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I had an interesting conversation with a pair of engineering managers a few days ago. It was our task to come up with ideas for future group meetings and other ways to bring people together. We were chatting over coffee and brainstorming about what topics would appeal and engage other engineering managers. The discussion went on for nearly an hour and we came back to two notions (among the many we postulated) over and over.
We felt strongly, based on our own observations and feedback, that there is a need for newer engineering managers to find mentors or guides to assist in making a successful transition to management. While it's true that some of us have the benefit of educational or training tools to help us get the work done, that isn't always enough when you're wondering how well you're doing. Or when you encounter a challenge that isn't so "textbook" in nature. Or when you're considering if engineering management is even the best path for you.
Someone with experience in the field can lend ideas, validate our feelings and help us consider alternative methods. As the proverb states, there is no substitute for experience. The people that we talked to in earlier sessions repeatedly expressed a desire to meet experienced engineering managers. Admittedly, while it is fortunate to have a clear interest expressed, we were at a loss when we tried to identify these individuals. Our list of names was pretty thin; what to do?
As for the second concept, we each agreed that networking was a high priority as well. Here in the Twin Cities, the job market is big enough to move around, but not so big that you won't bump into familiar faces. Many opportunities are announced via word of mouth, so having a good network is vital to keep on top of the changes. Of course, LinkedIn and other social media outlets are great tools to use, but you still have to find these people in order to network with them.
You can see where our ideas were not mutually exclusive. In fact, we were excited to think that we could effectively tackle the second item by working on the first. And while that may seem effective and efficient, it is by no means a small or easy task ahead of us. We each agreed to turn to our own networks and try to find the people to help us address both needs. For me specifically, that means reaching out to some of my fellow cohort students and maybe even some of my professors in an effort to identify experienced engineering managers in our area. I’m happy to keep in touch with these people and see what suggestions they have to offer.
Ask yourself, as someone active or interested in engineering management, what do you want? Do your needs align with what our conversation uncovered? If so, how would you propose to locate and tap into these experienced resources? If not, what would you add to the list of needs? I look forward to seeing your comments and feedback here or at any of the ASEM social media sites. After all, would you be reading this if you weren't looking for something?
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Author: Frederick (Ken) Sexe
As engineers we deal with specifications every day. As a result most of our efforts are focused on meeting specifications as a means to meet customer requirements. Yet there is one other set of limits that are just as important as specification limits but for different reasons.
Taiichi Ohno defined these succinctly: he defined process limits as “the voice of the customer” and control limits as “the voice of the process”. Specifications are derived through actions taken to identify and quantify customer needs and apply them to the design. Control limits can only be defined through statistical process control methods that identify how the process accomplishes its intended purpose. This distinction is important as they both provide different information and are defined in different ways.
It sometimes occurs that specification limits are treated the same as control limits and vice versa. This assumption is dangerous as it assumes that the customer requirements are identical to process performance. It can also give a false comfort by providing a false impression that as long as the process operates within customer requirements that it is under statistical control. A process can operate within control limits yet not fulfill specification limits and vice versa; this distinction is crucial because the actions taken to improve the system are different for each scenario. Taking the wrong action based on a flawed assumption can cause more harm to the performance of the process than before while masking other problems influencing the process overall.
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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.
I've said this and tried to live this in my work. A bit of background: I work in IT Quality Assurance. I have a strong sense of best practices and repeatable process. That said, I enjoy change (well, as long as it's not my paycheck, password or daily routine) and I try to be that change advocate. After all, only through change do you achieve progress!
So here you are, reading an ASEM blog; what can you do to be a part of the change? It really depends on your level of involvement.
Maybe you will attend a webinar or join the LinkedIn group. But wait, there's more! How about sharing a post at LinkedIn? Or maybe commenting on a post at Facebook?
Yes, I'm simply scratching the surface here. I know there are people - the movers and shakers - that have even bigger ideas.
For a really big splash, how about volunteering? You can step up and participate in how ASEM is structured and goes forward. The committees of ASEM always have another place at the table for new thoughts and ideas. I realize that it may seem like things are slowing in the summer months, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are always activities that need input and enthusiasm!
Think it over; are your ideas running wild? I hope so. There are a lot ways to get involved. I hope that you do, because I want to hear your ideas for change.
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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 Master of Engineering Management 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 many industries and helps everyone to become effective leaders. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.
Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President
June 2015 Pres. Release
Here I am. Sitting in another hotel room. Its 5:00 AM and the sun is reflecting on the e-glass of a nearby high rise like a thousand mirrors showing the skyline of buildings in a revers image. Just like they are now. Like they were yesterday. And if the fault zones cooperate, like they will be tomorrow.
When I’m looking at mirrored windows, it seems I’m always trying to pick out details. What features do I recognize? Was I near there yesterday? Should I go there today? Recognition is an interesting phenomenon.
ASEM thrives on recognition, I believe. We should look into the mirror reflecting our society and try to recognize where the contributions are being made. Who is making a difference?
I believe every member is making a difference. And it is every member who offers that reflection of service that makes ASEM grow, and brings value to all members of ASEM. It is every member who helps us retain our members. Thank you. Each of you.
Metrics are like reflections in a mirror. Recognition of members is a form of metrics. We need something to show us—remind us—of where we’ve come from and how we are doing. Metrics show us if we are on the right track. Going the right way. Growing or falling behind. Do we reflect on newer members stepping up to random acts of leadership? In practice. In research. In learning.
What are the important metrics for ASEM for you? Maybe it is some measure of growth? Or value? Or retention?
A growing society is a living society that provides value to new and retained members. What growth metric reflects a vibrant ASEM? Could it be 250 additional members between now and the 2015 IAC? Maybe 2020 in 2020 to adapt a thought from EMJ Editor Toni Doolen. Or more. If we each ask someone to join us, we could. We should.
For value, increased IAC attendance and EMBoK or Handbook visibility means we have products that students and professionals value. Get it? Got it? Then use it; sell it.
For retention, steady renewal of your membership. And mine.
Metrics are the mirror that let us recognize growth, value, retention. Metrics let us know how well our practice of EM informs EM research and how EM research informs the practice of EM (thanks for that feedback, Jesse Kamm).
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Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
The King Gillette Company had a problem when they first introduced a truly disposable razor in the 1960s in that the disposable razors actually lasted as long (and in some cases longer) than more expensive razor types. A solution to this dilemma was to introduce a colored strip on the top of the blade casing as a means to signal when the blade required replacing. This allowed the company to increase consumption of the cheaper blades by encouraging replacement based on something other than the life of the blade itself.
There are several ways to increase consumption in a product. One way is to introduce a mechanism that signals a need for replacement at a particular time (an example being the “service engine” light signaling a need for servicing based on a certain number of miles or kilometers driven). A product can also be designed to last a certain amount of uses or time before requiring replacement (an auto manufacturer received bad press in the 1980s when it was discovered that the manufacturer designed automobiles to last a certain number of years before requiring replacement). Designing for consumption may provide short-term benefits but makes the organization vulnerable to perceived poor quality and competitors who may introduce products which may have the same or lower quality standards but a higher designed consumption level.
Designing for increased consumption also leaves an organization vulnerable to organizations that can use the tactic to either introduce a product with a longer life or advertise their products as higher quality. A manufacturer of printers made a conscious effort to increase consumption of their print cartridges by discontinuing older and larger cartridges and introducing smaller ones that printed fewer pages before requiring replacement. Their competitors responded in kind by advertising that their print cartridges actually lasted longer than theirs resulting in a poor perception by consumers that cost them loyal customers. In the case of the auto manufacturer that designed cars with a certain life expectance the organization earned the perception of having poor quality that allowed their competitors to take market share from them even though future models were shown to be of a higher quality.
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I have recently began re-reading Abraham Maslow's seminal work on management Maslow on Management (which I feel should be required reading for anyone aspiring to be a manager). One of my favorite parts is a section on self-esteem in the workforce in which he explains the effects of authoritarian management on employees. These effects on workplace morale is also summed up very eloquently by a friend and mentor of mine, Robert Dickman, in his video about the damaging effects of authoritarian management styles of team morale which is definitely worth viewing.
Authoritarian management works by placing significant power in the hands of an authoritarian (usually a manager) who then wields his positional power to ensure that those assigned to him pursue actions that meet the organization’s goals. The problem with authoritarian management, Maslow notes, is that the employee will counteract this power imbalance by acting "with hostility and vandalism" at its worst but typically in very subversive ways. Employees do this, Maslow also notes, because authoritarian management robs the worker of dignity and self-esteem and as such creates an imbalance the employee attempts to counter. These actions are initially very subtle (such as only doing what is assigned to them or neglecting tasks that are less visible but which have a significant impact on team performance) but eventually begin to erode team performance such that the authoritarian begins to wield his or her power even more (and thereby feeding a vicious cycle in which team morale is destroyed and the team becomes dysfunctional). The authoritarian manager begins to view these passive yet subversive actions with confusion, anger, and then frustration as the manager begins to think that the team is so dysfunctional that they need even more direct management from them to do their jobs. In cases where the manager micro-manages the team the manager suddenly finds themselves taking on more and more of the important tasks their subordinates are assigned as subordinates begin to do less and less.
This effect is especially damaging in teams requiring high collaboration such as engineering cross-functional teams where behavior within and between teams becomes competitive. Over time, as Robert Dickman succinctly notes, problems or opportunities seen by one team will stay hidden as each team is reluctant to bring up problems in a bid to avoid punishment. The team as a system will suddenly become suboptimized with tasks such as knowledge sharing minimized to only that which the team members are rewarded (or threatened) to do.
An unfortunate by-product of poor management is that employees begin to become risk adverse, using company policies and procedures to protect their actions. This behavior results in employees doing things only "by the book" as they feel that taking what is perceived as a risk exposes them to either further harassment or abuse by the manager or (even worse) being laid off. These employee actions can even result in behaviors that degrade the organization as their loyalty to the organization begins to shift. It is hard for many managers to understand that employees do not have the same stake in the organization as the manager and as such the employees actions will be seen by the manager in a confusing light, especially when the employee's action run counter to the needs of the organization. It is key to understand that it is not the manager's perception of his own management style that matters but how employees view the manager; this is especially true in teams that develop a shared understanding of the manager and subsequently the organization that is negative and corrosive.
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May 2015 Pres. Release
I’ll call this one, The Taming of the Skew. Yes, it’s a parody of one of Shakespeare’s plays made famous by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of working with The US Navy’s Senior Leadership Development Program (SLDP). I was providing training for civilian leaders working in the Navy’s system of warfighter support. These SLDP participants are good, intelligent managers who know the Navy’s needs and know how to support the women and men on the front lines protecting freedoms. These are managers who want more tools to support their work for their country.
It was one of the better classes, I’ve had with the SLDP. This was a group who wanted to learn. They wanted to know how to better lead their organizations. The biggest gap for me; they were all IT. I don’t speak IT. I do however – with pride – speak engineering management. The behavioral side of EM.
As I worked with them for three days of training, the message continued to be that one approach is not universal. Context may dictate whether to think in terms of Situational Leadership, Ginnett’s Team Leadership Model, the concept of leader-follower-purpose or any one of the many tools we EM’ers have at our disposal. The message was also, practice. Keep trying. If team effectiveness is needed, if work place effectiveness is needed, if motivation is required, practice until you get it right. Dynamic leaders of all ilk need to practice their craft to provide the systems and structures needed to get the work done. In the end, it is all about people. Don Tippett taught me that many years ago. Thanks, Don.
The skew, when used properly, minimizes the need for sandpaper. Sandpaper is what you use to get rid of the rough edges. A smooth finish with the skew means less money for sandpaper and a quicker path to finishing.
And then the epiphany. EM has many tools of effectiveness and efficiency. EM is the mark of productivity tools for managing knowledge workers. Using our tools effectively is more than training. It takes practice. We sharpen our tools with research. We use our tools in practice. We improve ourselves as engineering managers when we listen, think and work with...our people. We improve with practice.
Like doctors “practicing” medicine. You and I, we practice engineering management. Something we do. Something we share at the IAC. Tools that we can teach to others. Tools we learn to demonstrate by being part of ASEM.
What tools do you use in practicing engineering management? What tools can you share at the 2015 ASEM IAC?
What tools would you like to learn? Chances are, in ASEM, someone is practicing what you need.
Today, I tamed the skew. Where can ASEM help you?
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By Gene Dixon, ASEM President
April 2015 Pres. Release
Every now and then I go back and look at my list of goals for life. Call it a bucket list if you would like but I think I’m too young for that. Bucket lists are for those with a short fuse. I’ve always had a goal to live to the ripe old age of 120. Okay, we don’t need that image.
Some of my goals are lofty ambitions, some maybe are cellar dwellers. Still they are important. To me.
Still, the achievement of my goals, and yours too I suspect, require some work (there, I used my favorite four letter word), some methods and tools, some thought. Sometimes our goals require support. Maybe some infrastructure. A system or two. And definitely a plan of action. All this represents a system for goal achievement.
At ASEM World HQ, there is a lot of work going on right now to improve your Society’s infrastructure. It was time. It was time for new systems to support our growth not only in the US but across the globe. When you see Geert Letens, Trish Simo Kush, Paul (Kauffmann), the other Paul (Componation) or Patrick Kush, ask them what is going on. They and many others like Executive Directors Bill Daughton and Dave Wyrick, the UAH support staff as well as Angie Cornelius are doing some great things to make sure we are positioned with the right tools and methods and systems to support the needs of a growing ASEM.
Growing ASEM? Sounds like a good place for a growth goal. I agree. And, trust me the ASEM Executive Committee has been discussing goals. And value propositions. And making sure we have the systems in place to support the needs of a growing society.
I also think about a vision for ASEM. I’d like to believe a vision is the predecessor to goals. And a vision sets the stage for strategy or strategies.
Ask me about a vision for ASEM and I’ll talk to you about a worldwide recognized voice for engineering management. A 10,000 strong diverse membership known for cutting edge EM research and respected for developing evolving principles of application for practitioners. I may speak about 100,000 ASEM certified AEM/PEM practitioners that are routinely called on to practice leadership, systems engineering and strategic management in solving the unsolvable with engineering.
I may even talk about resolving global issues and local problems with engineering.
But you didn’t ask.
I’ll ask you, though. What is your vision for ASEM? What systems and methods and infrastructure are needed? What goals will make that vision real? For you. For me. For ASEM. For the brotherhood of mankind.
I like goals. Let’s make a goal to meet in Indy for the ASEM IAC. It’s the ASEM 250!
In other news...
It’s time. The best part of ASEM is the network. Part of ASEM’s network is our awards program. We want to recognize you. We also want to recognize those members who are making contributions to ASEM. Log onto our webpage (www.asem.org) and click on the awards link. That will open up to a page to links to all of our society awards. Find the one that you are interested and learn more about making your nomination.
Also, President-elect Geert Letens is working with a committee to identify nominees for leadership positions within ASEM. If you would like to serve as an elected officer, contact Geert (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
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The intent of this blog is to provide a small description of both of these thinking methods with the hope that it spawns curiosity in others to learn more about how these thinking styles work. These theories can be found in several of Russ Ackoff’s books such as Ackoff’s Best and Systems Thinking for Curious Managers as well as on YouTube.
Conventional thinking can be separated into two different methods. Analysis is a reductionist method that involves studying an item by reducing it to its constituent parts and studying the behavior or properties of each part separately in an effort to aggregate an understanding of the whole. Synthesis is a systems-based method that involves understanding the role or function of the item within a containing system and studying how the interactions of the parts within it aid the item in fulfilling their role within the system.
There are frequent arguments as to which of the two methods is most effective. In actuality, each method answers different types of questions. Analysis is best for answering “how to” questions; for instance, if an individual needs to understand how a car functions the individual can reduce a car to its various components to find the answer. Synthesis, on the other hand, provides us with answers to “why” questions. For example, if an individual needs to understand why a car has wheels and not tracks the individual can look at a car’s role within the greater system (in this example, to provide reliable transportation on land) to understand why a car design has wheels (and why tracks may be more suitable if the role of the car within the larger system changes).
Understanding the role of an item within a system also aids in designing the enclosing system also (in this example, since the car is designed with rubber tires the containing roads system can be redesigned to take advantage of this fact). Synthesis is also a design-based methodology with several problem-solving and decision-making methods focusing on improving a system through an understanding of how each component interacts with others to perform the role of the system. Analysis and synthesis are complementary to each other and in some instances can be used at the same time (for instance, cognitive work analysis includes abstraction hierarchy which uses synthesis and abstraction decomposition which uses analysis). Analysis cannot yield understanding of a system yet synthesis cannot explain how parts within a system perform their role.
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How much do you trust what your eyes tell you? Before you answer please take this quick test on selective attention. This video comes from the Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois and Viscog Productions.
A recent newsletter from a friend and colleague of mine, Gwendolyn Galsworth, at www.visualworkplace.com reminds me that much of what happens in an organization occurs out of plain sight yet is critical for its operation. Problems within an organization can occur when decision-makers fail to extend their solutions beyond what they see to interactions ‘hidden in plain sight’ that may hold more effective solutions. The main strength of workplace visuality is in modifying the flow of workplace tasks so that reliance on visual cognition is reduced which in turn reduces the potential for visual cognition errors such as selective attention.
Most people do not see the gorilla in the video even though both videos had the same gorilla walking through it. Why is the gorilla not seen the first time? Because the mind filters what it sees by focusing solely on the white jerseys while ignoring everything else (and since the gorilla was the same color as the other people bouncing the basketball it was subsequently filtered out). When the video is watched the second time the mind removes the filter created by the need to count white jersey basketball player interactions.
Two examples illustrate how selective attention can manifest itself in an engineering team. A major engineering company had an instance where a serious flaw outside the inspection criterion was constantly overlooked during inspection. The solution implemented by management was to increase inspection of the part in question by adding an inspector. Subsequent inspections increased the number of parts identified with the flaw caught but the total number of systems avoiding detection still remained high because although they were each assigned to inspect a certain thing the two inspectors did not see flaws missed by the other inspector. Engineers faced with a design flaw with a power supply in an avionics system focused solely on electrical solutions until a young mechanical engineer challenged the predominant thinking by considering it as a thermal issue. Subsequent testing resulted in identifying a way to improve cooling requiring significantly less redesign than any of the electrical solutions required.
An individual, when faced with a problem in his immediate workplace, views the problem based on his or her perspective while ignoring any other solutions. Organizational roles in which inspection is used as the source of quality become suspect as relying solely on inspection increases the possibility that individuals responsible for inspection will overlook problems outside of their inspection criteria. This is especially true of "good" parts that may pass inspection yet may cause problems elsewhere in the design they are a part of.
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