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5S Your Life: Stop Procrastination and Start Self-Organization 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.
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 email@example.com.
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”.
by Don Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., CPEM, FASEM
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.
by Pat Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, CSEP, PMP
[This post is adapted from Episode 15 of the Engineering and Leadership Podcast.]
As engineering managers, we all feel the burden of increasing workloads, growing complexity, and the pressure to perform. For many of us, the response to this added pressure is to work more. We get to work early. We work through lunch. We work late. We skip breaks. We spend our weekends at our keyboards. We try to stay on top of things and get sucked into “whack-a-mole” management – if I can just keep up, we reason, we win the game.
The trouble with this approach, of course, is that you can’t keep up - not in the long run anyway. At some point, you hit terminal velocity, yet the work keeps building, and you start to fall behind.
The solution? Engineering managers must learn to prioritize and focus on what’s most important.
If we accept the fact that our to-do list will never really be done, and that there will always be more work to do, then “doing it all” is illogical. The best course of action then, is to make sure you’re always using your time on what’s most important.
Most people believe that being productive is all about being efficient – getting things done as quickly as possible. In my productivity course for engineers, I teach that efficiency is absolutely important, but it takes a back seat to being effective. Where efficiency is about doing things right, effectiveness is about doing the right things – those things that are actually important.
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management once said, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” Prioritization is the act of choosing which tasks and projects are really worth doing.
Now we know that prioritization is all about choosing and doing what’s important. How do we go about figuring that out?
Importance is determined by how well a given task or project supports your goals. If a project contributes in a significant way to either your goals or your team’s goals, then it’s important. If not, then it’s not important.
Importance is all about whether work moves you forward. All too often we get caught up in the urgency at the expense of the important. We make time for things that need to happen now if they’re to happen at all, regardless of whether they’re actually helping us achieve what we ultimately want to achieve.
The real crux of prioritization, then, is about understanding your goals in a concrete way, and making sure your work is helping you achieve those goals.
The first thing you need to do in order to learn to prioritize is to get clear on your goals and the work you have on your plate. List your goals on paper, including deadlines and clear descriptions of what it means to have them be 100% complete. Do the same with your projects and tasks. Next, you can determine how each project supports each goal using a house-of-quality-style assessment.
For most people, many projects support goals, but many others either don’t contribute or actively get in the way. That should tell you a lot about which projects ought to be priorities, and which ones should be delegated, deferred, or deleted from your list.
Once you know which projects are important (those that support goals), you can plot your projects in an Eisenhower Matrix – a quad chart that has importance on one axis and urgency on the other. I prioritize my projects as follows:
Priority 1 – Important and urgent
Priority 2 – Important but not urgent
Priority 3 – Urgent but not important
Priority 4 – Neither urgent nor important
Take some time today to write up your goals and projects lists. Even without doing any kind of in-depth analysis, you can intuitively start to make sense of things just by capturing what all is on your plate. Just understanding the lay of the land can do wonders for productivity and helping you prioritize the right work.
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, PMP, CSEP is a recognized expert in engineering management, productivity, and leadership. He is also the host of the popular Engineering & Leadership Podcast, a show dedicated to helping engineering managers thrive. Download his free productivity guide “Finding the 6th Day” to learn how to create 8 hours of additional productive time this week.
by Atul Kalia
EMBOK Domain 2 covers “Leadership and Organizational Management”. This is arguably the hardest Engineering Management aspect to learn and master. Let me explain why I feel so. Leadership and organizational management involves inspiring individuals to be their best self and leading teams and organizations through transformational change. This involves self-awareness as a leader, understanding others behaviors and then utilizing this knowledge to drive transformational behavioral change. In fact any other EMBOK domain, e.g. Project Management, that requires a good understanding of the human psyche, is a challenging domain. Other domains that deal with Technology, Quality, Operations, Supply Chain, etc. are also very difficult but perhaps not as dependent on the vagaries of human nature.
How can we as Engineering Management professionals –educators as well as corporate managers– succeed in these difficult domains? Obviously there is no simple solution for this challenge. However, I would like to share key tips from a TED talk about changing behavior by Dan Ariely. Dan serves as a James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He has written 3 New York Times bestseller books.
Dan mentions the example of a program where financial tips are taught to the attendees. Immediately after the program only 3-4% of attendees follow through on the changes taught in the course. Long term, this drops to less than 0.1%. Clearly behavioral change is very rare simply based on providing good information to people. This is true not just for financial education but for most topics including engineering management and leadership & organizational management.
Dan talks about focusing on two things to ensure success in driving long-term behavioral change. These two things are similar to what is needed to send a rocket to space: reducing friction and providing fuel.
This concept involves reducing the difference in effort required for maintaining status quo and the effort required to enable the new behavior. In general, human tendency is to follow the path of least resistance. So we must understand the “friction” inherent in the new desired behavior and must figure out ways to reduce it.
Dan mentions the example of an online pharmacy in his talk. The online pharmacy wanted people to switch from branded to generic medication for their condition. They asked patients to mail back a letter in case they wanted to switch to generic medication. The response was very poor. The task required effort. Status quo: keep getting a branded prescription requires less effort. After consultation with behavioral experts, the company sent letters to patients telling them that their prescription service would end unless they responded and explicitly stated their preference: branded or prescription drug. Now that they were forced to respond and with the same effort required to choose branded or generic, the majority of patients chose generic.
How can we be aware of the effort required for behavioral change we seek in ourselves and others? Understand what is causing “friction”? How can we use that knowledge to trigger transformation?
For example, let’s say an engineer is struggling in interactions with a key customer’s team. The engineer is not responding in a customer-centric manner. Hence, the engineer’s manager would like to trigger a behavioral change in the engineer. He wants to ensure that customers do not have to escalate to the manager for day-to-day issues. “Friction” could be due to the engineer’s lack of skills in customer service and the effort required to learn these vs. the effort required in maintaining the status quo. Intervention could be to provide ongoing coaching for the engineer, allowing engineers to shadow to observe how others do a good job in customer interactions, providing continuous feedback – positive as well as constructive that enables growth for the engineer and reduces the “friction”.
Typical engineering managers do not provide such support. They simply reiterate the need for the engineer to be more customer-centric without coaching them on how to change. They may simply give the engineer a bad performance review or, at most, provide a one-time training or workshop. Such short-term training is highly ineffective in bringing about long-term behavioral change since it doesn’t eliminate the underlying friction.
Fuel for a rocket is similar to the motivation for an individual. As an engineering manager and leader we need to understand what drives each unique individual. There is no one size fits all solution. Dan’s TED talk mentions an effort to inspire villagers in Kenya to save a certain amount every week. The study tried various methods including weekly reminders, providing some financial incentive by matching a small percent of the villagers savings, loss aversion, emotional messages from kids, and a symbolic scratching of a coin every week that they saved money. The goal was to determine which approach might result in achieving the highest savings. They found that savings were almost double compared to other motivational methods when villagers had to scratch a mark on a coin every week to indicate that they met their savings goal. The coin was displayed in a prominent location in the hut. A visual indicator of an otherwise invisible task –savings– helped the family understand why it was important and stay on track.
As Engineering Management professionals providing fuel or motivation is a very significant and yet difficult task. We don’t always know what may work in any given situation and with any given person. This is where our skill as an engineering management leader comes into play.
In the example of the engineer above, what are some things that a manager could do to motivate the engineer? Would love to hear your thoughts. Do email me.
Atul Kalia, firstname.lastname@example.org, is passionate about enabling success for individuals, teams and organizations. This success manifests itself as professional growth for individuals, successful delivery of complex programs by high performance teams and sustainable profitability for organizations. Atul is a firm believer in the “Art of the Possible” and uses a generative approach. Using self-awareness as the foundation, Atul enables results for clients by sharing insights from his corporate and consulting career of 25+ years.
Atul is the Founder of SN Group LLC, a consulting firm delivering success for clients through coaching for engineering and program management professionals, leadership development workshops and program management consulting. Atul has experience in Automotive, Commercial Trucking, Off-Highway, Industrial, Non-profits, Telecom, Digital Printing and Manufacturing industry in North America, Europe and Asia. He works with, as well as coaches engineering professionals from C level executives to managers.
Prior to SN Group, Atul worked as the Director of Engineering for a Manufacturing firm. In this role his focus was new product development, engineering and program management. He led Global teams that successfully launched over 20 complex and innovative programs.
Education, Certifications, Memberships, Publications
by Larry Mallak, PhD, CPEM, FASEM
Why would college seniors in Engineering Management visit an art museum? If we’re serious about the art and science of engineering management, then let’s go experience some art. Since 2007, I’ve been taking my undergraduate Industrial Systems Management students to the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Institute of Arts (KIA) for a field trip. My first call to KIA with this request was met with bewilderment, but then they realized I was serious. Of course, the learning objectives are key to a successful visit.
With many students mired in problem sets and quantitative analyses, we need to prepare them to view the world more systemically. My objectives are twofold: 1) to help the student gain a deeper (or an initial) experience with art and science and 2) to understand how artists communicate meaning. We engineering managers should not be addicted to PowerPoint’s bullet charts if we’re going to be successful project managers and leaders.
As with most things, this year was different, so I called over the summer and asked if the museum would do a virtual tour for my class. I had done this tour for over a decade and had no intention of skipping it. Museum staff were game to this idea and we were the first virtual tour. Our docent, Dr. Frank Wolf, is an emeritus faculty member of our department at Western Michigan University. He taught operations research and engineering economy. Now, he teaches us how to find systems and engineering concepts in KIA artworks.
Connecting via Zoom, my students, Dr. Wolf, KIA director Jessica Sundstrom, and myself toured an exhibit titled “Cultural Encounters,” a collection of artworks from Asian immigrants to the Americas (which you’ll recall is North America excluding for the U.S. and Canada). These works embodied several types of processes—metal sculpture, master printmaking, watercolors, videos, and fiber art.
Rainforest XI: The Sharp Edge of Seasons. 2013.
Bernadette Indira Persaud. Acrylic on canvas. 22”x14"
For example, the art shown below is Indo-Caribbean from an artist who was born in Guyana. This is Rainforest XI by Bernadette Persaud. Her grandparents were laborers on a sugar plantation. The process of producing this painting is based on neo-Impressionist techniques to produce color and perspective. Colonialist pursuit of profits from clearing land to raise sugarcane removes land from the rainforest—a political, scientific, and environmental conflict. Although the artist’s depiction is a beautiful rainforest scene, there was much pain and sacrifice by her ancestors to reach this point. The systems view of this single art work contains many elements related to engineering management.
Over the years, we have seen many unique art works—installations depicting oil-ruined land, glassworks by Chihuly, Chinese prints, enchanting videos, and traditional paintings of people and landscapes. Each year, the class sees something different, but the lesson is the same—engineering managers and artists rely on color, perspective, processes, and materials to produce an output for an end user. We can learn a lot from artists—even when it’s virtual.
Dr. Larry Mallak is an industrial engineer whose work on corporate ethnography is bringing new tools to balance the art and science of new product development. He’s a Professor of Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering & Engineering Management at Western Michigan University. Prior to his university appointment, he worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, for Premier Healthcare and he has worked as a science reporter for National Public Radio. His work has been featured in numerous outlets, including TEDx, Engineering Management Journal, WORK, and Industrial Management. He holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Industrial & Systems Engineering from Virginia Tech, with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois. Dr. Mallak is a Fellow of ASEM.
Pandemic, Inc. by Patrick Schwerdtfeger. Authority Publishing: Gold River, CA (2020). 168 +x pages . US$19.99 (paperback).
For all of us, 2020 has been a year of uncertainty and confusion. “Normal “ activities of going to work or school, seeing family, and even shopping have been aborted. Who could have predicted these life-altering changes?
It turns out that futurists, like Patrick Schwerdtfeger, spend time analyzing trends and predicting business activities for tomorrow. Patrick is a sought-after keynote speaker and author. During the corona-panic lockdown, he looked toward the most impactful changes that he believes have staying power. This is the thrust of “Pandemic, Inc.”
Unlike much of the media in 2020, Patrick offers a message of opportunity for business owners and managers. “...there are some very real and tangible things that businesses can do to (1) survive, (2) rebuild, and (3) thrive after the crisis is over...” (pg. 3, author’s emphasis). Each of the eight primary chapters describes trends and offers business advice to take advantage of future trends.
Already a trend before corona-panic, groups of people were moving “off the grid”. Patrick recognizes this trend and its impact on engineers and engineering managers. Solar panels will continue to grow as people strive for independent living. Technology will continue to advance driving down manufacturing and installation costs.
The trend toward “Big Data” was already in place long before corona-panic. The pandemic has simply accelerated the vast accumulation, storage, and processing of more and more data. Engineering managers and business owners will use and optimize data to target marketing, while governments will use increased data to manage healthcare. We must be cautious, however, of the misuse of data and understand the complexity of models before we accept their outcomes and predictions.
In business terms, cash is the most liquid asset you own. You can trade cash for anything. Debt in our personal lives, in business, and especially in governments is a threat to long-term survival. What happened to your day-to-day living when the stock market crashed in March? Holding sufficient cash resources to keep things running will be an important lesson for all of us going forward.
Most of us are now spending a significant amount of time on Zoom or FaceTime. We have social networks, business meetings, and family time in front of a screen. Engineering managers must consider how to apply technologies, like virtual reality (VR), to trouble-shooting operations. Educators must adopt engaging studies via virtual platforms. How have you adapted to a virtual world and what can you change to make a hybrid approach (virtual and in-the-office) successful going forward?
Again, automation was already trending upward before the corona-panic. However, “Pandemic, Inc.” emphasizes an acceleration of automation as cash-strapped businesses transition routine tasks to machines. “Germaphobes” (pg. 80-81) will continue to drive fears of contact with people we know and especially of strangers. Patrick predicts reemergence of shared ride service and autonomous vehicles despite a growth in the number of “germaphobes”.
Big government with more intrusion into previously private activities is an enduring trend predicted in “Pandemic, Inc.” “The pandemic is turning into a massive power-grab by governments and globalists” (pg. 106). Bitcoin and blockchain are likely outgrowths of this trend. Serving government agencies and customers will become a bigger aspect of most businesses in the future.
Patrick notes that technology has growth at accelerating rates - exponential versus linear. From an engineering management perspective, we are seeing enhanced performance at decreased costs for many goods. Harkening back to Trend #3 (Liquidity), engineering managers should consider how to invest in these rapidly accelerating technologies while still preserving cash.
In “Pandemic, Inc.”, Patrick notes that decentralization encompasses most of the other trends (pg. 123). Just like me, when the author was a child, we had just one local newspaper and a handful of television channels. Today, we are bombarded with hundreds of channels in social media and ways to consume “the news”. Unfortunately, we seek out “echo chambers“ (pg. 124) more than truth or full data sets. This trend allows us to be more connected with those like us but less connected to anyone with a different opinion. Decentralization thus impacts business decisions, including market structures in hiring of new employees.
“Pandemic, Inc.” is an interesting read. Patrick Schwerdtfeger has been analyzing and speaking on future trends for years. Will all these trends come to fruition? Certainly not. But as engineers and engineering managers, we must be aware of both technological and social trends that impact how we design operations and products. I recommend “Pandemic, Inc.” for a couple of reasons. First, it is easy and quick to read. It summarizes challenges to the global economy and offers a glimpse into a possible future. Second, whether or not you agree with Patrick's view of future trends, engineers and engineering managers must be aware of alternate perspectives that influence our customers and manufacturing processes.
What do you think is the most significant trend to arise from the corona-panic?
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE (State of Louisiana), PMP®, CPEM, NPDP is a writer, speaker, and facilitator. Teresa founded Global NP Solutions to help organizations learn, adopt, transform, and sustain innovation. She frequently presents keynote presentation on innovation and design thinking.
by Alexis Devenin, PMP
Sometimes businesses run in continuous and stable scenarios and this situation can be likened to a fisherman who always fishes in the same spot from the edge of a river. Other times businesses are confronted with rapid and dramatic changes. This other situation is similar to a fisherman who floats down the river, fishing from the boat.
There are times when businesses run smoothly, and there are external market variables that fluctuate, but there are only small or regular fluctuations around an average situation. Production and business are planned and executed according to these stationary scenarios. The situation is similar to a fisherman that always goes fishing in the same spot in a river. He knows where the trout lies, the best hour in the day, and the best time in a season. He knows where, how, and when to cast, what line, and what fly patterns to use. Of course, there are good days and bad days, but on average, his method works. Unexpectedly, some days the water is warmer or muddy, and other days the water is too cold. In these instances, the tactics that he usually uses don't pay so well, but the fisher knows some tricks to use in these circumstances. This fisher can embark on his journey with a small set of fly patterns and with a specific line and rod because he knows what works there. In business, the same happens in times where there are no rapid changes.
On the contrary, sometimes in business, there are times with rapid and unpredicted changes. Phenomena such as digital transformation, Industry 4.0, the AI revolution, pandemic occurrence, etc. No company is completely prepared for these changes. Returning to the fisherman, the situation is closer to someone who is floating the river in a boat and is confronted with different fishing situations. During his journey, riffles, runs and pools are encountered several times. Each scenario demands different fishing strategies. The fisher must carry with him more than one line, at least a floating line and a sinking line, probably more than one rod, and a larger set of fly patterns. In the same ways, companies exposed to rapid changes must continuously check their strategy and operations. They must have a larger set of skills to draw upon. That is, they must have different people with different education, culture, and ways to see the world. The larger the diversity of the employee profiles, the more resilient and adaptive the organization will be.
Some companies are very uniform in their team composition. They are composed of people of the same formation and even the same school. That could be an optimal situation for a specific scenario, like the fisherman who fishes in the same spot every time. However, it is not an optimal situation for rapid changes in the environment, like the situation of the fisher who is floating the river. Clearly, with digital transformation and eruption of the pandemic, today's business scenario is close to the situation of the fisher floating down the river. Organizations must continuously review their processes and reinforce their team skills set in order to “match the hatch”.
Alexis Devenin is engineer, MBA & PMP. He has a Professional Certificate in Foundations for Data Science from Stanford. He is interested in the analysis of industrial systems and organizations from a holistic and multidisciplinary approach, that includes tools from disciplines like data science, systems engineering and social sciences. www.linkedin.com/in/alexisdevenin
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