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by Dr. Tres Bishop
According to research, one of the most common issues that small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) face when starting a continuous improvement journey is a lack of resources. This usually comes in two different flavors. The first being financial resources, which can be loosely defined as not having the requisite funds to finance the transformation. The second, a lack of the human resources with the know-how and experience to drive the transformation forward. Larger organizations, where much of the research related to continuous improvement has been targeted, do not seem to have these problems to the same degree as SMEs.
In “How to build a quality management climate. An Action research project”, published by the International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, a SME used the action research methodology to investigate the process of implementing a quality management climate. Action research (AR) is an ideal research methodology for practitioner-scholars, especially in the engineering management community because it combines the generation of theory with solving business problems in a real-world environment. The researcher acts on the system under study, and there are usually two or more interventions within the system. This methodology was first popularized by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s and has been used in a variety of settings including manufacturing, education and health care. In the study, the research team collaborated with a local SME where the lead researcher was also employed. The cross-functional team chose to employ the 5-step action research cycle first promoted by Susman and Evered in the 1970’s:
More details regarding each process step and its related outcomes can be found in the article. For this audience, I’d like to discuss one specific step in the AR cycle, action planning, the second stage. It considers the many alternative approaches a team may use to solve a particular problem.
The main problem this team faced was how to build a climate of quality (COQ) in a SME with limited financial and human resources. In other words, the SME aimed to build the COQ at the lowest possible cost and to use the human resources that were already available to the team, i.e. no other resources would be added. They used existing internal quality data and the collective experience and intuition of the employees of the sponsor company to create a solution unique to the content of the situation.
The team chose to build the COQ based on the following 4 critical success factors (CSFs), or what the team called to as the lean pillars:
Interestingly, two of the factors (top management support and collaboration) were thought to be positively correlated to the SME environment, and two (data-based decision making and process focus) were thought to be negatively correlated to the same environment. This meant that two of the factors should be easier to implement than the others and require less time than the other two therefore allowing the team to focus on the negatively correlated factors. This line of reasoning turned out to be accurate; however, the mixture of factors was incorrect. Top management support was indeed easier to manage at the SME but encouraging collaboration proved to be difficult, at least in the beginning of the effort. Data-based decision making caught on quickly once a tool to manage all the data was procured and the team was properly trained on its use. Process focus was, as expected, difficult to implement.
The key takeaway from this study is that the SME was able to make a lasting and impactful result in the quality management climate of the organization as measured by a reduction in defect count. After the first iteration of the action research cycle, the team had successfully reduced the defect count by 80% equivalent to nearly $230,000.
The next step and the focus of the next iteration would be to examine the organization’s training processes and ensure that the gains from the first iteration could be continued or improved.
To see those results and more on the project, refer to the IJLSS article referenced earlier, written by Dr. Kingsley Reeves and the author of this article: How to build a quality management climate. An Action research project
1. Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human relations, 1(1), 5-41
2. Susman, G. I., & Evered, R. D. (1978). An assessment of the scientific merits of action research. Administrative science quarterly, 582-603
Dr. Tres Bishop is an Engineering Manager for Kaman Aerospace in Jacksonville, FL. He and his team are responsible for continuous improvement activities across three sites in North Florida. Before moving to Kaman, Bishop held positions of increasing responsibility at Comtech Systems, Rockwell Collins, and Harris Corporation.
Bishop earned a degree in IE from the University of Florida, an MBA and MS in Engineering Management Florida Tech, as well as a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of South Florida. He is a LSS Master Black Belt, a Certified Manager of Quality/ Organizational Excellence, and a Certified PMP.
by Dr. Jamie Gurganus
What a year, and now it's that time again. The new academic season is upon us! I teach freshmen, sophomores and senior engineers. Each group comes with different anticipations, excitement and readiness to embark on their next adventure as they learn to act, think and behave like a professional engineer. However, there is more to think through than just the usual technical content. Events over the past few years are helping drive more discussions about the need for our community to focus on developing more ethically and socially responsible engineers.
In one of the talks I attended, Diversity and Inclusion in Robotics: The Black in Robotics Initiative by Dr. Ayanna Howard, during the ASEM+UMBC Engineering and Computing Education Program webinar series, made the point that “Machines are influenced by their creators.” As we help guide students through engineering, it's critical that we help them understand the way their biases, values, and the importance of strong ethics will influence everything they do. One of our fundamental canons, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers, is to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Engineering educators are not omitted from this principle.
As an engineering educator, I have to intentionally think about what I'm delivering and representing in my classes. In Spring of 2021, our department and college began strategically focusing on integrating ethics and social responsibility throughout the curriculum, instead of treating it as a separate, standalone module. In addition to the engineering knowledge they gain, students need to make immediate connections to how social responsibility and ethics factor into their coursework. This practice will lead to more authentic understanding of ethical practices for students.
My colleagues and I have ongoing conversations around how we can assess our students to determine if their habits of mind are truly evolving around these concepts. Assessing ethics can’t be done through purely quantifiable notions, but should be considered through qualitative pathways. Our habits, practices and knowledge contribute to our process of thinking as an engineer. There are many solutions to an engineering challenge, and we want our future engineers' problem-solving processes to reflect notions of global impact, cultural awareness, empathic understanding, and beyond.
I want to leave my fellow engineering educators with these final thoughts as we march into our Fall semester. We stand at the frontlines in developing our future engineers. Our students will ultimately decide how they will carry forward in their engineering career. However, as the superheroes of our profession, we have the awesome responsibility to ensure that we expose our students to the human aspect of engineering. We want to leave them always asking, and questioning, “Am I being ethically and socially responsible?”
Dr. Jamie Gurganus is Faculty in Mechanical Engineering, Associate Director of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) and Director for the Center for Integrated, Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) in the Graduate School at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Her research focuses on solving problems relating to educating and developing engineers, teachers and the community at all levels (P12, undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and faculty development). She seeks to identify best practices and develop assessment methods that assist faculty and teachers with student engagement, helping them to navigate the various pathways in STEM. Dr. Gurganus teaches several first and second year Mechanical Engineering classes along with the Mechanical Engineering Senior Capstone design course for UMBC. Jamie is also a Director in the research collaborative Advancing Excellence in P12 Engineering Education (AE3).
by Duncan Oyevaar
Research of the entire value stream of engineering services organizations combined with the financials shows a substantial negative gap between the actual and the potential profitability.
According to the 500+ engineers, staff, and leadership involved in our research - improving commercial understanding is key to close this performance gap. It’s therefore essential to invest in the commercial growth of the engineers, indispensable for the organization and for delivering the valuable services clients ask for continuously.
This behavior change requires leadership to stimulate cross-functional training and action learning to incorporate commercial awareness in their daily work.
Research found that the commercial profitability for Engineering Service Organizations has a potential of at least 14% EBIT (Earnings Before Interest & Tax). But on average most engineering companies underperform financially with an EBIT below 4%,resulting in engineers being undervalued and underpaid for the value they add to our society and daily lives. Consequently, there is little room for investments or a salary raise. This is further hindered by the strong cash absorption caused by long order to cash lead-times, measured by the number of Days Revenue Outstanding (DRO).
The main reason for the low financial performance is caused by margin leakages, generated by the lack of business insight and commercial cooperation in the value stream by engineers. The sources of margin leakages are many and involve the entire value stream.
Engineers are trained in their specialization and not necessarily in recognizing opportunities for creating the best value for their clients and their organization at the same time. The total size of the margin leakages is >10% of the total revenue - this underscores the need for a drastic increase of business savvy knowledge and enhanced cooperation of the departments within the engineering companies.
Business Savvy is an understanding of how a company works and what it takes for it to grow sustainably towards more outstanding results—recognizing how strategies, behaviors, actions, and decisions affect the numbers and drive the organization's profitable and sustainable growth.
In addition, it enables engineers to use this knowledge to understand their customers' business objectives, becoming a true Business Partner instead of just 'an engineer.'
Therefore, engineers must be stimulated and facilitated by the leadership to understand and speak the language of business by becoming Business Savvy.
Business Savvy makes the connection between the engineers' involvement, the added value for the client, and the company's success. It helps understand the benefits of being involved, the perception of value for the client, and how it makes money. It makes engineers more commercially engaged, taking ownership and responsibility for improvement.
But it is not only about the numbers; it's also about creating a Business Savvy Culture. Financial results will only be sustainable when a change of behavior is established. Companies will not change their corporate culture through punch lists and ticking boxes. They will only succeed by enabling their employees to feel empowered to make the change. There are 6 kind of behaviors that form the basis of a Business Savvy Culture:
Business Savvy Culture empowers the engineer and staff to commercialize the value by their service provision, reflected in improved sustainable operational and financial results.At the same time, the culture enables a proud and satisfying feeling when a project is successfully delivered technically and commercially, enhancing the engineer's job satisfaction, retention, and growth.
Duncan Oyevaar began his career being responsible for business development at an engineering company. He gained extensive international business experience and achieved the $250 million Dow Ethylene Project award in the Netherlands. At one of the Netherlands' largest power producers, he had various jobs from M&A, Project Director Lean Power Plants up to the management of Industry Parks in Germany. Since 2011 he is the founder and CEO of OpenBook.Works and created the Business Savvy Engineer Program. He holds a BSc in mechanical engineering, a finance degree from Ashridge Business School, and a management degree from INSEAD.
CREATING BUSINESS SAVVY ENGINEERS
Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg.
Random House: New York (2017). 400 pages. US$18.00 (paperback).
Among other tasks, engineering managers are charged with improving productivity. Equipment operation and movement of materials must be efficient and without waste. Moreover, we demand that our teams also increase productivity as companies continually seek to do more with less.
But how, you might ask, do we improve the productivity of people? Charles Duhigg's recent book, Smarter, Faster, Better, offers several tips that engineering managers can readily apply to improve our own personal and professional productivity. Smarter, Faster, Better is an easy book to read, and each principle is illustrated by engaging stories, narratives, and examples.
First, the author teaches self-motivation is key to productivity. In Chapter 1, we learn that taking control of even the smallest detail can make the difference between motivating decisions to take control of our situation or being a passive bystander. Duhigg shares a story from the Marine Corps. New recruits were less confident and less motivated than in the past. So, a new training program forced recruits to make small decisions. These choices helped build confidence and self-efficacy so that graduates of basic training developed necessary mechanical, emotional, and team skills to become successful Marines.
Teamwork is the focus of Chapter 2. Engineering managers are already aware of team dynamics leading to success, or not, in any project. Duhigg’s research reinforces the role of diversity in building successful and productive teams. Of course, diversity is far more than demographics. True team diversity must include elements of work experience, educational background, and industry participation. Diverse teams thrive with open dialogue and generate more creative solutions to engineering problems.
Chapter 3 discusses focus as a way to improve productivity. Letting focus become tunnel vision can be dangerous, as the author illustrates with a tragic example. Airplane pilots were so focused on understanding data from their instruments that they were unable to identify signs of an imminent crash. Instead, using tools such as mental models, we can frame a challenging situation into variables and conditions we do understand; thus, better addressing risk. The author illustrates this point with a touching story of a little baby's survival within the intensive care unit of a busy hospital.
Goal-setting and decision-making (Chapters 4 and 6) are intertwined for engineering managers. We have all heard of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). However, like focus, Duhigg’s research found that as people drive to create measurable goals, we might miss larger growth opportunities. Instead, if we subdivide our largest strategic objective into smaller SMART goals, we can still enjoy the short-term accomplishments while sustaining longer range progress.
Decision-making, closely tied with setting goals, was briefly introduced in Chapter 1. Small choices motivate us to grow personally and professionally. Additionally, research shows that humans are very effective at making accurate predictions (leading to better decisions) with little data. In a famous study, regular people were pitted against experts to forecast national intelligence threats. With only a brief training in probabilistic theory, the novices outperformed the highly trained and experienced experts. The most successful executives often focus their decisions on information and situations that are unknown as compared to analyzing detailed data sets. We, as engineering managers, can certainly apply these learnings to our day-to-day activities to improve team productivity and to make more rapid decisions.
Chapter 7 discusses innovation. Consistent with the emerging trend of Design Thinking for new product development, Smarter, Faster, Better documents evidence of small trials to improve innovation success. Getting quick feedback and making small adjustments through rapid experimentation leads to higher success rates in innovation. Duhigg also recommends changes in team structure if creativity encounters natural barriers. He shares an engaging story from the development of the Disney movie “Frozen”. When the design team got stuck, innovation and creativity were jump-started by just a small change in team leadership.
Finally, Chapter 8 describes how to manage the overwhelming amount of data coming into our lives and processes. The key to managing data is to convert it into information. One bank was able to convert data into information and see increased collections on credit card debt. Instead of simply tracking how many payments were made, the bank began analyzing when payments were made, especially after phone calls at different times of the day. Information included background noise and the gender of the card holder. Engineering managers can apply these learnings to better analyze process, product, and sales data to improve efficiency and productivity in our systems.
Overall, Smarter, Faster, Better is a great book to support our roles as leaders in engineering organizations. Most of us struggle with finding enough time in the day to do all our work. Yet, Duhigg’s tips to take control (even with small decisions) and to build diverse, problem-solving teams can help us become more productive in our jobs and in our personal lives. This book is recommended for engineers and engineering managers wanting to build successful careers with increased efficiency and productivity.
What is the biggest productivity challenge you face?
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is writer, speaker, and facilitator. Teresa founded Global NP Solutions to help organizations learn, adopt, transform, and sustain innovation. She frequently presents keynote presentations on innovation and design thinking.
Teresa is the co-editor of the PDMA Body of Knowledge 2nd edition and is the author of a popular book on innovation, The Innovation ANSWER Book.
Prior to founding Global NP Solutions, Teresa worked in R&D, process technology, innovation at ExxonMobil Chemical Company. She has degrees in Chemical Engineering and an MBA. She is a Certified Professional Engineering Manager. You can reach Teresa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Don Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., CPEM, FASEM
Throughout my career, I have noticed certain fads come and go while I continue more or less doing the same things day in and day out relating to heavy industrial construction contracts. In the early 1990s there was a focus on Continuous Improvement and / or Total Quality Management. At some point I noticed that the Continuous Improvement department at my employer was no longer listed in the phone directory. Then there was a push for Team Building and working as a cohesive unit. At the same time, my then employer moved to treating individual departments as separate “business units” where they had internal customers and parallel functional departments such as HR and procurement for each business unit. Outsourcing non-core competencies became a thing around 2000 along with flattening the organization. I noticed the latter had definitely died at my then employer in 2005 when another reorganization increased the number of vice presidents from 30 to 215. Six Sigma was talked about often at ASEM conferences in the mid 2000s along with ISO 9001. My employer was a big promoter of ISO 9001 from 2007 to 2010 at which time they went bankrupt and I moved on. Concurrent engineering was popular in the mid 2000’s, and when I found a new employer in 2010 I noticed a new trend to proceed in the opposite direction. I had not heard of Stage Gates prior but I definitely learned fast what the concept was. Perhaps there were issues with concurrent processes when fully developed plans were found to be unfeasible for some reason and the sunk cost was deemed unacceptable when a project had to back up and redo work. This was seen to be solved by having gates at defined stages prohibiting any work from starting until prior steps were completed and approved. In the mid 2010s, focus shifted at my then employer to alignment of culture among the workers. We were trained on leadership skills, providing feedback and achieving key performance indicators. Although that employer went bankrupt, I see these initiatives going on in recent workplaces as well.
Throughout all of this, I have heard of Lean Management and have browsed many articles on the subject. One of the key failures in the adoption of Lean is the basic assumption that the potential long term benefits of Lean to an organization will appeal to the people within it. An underlying truth in management theories is that people are generally motivated to do what benefits themselves personally, for example money, power or perks. The pitch for Lean has followed the idea that if you show someone how profits and organizational health will benefit in the long term, they will be sold and become adopters of the new philosophy. Traditional Management will continue to dominate until and unless the pitch for Lean can focus on how taking on the risk of a new way to operate will benefit the decision maker personally and not solely on organizational performance.
Dr. Don Kennedy is a fellow of ASEM. He works mostly in heavy industrial construction. Many readers will know that Don has struggled to stay employed at one organization for very long. He is pleased to announce that he reached his 14th month work anniversary with his current employer at the time of this publication. “Improving Your Life at Work” is Don Kennedy's ebook which includes a lengthy bibliography for people looking for references on management theory.
5S Your Life: Stop Procrastination and Start Self-Organization by Luciana Paulise, MBA, CQE, CSM.ISBN 9798667931515 (July 2020). 202 pages. US$14.98 (paperback).
Engineering managers deploy quality management tools and techniques with the ultimate goal of improving customer satisfaction. Domain 6 of the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBOK) discusses the role of quality management as engineers integrate a variety of skills to successfully practice our craft. Much of today’s approach to quality management derives from the implementation of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Continuous improvement built on tools, like 5S, results in cost- and time-savings, increased profitability, and enhanced product performance.
Luciana Paulise is a true quality champion. Her new book, 5S Your Life, not only teaches us the basics of 5S but also provides real-life examples in which organizational productivity increased due to implementing this quality tool. Part I (Self-Organization vs. Procrastination) dedicates a chapter to each tool. Part II (5S for Leaders) addresses the challenges of supporting continuous improvement, including the required long-term cultural changes necessary for success. The Appendix offers case studies of 5S in manufacturing, food service, administration, transportation, retail, and healthcare.
If you are not already familiar with 5S, Paulise starts the book with a concise definition: “5S is a culture, a set of habits that drive individual productivity and team self-organization through a lean workplace” (pg. 16). To be successful with any quality initiative, organizations must adapt their behaviors and performance to adopt a new culture with a focus on continuous improvement. Starting with the 5S tools is foundational to enhancing quality. The five steps are:
Benefits of 5S implementation include a better organized and safer workplace with increased respect and commitment from team members.
Chapter 1: Sort
The first step in 5S is to sort, meaning you must decide what you need so that you can eliminate unnecessary items and clutter. In a lean manufacturing environment, waste of time or materials are costs. So, the first principle of 5S is to find everything in less than 30 seconds (pg. 27). Not only do teams save time and money when they can quickly locate needed items, an organized workplace leads to less frustration and increased productivity.
One factor that differentiates 5S Your Life from other quality books are the numerous real-life images and “microsteps” that you can use to immediately make an impact. For example, the chapter on sort includes microsteps to identify ownership and responsibility for each work area, separate the needed from unneeded, and remove waste.
Chapter 2: Store
Safety is an important consideration for engineering managers. Having a proper place to store materials, supplies, and tools can improve the environment within a facility. Storing in 5S means organizing which includes prioritizing which items are used frequently and which need to be available nearby only.
The microsteps involved with storing, according to Paulise, are prioritizing what you need, defining a home for ease of use, and replacing immediately after use. In reading this chapter, I was reminded of my mother’s constant pleading to “Put it back where you got it from.” Although children are not necessarily good at organizing a tidy workspace, quality and efficiency can improve when we know where to access an item and put it back in its place when finished with it.
Another element of “store” includes “standardize,” discussed in Chapter 4.
Chapter 3: Shine
Shine involves cleanliness and maintenance so that the workplace stays organized after completing the first of the two steps in 5S. How many times have you heard of a person spraining an ankle or breaking a bone because they tripped over a wayward child’s or pet’s toy? In a workplace, we hear of slips, trips, or falls on oily surfaces from leaking equipment. Maintaining equipment and tools through shine can prevent accidents.
Paulise summarizes the third S as “Do not get dirty in the first place” (pg. 63). This means performing and logging routine maintenance because small issues can become complex problems if not handled quickly and appropriately. An individual must be assigned to maintenance and all team members are responsible to report issues. One great tip in the book is to flag items needing repair and placing them in a special bin with the appropriate department.
Chapter 4: Standardize
In any new process, a team must work through a few cycles to fully grasp task requirements, responsibility, and authority. In the fourth step of 5S, standardize helps the team to find the best process to consistently sort, store, and shine the workplace. Paulise recommends visual aids and provides numerous examples of before and after photos throughout 5S Your Life. These images provide evidence for success of the methodology as well as giving teams samples to emulate in their own quest for better quality and higher efficiency.
As indicated in the second S, store, standardize includes maintaining items in their proper place. However, many items used in a factory or shop are consumed on a regular basis, such as nails in a carpentry shop. Combining the microsteps within store and standardize, the team will re-order supplies when the inventory drops to an agreed-upon level. In this way, clutter is avoided (sort) and the right amount of material is available when and where it is needed (store). Again, visual aids are recommended by the author, such as drawing a red line on a liquid container to indicate that if the level is below the line, re-ordering is necessary.
Chapter 5: Self-Organization
Finally, self-organization means a cultural change to make 5S an everyday part of your life. It means “training the team to achieve… even when no one is in control” (pg. 107). Transforming these elements into seamless and consistent habits allows continuous improvement – the kaizen of quality.
Self-organization includes audits, especially when a team is first implementing 5S. Paulise also suggests holding a “5S Day” emphasizing the importance of the methodology and giving team members time to work on sorting, storing, and shining, for example. Sharing success stories from one area of the facility with another also leads to healthy competition and continuous improvement.
Leadership support for any work process generates team member buy-in and long-term success. Viewing 5S as a starting point for quality improvement, leaders can charter a 5S committee (pg. 132-133) to provide implementation guidance. The author also recommends an experienced facilitator, or coach, to help with cultural change and adoption of the 5S practices.
Tools to Complement 5S
Many of the tools that are described in the final section of 5S Your Life are familiar to quality management experts. Leadership, routines, and practices collectively drive continuous improvement. Here are a few of the tools described in the book (pg. 140-164). Certified Professional Engineering Managers (CPEM) will be familiar with most, if not all, of these tools from the ASEM Body of Knowledge.
5s Your Life: Stop Procrastinating and Start Self-Organizing is a great introduction to the initial steps necessary to initiate change and improve quality in the workplace. Not only is each step (sort, store, shine, standardize, and self-organize) described in detail, case studies and visual examples support implementation. It is easy for engineering, operations, and maintenance managers to compare their workplace with images of best practice organizations in the book.
In addition to the step-by-step implementation guide for 5S, Paulise breaks down each step into several microsteps. As a team focuses on any one of the steps, they can measure progress against these microsteps which can also serve as a checklist for continuous improvement. The author also gives tips on implementing 5S into our homes that today serve many purposes: cooking, sleeping, working, and schooling.
I have personally been working on “sorting” to eliminate excess materials from my home and “storing” to keep what’s necessary for work and hobbies nearby the places I use them. I think you will likewise be inspired to clean and organize your work and personal spaces when you read Luciana Paulise’s 5S Your Life.
Professional societies exist for almost every profession in every industry. At some point in your career, the option to join a professional society will most likely be recommended by a friend or colleague. The American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) is the preeminent society for engineering management, and we are dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the engineering and technical management profession.
When determining whether or not to join a professional society related to your career, there are several common benefits that most societies should offer:
by Sara Vick
The words we use to name things matter. My favorite example of this is the fancy and expensive seafood: Chilean sea bass. You see, Chilean sea bass don’t come from Chile and they aren’t even bass. Rather, the name was invented by an American fish merchant to make Patagonian toothfish more marketable. The names we use matter.
This is equally as important in engineering management as it is in fish merchandising. Consider the terms “soft skills” and “entrepreneurial skills”. Do they refer to the same skillset? If not, which skillset is more important for engineers to have? Would someone with a background in business rather than engineering agree? How do the different generations interpret the two terms? Are Baby Boomer hiring managers in search of applicants based on one term, while those applicants are marketing themselves as possessing the other term?
Based on results from a [preliminary survey done on the topic in 2018], this difference in terminology to describe what is essential the same group of skills – things like teamwork, systems thinking, responsibility, and strategic orientation – does create a divide between older generations and younger, between engineers and non-engineers, between managers and non-managers. For example, when asked which type of skill was more important for engineers to have, engineers claimed soft skills were more important while non-engineers said entrepreneurial skills were more important. Does that mean engineers don’t see the value of skills like negotiation, decision making, and financial management—skills more traditionally labeled as entrepreneurial?
Branding is important. Just as it took a radical renaming to elevate the lowly Patagonian toothfish to the highest of Michelin tables, could changing the terminology used to describe the skills encompassed by “soft skills” and “entrepreneurial skills” open the door to dialog on the value of these skills to engineers?
Sara Vick is an Industrial and Systems Engineering Ph.D. student at Mississippi State University where her research focuses on human expression through virtual mediums like video games. She was inspired to become an engineer by the HGTV show Mission: Organization and her life goal is the frustratingly vague “to help people by making the world better”.
I recently read a post on social media about causes of project failure. Many of the typical suspects were on the list, such as poor communication, lack of planning, ambiguous scope definitions, unrealistic goals, etc. But you almost never see luck on such a list.
I will give an example of a small project I was on. It had a strictly required deadline. There was also a specific specialty component required. One vendor in New Jersey had it on the shelf for $40,000.
Another vendor could make one in 16 to 18 weeks for $10,000. I had a budget of $50k for the item so I could buy both if I had to. I went with the cheap one which gave me a few days float. After 16 weeks, the vendor notified me that they would not have it in time. I bought the expensive one and started transporting it to site. It would just get there in time.
Along the way, the truck transporting it had a tire blow out. A farmer heard the noise and came out of his house. A cow was dead. He claimed that the noise of the tire scared the cow and killed it. Although he appeared to have average cows, he also claimed the one that died happened to be a prize cow worth $30,000. The flat tire and giving the farmer a bit of money to go away put the project slightly over budget and a day late on the critical schedule. It was a failure. I did not learn anything from this and would do everything the same next time. It was just bad luck even with a great contingency plan.
W. Edwards Deming is often called the “Man Who Discovered Quality”. One point he often stressed is how Engineering Managers might spend a lot of effort in measuring performance of workers. Yet many times, the actual outcomes are just the result of dumb luck and the decisions made by those doing the measurement. It is an ongoing effort to educate new managers to critically think about their actions and the impacts of these on the organization. For the above project things did not work out. But to my credit other times luck was on my side. Should I be rewarded when things work and punished when they do not? Such are the questions discussed amongst the people who look at management for a living.
Dr. Donald Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., CPEM is a fellow of ASEM. He has worked on many large projects in a variety of industries for more than 50 companies. He hopes to retire soon if he can stay employed just a little longer.
by Paul Kauffmann, PhD, PE, CPEM, FASEM
One of the consistent and critical challenges for engineering and technical managers is to assure employees are treated fairly and consistently. Job grading systems that logically rate, compare, and evaluate various positions are a foundation for this effort. Consider a few related questions: How does a manager fairly compare a data analyst, a system programmer, and a senior mechanical engineer in a specific organization? How does the organization measure the relative values of these positions and identify appropriate and consistent pay ranges for these positions? National pay scales are easy to find but they do not reflect the job descriptions and the performance expectations of a specific organization and work context
Frequently, methods involved in the job grading process are not well known and are too often neglected in engineering management education and training. The purpose of this article is to provide a basic overview of one of the common approaches used in many organizations: the Hay or Korn-Ferry method. According to one source, the Hay Method of Job Evaluation is the most widely applied method in the world, used by over 7,000 profit and non-profit organizations in some 40 countries.
Although the Korn-Ferry system is proprietary, company literature and web searches reveal key details on how this job grading system works. For scientific, engineering, and technical positions, it examines three key factors (working conditions are often omitted in these “office” oriented occupations):
Through a series of proprietary guide charts that can be calibrated for a specific organization, the Korn-Ferry system assigns points using a geometric scale to arrive at a point total for a position. Typically a 15% difference in points is the hurdle to distinguish different levels.
This job level or step information can then be used for a wide range of applications such as pay grades, organization design, job design, and succession planning to name a few. For example, in a one-step difference, the lower role may be the successor to the higher role, or this might be a technical progression ladder path. Two step differences might serve to identify an unusual promotion move that needs to be rigorously explored. Three step differences might be a focus for career development or training programs.
Many organizations have a series of committees to review the grading and point results for consistency and fairness. Although most of us avoid committee assignments, serving on a division or corporate Hay review committee can be a very worthwhile experience and teach a great deal about how the various parts of the company are structured and operate.
Paul Kauffmann is ASEM’s past Executive Director and is Professor Emeritus at East Carolina University. Paul is a Professional Engineer and has over 20 years of industry experience in positions ranging from design engineer to plant manager and engineering director. He is a Fellow of ASEM and a Certified Professional in Engineering Management. He holds a BSEE and MENG in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and a PhD in industrial engineering from Penn State.
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