’s numbers was eliminated. Everyone was satisfied and the initiative was recorded in the list of items in the Continuous Improvement program that increased efficiency. At the bar on Friday afternoon, a coworker asked me how hard it was to automate the system. I said it looked like it would be very tough initially and would take around 40 hours to develop and debug a process. But I came up with a solution that took only 15 minutes of my time. Since there were only 4 more invoices to be processed, I just typed the numbers in, instead of the clerk. Problem solved!
Donald Kennedy is a Fellow of the ASEM. He is the author of the ebook “Improving Your Life at Work” available on Amazon. After working with over 50 companies, Donald has moved out of the Oil and Gas Industry with its boom and bust cycles and started a new phase in agricultural machinery manufacturing.
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