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Author: Geert Letens, ASEM President
I felt very fortunate this morning. Returning home from a conference on error management organized by the European School for Management and Technology - and yes of course, I did bring the ASEM flag - I had the opportunity to walk around for a couple of hours in Berlin, Germany.
I just love to wander around in cities, especially early in the morning when there is hardly any traffic and only a couple of joggers running through the sceneries: discovering and admiring, but wondering too. About how it must have been to walk these same streets in the old days. You just have to return 50 years in history in Berlin to understand that things would have been completely different. There are plenty of symbols referring to ‘the wall’, reminding me that I simply wouldn’t have been able to follow this track that impressed with a few hundreds of years German history.
People build walls to protect their properties – that is quite understandable. Defending our territory and our history is essential to preserve our identity. More so, we need to feel safe and secure before we can grow and develop. But cutting off systematically from the outside world is not a healthy option either. In fact, in a military context, isolating your enemy has often been a proven concept leading to surrender. To prevent this, we need bridges. To bring in food and energy, to enable trading of products and services, to seize new opportunities that can assure sustainable growth.
Our society has a history and legacy to be proud of as well. So we have to protect this. As a result we will take the necessary steps in 2016 to protect our brand and our products. At the same time however, we need to develop more partnerships. When we are able to recognize the strengths of other organizations in order to match them with our core, we can achieve amazing results. Just look at the results of our partnership with Taylor and Francis for publishing the Engineering Management Journal. Better visibility for our authors, improved assistance for our editors, systemic screening of copyright violations, additional search options for our members. Submissions went up with 40% in one year, ASEM members get up to 20% discount on various Taylor and Francis books: value and growth – our past-president Gene Dixon can be proud. Thanks to Beth Cudney and Paul Kauffmann for setting up this partnership, thank you Toni Doolen and Eileen Van Aken for turning this relationship into a success story!
Today in Berlin, the remaining part of the wall is a symbol that reminds us of a period of division and separation. Berlin itself however, has grown to become the symbol of successful unification. Let’s work together this year to develop more partnerships, creating opportunities for engineers around the world to connect and to benefit from our products and services. There are amazing things we can accomplish if we manage to preserve our core, but are willing to think win-win with our partners: a number one priority for our upcoming spring board meeting.
Engineers sometimes are instructed to build walls. I tend to believe however, that in general, we prefer building bridges. Much more challenging, for sure, but when done well, also much more rewarding.
I hope you had a wonderful end-of-year season. On behalf of the ASEM Board of Directors, I wish you a healthy and happy 2016. There is a lot to look forward to this year. Let me know if you want to contribute to our success.
Let’s get connected!
Geert Letens, PhD PEM
ASEM President 2015-2016
ASEM Newsletter December 2015
The world is changing – a statement from the previous newsletter that can count. Over the last month we have seen both good and bad of this change. In less than 30 days Paris has been the centre of the world twice. First, to remind us of our vulnerability against terror, and second, to share a strong message of hope on climate change. As I am writing this message, nearly 200 countries adopted a new climate agreement, expressing their willingness to contribute to the solution of a global problem that extends their national interests.
This sets a stage for engineers and scientists to collaborate as never seen before. To develop new technology, to deliver massive projects of an unseen scale, to develop socio-technical systems that truly address global societal needs. Our society’s core knowledge centres on the integrated (technical, social, organizational) character of engineering management, and as a result, we can contribute to their success. More so, we need to contribute to their success.
As has been pointed out by our previous president repeatedly, this implies the development of an ASEM strategy that focuses on both value and growth. While various board members and committee leaders are working hard to define by the end of the year the formal plans and objectives that will help us to move forward in this direction, I want to raise your curiosity by sharing a few promising details.
• New membership options for engineering students and universities that sign up for a special partnership program.
• New training materials that will set you up for AEM and PEM certification
• A train-the-trainer program that will offer opportunities for certified knowledge providers around the world
• Certification events, organized in collaboration with global partners throughout the year
• Discounts for ASEM members and EMJ volunteers on books of the publisher of EMJ, Taylor and Francis.
• A new edition of the EM Body of Knowledge as well as the update of the EM Handbook
While I am sharing these examples of our continuous efforts towards improved value delivery, our society continues to grow around the world. ASEM has officially approved its first international section: please join me in welcoming the ASEM International Section Pakistan! As this section works towards the creation of a dedicated website to promote EM in their country, we are happy to share their enthusiasm in becoming the first global embassy of ASEM.
So, how about you? Are you excited about the way we are taking? Do you want to join us on our mission for a better world through improved engineering management? Would you like to see ASEM being represented in your country? Let us know if you can think of organizations that we should partner with. Maybe you or any of your friends would like to know more about certification and training, or perhaps you even consider becoming a certified trainer?
We really would like to hear from you - let’s get connected!
Geert Letens, PhD PEM
ASEM President 2015-2016
Notice anything lately? As in the quiet? Eh, probably not. That's OK.
You see, I haven't posted a blog in a while (nor has anyone else in ASEM). Further, it seems as if no one has noticed. That tells me that we're likely very busy or otherwise distracted. Simply put, if I haven't got something to share, I certainly don't think it's worth tearing you away from your activities.
In the meanwhile I'll be working with Gana Natarajan to improve our communications stream. It's important to communicate, and it's also important to communicate well. With Gana at the helm, I'm excited to see the changes that come our way in the future.
Enjoy December, don't work too hard, and be sure to let us know if there's a topic that we can explore with you. Your feedback goes a log way towards building better communication. ~ Trish
Our International Annual Conference in Indy was all about driving change, as it should be. The world is changing fast, and yet, more change is coming. According to Thomas Frey, Google’s top rated futurist speaker, humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in all of human history. There are tremendous challenges ahead of us: sustainability and climate change, the energy crisis, population explosion and changing societal demographics, and finding resources to feed 9 billion people. This is not just a burning platform – it rather looks like a burning ocean. More than ever, engineers will be needed to make a difference: failure is not an option. The good news is that they will be able to do what they are really good at: providing out of the box solutions for complex problems with stringent conditions.
But to deal with tomorrow’s challenges, engineers will have to change, too. While over the next 20 years, two billion jobs may disappear, most of them are forecasted to come back in different forms in different industries, with over 50% structured as freelance projects rather than full-time jobs (Thomas Frey, 2013). This implies the rise of a whole new development industry, allowing people to switch professions with less than 6 months of training and apprenticeship. Our society needs to be ready to support engineers to deal with these shifts throughout their career, providing them with the instruments and credibility (or, the knowledge and certifications, respectively) to be successful. While we do so, we will lay the foundation to accelerate the future.
This future will be without any doubt international: future measures of relevance will be determined on a global scale. The signs of international collaboration are already clearly visible in our society. Almost 40% of authors in the Engineering Management Journal are international. At the conference in Indianapolis, five continents were represented, coming from 23 countries. In May, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Division of Engineering Management of the Chinese Academy of Engineering at the 9th Engineering Management Forum in Guangzhou. Currently we are very close to welcoming our first international sections of ASEM in Brazil and Pakistan. As your first truly international president, I look forward to further growing our international presence, and reaching out to other societies to co-organize engineering management events around the world.
All this requires us to continue to refine our products and services and to focus on value delivery for all of our customer groups: academics and students, as well as practitioners in industry. Ideas are not lacking – on the contrary! That is why I want to take this opportunity to reach out to you. If you too acknowledge that the world is changing, and believe that engineers and engineering managers will be essential to make a difference, then consider joining our team. Of course I understand there still may be questions about ‘how’ and ‘what’, but if already we share the same ‘why’, I am sure we will be able to find the right way for you to contribute to a society that wants to accelerate the future of engineers around the world.
Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/search/crowd/
Let’s get connected!
Geert Letens, PhD PEM
I was cruising the Internet yesterday and noticed a number of articles with an interesting theme. The titles of the posts were essentially 'Hire the Right People and Let Them Do Their Thing,' or some similar variant. It seemed odd to me that someone would have to point this out. After all, isn't the key to building a good team rooted in hiring people that are better than you at the tasks you need completed?
Rather than dwell on why someone needs to read these articles, though, I instead thought about the managers I've had where that message was either not received or ignored. What I came up with is by no means scientific or even statistically significant. Rather, it's more of my 'slice of life' perspective; your mileage may well be very different (and, I hope, for the better!).
The Boss - The classic 'Command and Control' manager, where "it's my way or the highway." I don't perform well in this setting. Most people I know don't flourish here, either. This sort of know-it-all manager is focused only on maintaining their spot at the top of the food chain. Productivity, innovation and engagement be damned, he (or she) is the big cheese and you had best recognize them as such. Teams under such individuals languish and the members likely find themselves as candidates for job cuts, given their undervalued contributions and poor performance. This manager would do better with a fleet of automatons, since they'll squander and squash any talent that comes their way.
The Micromanager - This person is practically a step-sibling to The Boss. While they might have experienced a brief glimmer in recognizing your talent, they sure aren't going to let you run off the leash to use it. Does your manager hound you for updates at multiple intervals during the day? Do they hover over you and behind you when they work? Do they need to have every detail of every task you intend to perform? Then you have found yourself under the microscope, unable to move or even consider a different approach to your work. It makes me wonder if these are the same managers that cannot seem to accomplish anything, because they find themselves too busy managing the details to perform their own work? When I find myself working for one of these people, I ask myself if someone in a past role really screwed up and caused the rest of us to be punished as a result?
The Absent Manager - While this initially sounds like a wonderful situation, this approach can lead to confusion and wasted productivity. The Absent Manager is never around to provide direction or communicate expectations. The team has no way of knowing what to do, unless one of them happens to be an accomplished mind reader. Deadlines are missed and high priority items are set aside in the void. Whatever the manager is expecting to accomplish, it's not happening here. The team is hired for talent, but left to fend for themselves. This 'lack of management' can lead team members to the chopping block, as they are unable to deliver or manage their work in a timely fashion.
The Absent-Minded Manager - I see this person as a mash-up between The Micromanager and The Absent Manager. They either aren't around, because they're spinning off in dozens of directions, or they're asking about the same details for the umpteenth time because they've forgotten or misplaced their notes. As a result, team members have to channel their talents toward managing this manager, to keep them on track and the project a-float. Time is wasted in re-work and lost priorities because the manager cannot be bothered to follow the plan (or establish one). As a result, everyone on the team has to become a mini-manager (for better or worse), which risks the emergence of any type described above. While this may showcase the strength of the team, too often it ends up being a train wreck of poor chemistry and delivery.
I'll wager there are even more management types that fail to appreciate their team members. I dare not think on it too much longer, lest I come off as a pessimist (I prefer to think of myself as a realist, to be honest). But I am curious to know what I missed, or if there's another type of manager that we should all try to avoid. Post your thoughts here and let's continue the conversation.
Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/working-in-a-group-6224/
Tricia Simo Kush is a certified Professional Engineering Manager with a background in Information Technology and a goal to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. She graduated from the MEM program at St. Cloud State University in 2010. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. She is constantly seeing the ways that Engineering Management spans industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
You've caught me; another blog about things that I have recently read.
The first is a note from Mike Cohn, who founded Mountain Goat Software. I don't, nor have I ever worked for Mike or his company. To be honest, I cannot recall how I first heard about him, but I've followed his blogs for years. He is a straight-shooter and calls 'em like he sees 'em. Most recently, he offered the following thoughts about estimation:
"I ask a team to estimate a product backlog item only when having the estimate will lead to actionably different behavior. So, for example, I might ask a team for an estimate on a user story so that I can decide if I want that story soon or perhaps not at all. Or I might ask for an estimate so I can make a commitment to a client or partner.
But I don’t ask a team to estimate just so I can later yell at them if they’re wrong. I don’t ask a team to estimate just so they feel pressure to meet that estimate."
(Yes, I know he's using some software lingo, but we all understand requirements, functionality and 'wish lists.' That's what he's talking about.)
I took a moment and thought about this. Granted, I'm frequently asked to estimate effort. We are all asked to provide estimates. But are these estimates used properly or, as Mike suggests, do they come back to bite you?
Maybe the article struck too close to home? On a recent project, I was hounded for a count of test cases. I have no problem telling anyone how many cases I've created, but if you aren't going to review them - and the requirements - the numbers don't mean anything. 'More' does not always equal 'good' (or 'better') in these situations.
In fact, it reminds me of the so-called 'good old days' of software where developers were paid by the line of code. Really. Have you ever heard of 'code bloat?' I assure you that many developers from that era have. Simply put, you cannot judge anything by the number of components. In other words, if 'some' is good, 'more' is not automatically better.
In his note, Mike goes on to add:
"Why not estimate everything?
Estimating can add a lot of value. It can lead to better decisions. For example, I’ll make a better 2016 budget with the estimates I’ve asked for than if I don’t get them. Right now, that’s important to me. But, if an estimate will not lead to an actionably different decision, time spent estimating is wasted."
He's right. You can spend a lot of time on tasks - estimating, metrics, even solutioning - that never come to fruition. His point is valid; if it means better decisions, it's not wasted time. And I would argue that sometimes we don't see better decisions coming from our efforts, and that can cause some frustration and even distrust.
As managers, we're often asking our teams to perform such activities. Sometimes we have to do them ourselves. Is the 'Why?' so hard to follow, or even question? Most of us can handle a situation once we have the appropriate information.
As Mike says, we can make better decisions. Working smarter, not harder, is the name of the game. So it's worthwhile to ask yourselves 'Why?' before requesting or performing the activity. If it leads to understanding and appreciating the goal, then it's time well spent. If you don't have a suitable answer, then you can determine that it's a wasted effort... and then the other questions start to form.
Because I cannot leave well enough alone, I also checked in with Johanna Rothman's site. I've referenced her work here before. She had a related but different topic recently, on 'resource efficiency.' Here is what she uncovered in a recent meeting with a client that was concerned about expertise and productivity:
"I want everyone fully utilized--how else will I know if people are productive?"
(This is a hot topic for me, particularly as a consultant. A freeway at full capacity, for example, means that no one is moving. Do managers really want that?!)
Johanna makes an important point in her note. "Measuring utilization is measuring effort. Your customers don't buy your efforts. They buy your products/features/releases. They buy the results of your efforts."
So estimation, measurement, expertise, utilization don't matter to your customer; make the best product and sell them what they asked for. Granted, pricing and delivery factor into the equation, but the message is clear. The buyer wants your best output, and you have to figure out how to deliver that.
Johanna concludes with this (a point that I agree with 100%):
"Use management to set the context and create an environment in which people can solve most of their problems. Measure the projects or features you finish, not the ones you start."
Your take-away is your own, and I suspect there are a few nodding heads in Reader Land. I tossed a lot of thoughts your way that made sense to me, but maybe not to you? Post your questions and thoughts below and let's see if we can get to a good place with estimates and measuring results. I look forward to the conversation!
Image credit: https://loribonfitto.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/raking-leaves.jpg
In my current residence, the 2010 model furnace is unreliable due to intentional engineering decisions. It has a safety feature that shuts the fuel off if there is no flame. Good idea, but the flame sensor is temperamental and cannot tell it is in the middle of a hot flame when a thin film of oxide is present. I cannot see any buildup, but a quick wipe with steel wool gets it working again. If I am away when the sensor quits, the house may freeze - because the engineers could not think of a better way to tell if something is extremely hot other than this finicky sensor.
Secondly, my furnace shuts the burners off if it believes the flue is plugged. This is a good feature, except that it can be triggered by many different scenarios. When triggered, the furnace shuts down and will attempt to restart when the thermostat signals low temperature. The plugged-flue sensor needs a neutral pressure to reset as would normally happen if the flue was not plugged. As part of another system, there is a small fan that creates negative pressure while the burners are on to prevent combustion gas escaping into the house. If the plugged-flue sensor shuts the burners off and the furnace tries to restart before the small fan stops spinning because of inertia, the combination keeps the fuel shut off and the flue fan starts and keeps running until it is manually rebooted by cutting the power. Again it makes it difficult to leave the house in winter for more than a day for fear of requiring a manual reboot.
The motives behind the improved furnace design are admirable such as safety and energy efficiency, but the unintended consequences of an unreliable system introduce more safety and efficiency concerns. Design engineers are often not good at establishing the bases for their designs, or rather it is typically not their job to do so. The requirements are set by the stakeholders. These stakeholders can benefit from people knowledgeable in EM fundamentals and who believe in the value of systems that work fine. In operations management courses EM’s are taught case studies where one company may succeed and grow by building upon systems that work and others are run into bankruptcy by the unintended consequences of changes based on good intentions without a solid history of success.
Image credit: http://www.nachi.org/gravity-furnace-inspection.htm
Dr. Kennedy spent most of his career on heavy industrial projects in the fields of oil & gas, pipelines, electrical power generation and mining. He has also lectured at universities on financial and project management. He has written two books and dozens of articles on the practical application of management theories, with special interest in how our own misperceptions often lead us down paths of fantasy.
Last week was, as usual for the annual conference, a whirlwind. It's a good kind of busy, to be sure. Meeting new people, catching up with colleagues that you haven't seen since the last conference and hearing all of the presentations can quickly add up to a full program.
The 2015 IAC was, in my opinion, a success. The city of Indianapolis is a terrific site and The Alexander is a premier location. The host committee and ASEM staff did a great job of seeing to every detail. A tremendous amount of work goes into these events and it seems so seamless to many of us in attendance.
The conference also serves as a turning point for many in ASEM leadership positions. Service terms are often one year in length and the conference signals when there are changes in these roles. I'd like to thank Gene Dixon for his work and energy that he brought as the President of ASEM. His humor and good nature often disguised how much work was taking place. Geert Letens, the new ASEM President, has quite the act to follow.
Another new yet familiar face in the leadership is Ganapathy "Gana" Natarajan, who is the new Communications Director. He has held this position before and is already acquainting himself with the new website format. Brian Smith is the outgoing Communications Director and will be missed. I enjoyed working with him. Brian's attention to detail and friendly demeanor helped the committee to deliver so many effective communications, such as the eNews, webinars and practice periodicals.
With these changes - and others that I've not mentioned - there is much to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead. What would you like to see from ASEM? What can we do or improve to better serve your expectations? Now is an excellent time to voice your suggestions or become involved in making change happen.
Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
Seth Godin wrote an eloquent blog titled Tires, coffee, and people in which he reminds us that we as consumers tend to skimp on the wrong things in an effort to make things better. For instance, we seek to buy better cars without understanding the benefit that the right tires have on performance. We seek out newer and better coffee machines while ignoring the fact that the right coffee bean is arguably more important.
We as a society also view people the same way. Take two companies of exactly the same size with exactly the same capital resources. What makes the organizations operate differently? It is the people that allow an organization to use the resources towards a company’s goals.
Yet systems do not operate that way. Problems within a system tend to be caused in places other than where the problem can be seen. A loss in sales can be caused by factors in which the sales team has no control over. I have personally seen how strategies such as reducing spares affect the ability to build products on time (or repair them in a timely manner). Most managers also have no fundamental concept of variation and how to both identify it and address the causes.
Image credit: https://images.unsplash.com/
Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.
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