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  • 03 Mar 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Frederick (Ken) Sexe

    Perception is important to engineering design because it links an individual’s observations to patterns of thought formed by previous experiences. Perception influences behavior that subsequently can influence decisions. No design can overcome a poor customer perception no matter how perfect it may seem without an understanding of how customer perceptions influence acceptance of the product. An effective way to include customer perceptions into a design is to increase interactions between engineers and the end user. Increasing engineering exposure to customers, especially during testing, can provide valuable insights as to how the product meets their needs. Traditional organization structures unfortunately remove engineers from direct customer interactions customer by placing responsibility for customer interaction with other departments. Engineers are also traditionally trained to focus on specifications in design and not on abstract variables where perceptions affect design.

    Two examples illustrate how product design can influence customer perceptions. A Japanese bathroom appliance manufacturing company designed a toilet using one-fourth less water than previous toilets. Sales of the new toilet lagged as the customer perceived that the toilet was less hygienic because the water visually swirled less than traditional toilets. The engineers redesigned the toilet so that the water swirled at the same rate as the older toilets after which point sales of the toilet recovered. An American laundry soap manufacturer, when they first introduced washing powder to consumers, had very disappointing sales of the product and almost discontinued the product until they learned that consumers did not believe that it was effective because no suds formed compared to laundry soap. The company redesigned the product so that suds would appear at which point the product became highly successful.

    Some companies have found success in developing methods involving customers early in product design stages as a means to not only understand how the customer will perceive the value of their product but to also find new ways to apply core technologies to customer needs. A Japanese car manufacturer once had a six-month testing period in which customers would use the new vehicle while providing recommendations to engineers. A British company entering the Indian market selling bread spread for its intended use soon realized that Indians used their product as a food additive instead. Discovering this early in the market introduction allowed the company to change the product packaging and marketing to exploit this knowledge where it has found huge success in a market previously not considered.

    Many organizations unfortunately postpone consumer testing until the final design stages and in many cases during the manufacturing phase. Increasing the distance between engineering and end users combined with late consumer testing increases the possibility that negative perceptions of the product are either never identified or are identified later requiring a more costly redesign. Reducing the time between design and understanding consumer perceptions coupled with engineer training on how to interpret and apply these perceptions to a design has the potential to both increase product acceptance and reduce costly redesign as these perceptions become manifest.
    Image Credit:

    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.

  • 24 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe

    Systems thinking is critical to understanding how systems perform yet traditional methods of thinking often fail (or worse yet result in unintended consequences) when applied to systems. This is not intended to be a comprehensive article on systems but instead is intended to provide basic systems concepts that will hopefully provide insight for those unable to clearly understand systems. These concepts mainly derive from Russ Ackoff’s presentation to the InThinking Network on February 28, 2005 that is a valuable primer into the understanding of a system. The InThnking Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to systems thinking that has many useful resources for both novices and those expert in systems thinking.

    A system can be defined loosely as two or more components of which one or more are essential parts that interact with each other to achieve a shared goal. This definition has several important factors of which all systems rely upon. The first is that a system contains one or more essential parts of which if removed the system would be unable to achieve its goal. The second is that each part within a system interacts which each other to achieve the goal of the system. It is important to understand that no essential part can by itself perform the function of the system as a whole and that the system cannot perform its function within a larger system if an essential part is removed from the system.

    Essential parts have three factors that define them. Each essential part can affect the behavior or properties of the whole. Conversely, every subsystem within a larger system can affect the behavior or properties of the whole yet none of the subsystems can have an independent effect on the whole. This factor is important in that if the essential part is altered then the ability of the system to perform its function is impacted, possibly negatively. Therefore, it is possible to improve the performance of an essential part yet degrade the performance of the system.

    No essential part has an independent effect on the whole; each essential part instead interacts with other essential parts as a connecting set. An example of this would be the brain within the human body in that the brain is not able to think on its own but instead relies on its interactions with other subsystems within the body to perform. Nor can a subsystem perform the function, behavior, or properties of the larger system. An example of this is the human body in which no component or subsystem within the human body can live yet all of the components and subsystems interact to perform the overall function of the human body (life).

    The properties of essential parts provide several concepts important in understanding all systems. The first important concept is that the performance of a system relies on the interactions of the parts within it and not on the performance of the parts taken separately. This concept runs counter to conventional analytical thinking which attempts to gain an understanding of the whole by disassembling the parts. Analytical thinking fails to provide understanding of a system due to the fact that when a system is disassembled it no longer is able to perform it’s role; it is through a study of the interactions that true understanding of a system is gained. The second important concept is that by optimizing the parts one can inadvertently make the system worse. When parts are optimized without consideration of the interactions the ability of the other parts to interact and perform their own role relative to the function of the overall system changes. Russ Ackoff notes that you can take the best parts of all of the cars in the world and place them together and may will not even have a car; this is because each part is designed in relation to interactions with different systems and as such may not work when combined with other parts.

    It is my hope that this brief article provides some basic understanding to those who are unfamiliar with how systems work. In future submissions I may focus on other system elements and characteristics; please feel free to contact me if there are any questions you may have. I also hope that others within ASEM more knowledgeable in systems than I am expand upon these so that all members could learn from their expertise.
    Graphic Credit:

    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.

  • 17 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    In the quiet mornings — I really do get to the office before anyone else — I start with a review of the paper. I’m looking for course content. Today, I found this:

    The Wall Street Journal, Monday February 2, 2015, pg R8 “Where people don’t spend enough is in personal and professional development. Books and courses to expand your thinking as a leader in your business or community. Technical courses or an advanced degree to improve your skills and competencies at work. A conference or a program that enlightens you to a new idea.” – Ted Jenkins, co-CEO and founder, oWYGen Financial.

    This was under the heading “Where are people spending too much — and not enough?” that started off discussing the categories of biggest waste in the family budget (grocery shopping and dining out). Jenkins wonders why with all the cooking shows on cable that we are so prone to dining out.

    I read the article looking for course content for the next time I teach Engineering Economy. I’m always looking for ways to personalize lessons on the time value of money. I credit Ted Eschenbach with that.

    I’ve been calling for growth, value and retention on the society level. You’ve responded. Our numbers are up. Former ASEM President Rod Grubb has taken growth, value and retention so seriously, he’s issued a personal challenge to several of us to ask people to join ASEM. I’ve asked 200 so far.

    But that article made me stop for a moment. I thought about course content dealing with life-long learning, investing in your career for technical competence, and saving for retirement (not really understood by undergrads, but I try). And then I thought, “Here is a succinct statement about growth, value and retention on a personal level that should be reflected in ASEM’s products and services that we offer to the field of engineering management. My daughter would say “DUH!” You have to know her to appreciate the candor.

    We can talk about tools, techniques and methods within all of ASEM products and services. We can sing praises of their goodness and the need for their practice. We can tell ourselves how important our work is as the voice of engineering management across the globe. We would be right.

    And we would be wrong. Wrong? It’s wrong because it is not personal. It’s the old WIIFM game. And what is in it for you? For our customers? For engineering managers? Really it is practitioner support. Our products and services are practitioner support. The research of our academics — students and faculty — is about practitioner support. EMJ is, in the end, practitioner support. More than that, we have to share, learn, and develop on a personal level. Really, each ASEM member is making a personal investment in personal value. For themselves to begin with. And that growth in personal value is a contribution to the growth of the engineering management discipline.

    ASEM - building personal value, personal growth and personal retention. For ourselves. For engineering managers. For ASEM. What do you think? Can you make it personal?

    Thank you for your personal contribution to engineering management.
    Graphic credit:

  • 09 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous
    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 offered by a friend of colleague.

    Why join a professional society?

    When determining whether or not to join a professional society related to your career, there are several common benefits that most societies should offer:

    • Networking: Membership in a professional society gives you ready access to a national (and sometimes international) network of professionals engaged in similar professions in similar fields. Organizations often host conferences and other social events that allow you to engage with others face to face and expand your professional network.
    • Professional Development: Another main component of professional organizations is the professional development of their members. Groups often publish industry specific journals that allow members to contribute to the body of knowledge of their field and keep up to date on recent developments. Specialized training programs are also a common offering of professional organizations.
    • Career Assistance: Many professional societies cultivate industry-specific job boards that are available exclusively to members. In addition, when it comes to furthering your career, membership in a professional society can be a key indicator to your employer that you are an engaged employee dedicated to your field.

    Join the preeminent society for engineering management 

    If you are a professional or academic involved in the field of engineering management, consider membership in the American Society for Engineering Management. Join today and be a part of a growing society that speaks for the engineering management profession. Visit our membership page for more information.

  • 03 Feb 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Frederick "Ken: Sexe

    A recent article adding to the many about the brilliance of Steve Jobs noted that creativity requires several things lacking in some industries. Creativity, this article reminds us, requires diverse experience and a curiosity to explore new things coupled with an ability to synthesize new ideas. Why is experience and curiosity so important in creativity? And, more importantly, why do most organizations find it hard to foster these abilities?

    Imagine a barren wasteland devoid of any vegetation. Over time rain falls upon this landscape creating rivers and valleys. Over time this rain continues to fall creating areas with valleys deeper than other areas. This image is similar to how Edward deBono visualized how the mind works. The rain in this example is stimulus applied to a landscape representing the patterns of thought an individual has. One’s experiences continues to create a landscape in which stimulus prefers deeper patterns than others.

    These patterns of thought have advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that we are able to recall complex patterns from memory very quickly. These patterns unfortunately can work to our disadvantage by biasing us into certain patterns of thought over others. Individuals with a diverse set of experiences have in essence more patterns that are shallower than those of an individual with a limited set of experiences and much deeper patterns of thought. These patterns are also asymmetrical in nature; a good example of this is saying your ABC’s forwards and backwards. It is much easier to say your ABC’s going forward than backward as these actions actually use two different patterns rather than the same pattern forwards and backwards.

    Creativity comes when an individual is able to move from one pattern of thought to another. This results in a dominant pattern benefiting from the thinking that created another pattern. Steve Jobs benefited from his ability to apply a dominant pattern of thinking to patterns he had created with other experiences he had. Curiosity and synthesis, the other two factors Steve Jobs noted was important in creativity, encourages an individual to explore different patterns of thinking and applying these patterns to other dominant patterns to create new ideas.

    Organizations can inadvertently limit their ability to develop creativity in several ways. One critical factor occurs in the hiring process with HR and hiring managers focusing solely on requirements found in the job description. Many organizations compound this problem by not providing training on how to interview candidates for their level of potential creativity among other things. Another critical factor is policies that discourage risk taking such as goals and financial controls that discourage collaboration and risk taking across functions that could provide new ideas spawning creative new ideas. Organizations within a particular industry also tend to hire within the industry thereby limiting the availability of individuals from outside their industry that can provide creative new insights.

    There are obviously more factors to creativity and subsequent innovation than the ones included in this blog. There are also those within ASEM much more knowledgeable in creativity and innovation theory than I am. I sincerely hope that this blogs spurs some thinking that could be of value and introduce new ideas to our fellow ASEM members.
    Graphic Credit:


    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.

  • 20 Jan 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    First some announcements regarding increasing the value of your ASEM membership:

    1) We are finalizing the transition to ASEM World HQ in Huntsville. I visited there January 5, 2015 and met with Angie Cornelius, ASEM Office Manager. The complex has eye appeal and provides business services approaching best in class. A spacious conference room and an ideal training/meeting facility are key features. This will be good for the growth of the organization and the increased support services will give us new opportunities to provide more member value.

    2) As you now know, the ASEM has gone to annual membership renewals. By moving to an annual basis, we will avoid the end of the year hassle for members to make sure dues are paid up. From an (engineering) management point of view, a flatter revenue stream will support improved fiscal planning.

    It keeps getting better: 

    3) Our Communications Committee is continuing the push for greater member value. Led by committee chair Brian Smith and facilitated by ASEM’s Webmaster Nate McGinnis, the process of making IAC proceedings available for members through our webpage is well under way. Take a look. Find that old proceeding. No, the one that you wrote. This is an ongoing effort so bear with us as we refine and improve how everything is listed, indexed and accessed. Still, it is more value for you.

    4) The Engineering Management Journal is getting a new publisher. We have completed negotiations with Taylor and Francis as our new publisher. This will provide greater visibility and increased availability of our flagship publications. This should help with the journal’s impact factor as well.

    Now for an encore. What would you suggest?

    Here are a couple of opportunities for you to add value, grow the society and maybe even retain members. Invite someone to join. In a push for 1000, 2000 or 5000 members, it only takes a brief discussion with a colleague. If you believe in this society, why not?

    And, what if the Indy IAC was an IAC with 500 attendees? How could that happen? What if each of us invited someone to attend the 2015 IAC? No doubt it would scare the planning committee. That would be a good scare. Just think of the headlines “The ASEM 500”.

    Growth, value, retention. Easy to remember. Easy to do - just ask someone. Easy to enjoy. Growth will give us more opportunities to add value. Added value makes it easier to find a reason to renew.

    Remember the challenge from the last eNews. Well here’s a thank you to all who shared with me your goals for 2015. You guys are good! You think big! You have in mind what is important for all of us. And you certainly know how to challenge the ASEM officers to keep things moving. Truly, I appreciate your encouragement. Now, works shoes on. Sleeves rolled up. Let’s make it happen. For you. For ASEM.

  • 13 Jan 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous
    I've published more than a few of these blogs now, and I often wonder if the right information is being shared. There are so many ways to reach out and communicate, and the ASEM has a social presence in a number of locations. So I'll ask the question: Are You Connected to the ASEM?

    If you haven't already, consider joining the ASEM group at Facebook or Google+, on LinkedIn or 'following' ASEM on Twitter. Just like the organization itself, the ASEM's virtual presence grows with active participation.

    This week, my challenge to each of you is to explore one of the outlets.

    Visit the website and register, if you haven't already. Take a look and see what's new, such as the next scheduled webinar. It's slated to be held on January 30th at 1:00 PM CST, and it's the first in a planned series. Please, join your colleagues and learn more about "Entrepreneurship-Starting an App Company while Working 9-5."

    While you're at it, consider joining and/or posting at the ASEM group site on LinkedIn. ASEM membership is not required to join the group, which makes it a great way to learn more about the organization and answer your questions about joining "the society that speaks for the engineering management profession across the world."

    Yes, I'm showing you my bias. I'm still learning my way around Twitter and I'm always happy to 'follow' someone that already knows their way around. And while I'm not terribly active on Facebook or Google+, I know that some people prefer those sites and I'm glad that ASEM is available in those places.

    So I'll keep this a bit on the short side in the hopes that I see you 'out there.'


    Tricia Simo Kush is a recently certified Professional Engineering Manager. Her background is in Information Technology with a goal is to take her career to a higher level through Engineering Management. To her, Engineering Management is a fascinating mix of technology and business, people and process. Follow her on Twitter (@TSimoKush) or check out her profile on LinkedIn.

  • 06 Jan 2015 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    I hope that everyone had a terrific end of semester / end of year holiday season. For me, it was a bit more hectic and stressful than usual. I started a new consulting assignment in the middle of December and tried very hard to become acclimated as my new co-workers left on scheduled vacations. Ah, change and transition. While I'm not really truly settled into this new role - yet - it certainly provided the opportunity for me to reflect and plan for the upcoming year.

    As many of you know, I spend a fair amount of time reading blogs and articles on topics germane to Engineering Management. "Leadership" seemed to be the buzzword of choice in 2014 for any number of reasons. As I stepped into this new position, I considered the ways that I could bring my own style of leadership to the role.

    Fortunately for you, dear readers, one of my favorite bloggers captured my thoughts much more succinctly than I could post.

    I started following Terri Klass in 2014, about the same time that I stepped into the ASEM blog. I like her approach to leadership and the clear style of her posts. She's always very kind on Twitter when I retweet her blog URLs, too. Her post on "Five Ways To Spice Up Your Leadership" captured my attention as I took my first steps in this new assignment.

    DISCLAIMER: While Terri has my wheels turning, the following suggestions and interpretations are largely my own (any errors or missed marks are mine alone, too).

    In following the topics within Terri's post:


    That is pretty much all that I've been doing for the past three weeks, and I continue to do so. Fortunately, there are two people on my current project that I've met in past projects (the IT market in the Twin Cities can be rather small at times), so not every face is a new one. Along with new co-workers, I've had to learn new processes and meet the people in charge with those as well. I've been reminding myself that this IS the only "first impression" that I get to make, so I need to be sharp, friendly and a good listener / note taker. In time, I will follow Terri's advice and create deeper connections with some of these talented professionals.


    I'm excited to learn more about what ASEM is presenting in the months ahead. The Communications Committee has a tall goal of providing monthly webinars to the members and I know that there are a number of great topics on the schedule for 2015. Effective leadership doesn't happen all at one time, as you know. You need to keep evolving, learning and growing. The successful people on your team are dynamic individuals, so it falls to you to be just as energetic in your ideas!


    Insert shameless plug for ASEM participation here. Seriously, Terri is correct in telling her readers that "[T]he knowledge you can gain and the leaders you can meet is beyond measure." You've paid your dues, you already support the organization; why not get involved?! For example, the 2015 IAC will be here before you know it, and the conference planning committee is actively seeking corporate sponsors. Maybe this is the year you and your company step forward to support the advancement of Engineering Management principles on a global scale?


    For me, this is key to "Keeping the Saw Sharp" (my favorite 'Habit' from Stephen Covey's bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). As a consultant, it's absolutely critical to improve yourself and find ways add value to your key areas (work, family, whatever you decide). It's the same for any leader; cross-training makes everyone on your team more effective and valuable, and it also provides you with an important learning opportunity. I've found that most people like to share their work, particularly if they've found a way to make it more effective or meaningful. Why not learn more and develop a deeper appreciation for the people around you?


    I cannot stress this enough. It's my opinion that you get the best advice from two kinds of people: The people that have done what you are trying to do, and the people that are doing what you are trying to do. This is where mentors come in. A great goal for 2015 is for find a mentor (or a few) and really spend the time to learn and grow from their experience. Leaders surround themselves with people that provide guidance, ideas and feedback. This can be the year where you invest in yourself and take charge of your path to success.

    Do you see any areas where you can spice up your leadership? Share your ideas here or through any of our social media channels and continue the conversation!
    Graphic credit:

  • 16 Dec 2014 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    I’m starting to think deeply about 2015.  The end of any year is a time for corporate and personal reflection.  Corporate reflection is a review of performance towards targets and goals, a very quantitative reflection.  For ASEM, our performance is measured in part in terms of the financial success of the 2014 IAC; the growth of our membership base, student and professional; and, member value created through training, certifications, and communications.

    Personal reflection is more subjective.  I like to reflect on how much personal growth I have experienced over the last year.  My list of areas of personal growth is longer now that I’ve assumed the role of ASEM President.  Already, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance of personal interaction with members, not just for me but for all of the officers and volunteers that make up this vibrant organization.  I’m growing personally by dealing with the speed with which change occurs – much too slow for me.  Yet, I’m learning anew that deliberative processes and participative decision making take time.  I’m growing as I try to match the energy so many of you demonstrate in moving ASEM forward.  I’m growing as I look for opportunities to drive bold new initiatives along with ways of encouraging new ways of thinking in addressing both the nagging issues and the great opportunities that lie before the ASEM.   I’m glad to report progress is being made.  There will be more to say about that in January and throughout 2015.

    So in what areas am I looking for personal growth in 2015?  Learning more about working with/in the ASEM to grow our voice and our membership around the globe.  Learning how to identify opportunities for energetic ASEM members to apply themselves in creating service and products that add value to being and ASEM member.  Learning how to better tap the rich resource of experienced and previous ASEM leaders to help advise the current ASEM leadership.  And, learning how to establish a scorecard system for the ASEM President; a challenging work already in progress.

    That’s just me.

    How about you?  What does your personal reflection about 2014 indicate that you should be pursuing in 2015?  Being a little more selfish, when it comes to ASEM in 2014, what do your personal reflections suggest for 2015?  For your personal growth?   For the society’s member growth, member value and member retention?  I’d like to hear your thoughts.  Just send me a note and we'll consider it a conversation over a holiday themed brew.

    And, from my house to yours, here are three recordings from our son for your holidays.  Please accept this as my thanks for your ASEM efforts–from dues paying to committee chairing–along with my wish for every ASEM member that you will have a safe and festive season and a very prosperous 2015.

    New for 2014:

    And a classic (to me) from 2013

    Graphic credit:

  • 02 Dec 2014 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Author: Gene Dixon, ASEM President

    Sometimes I just sit and write random thoughts. Right now, I’m in a hotel room, twelve floors above the beach.  It’s a cloudy night.  No stars.  The balcony doors are open.  The sound of the surf brings a feeling of calmness.   On the horizon, the lights of the cargo ship are flashing.  There is the occasional sound of an F35 cutting through the night sky.  It’s the eve of the start of the ASEM 2014 IAC.

    Someone asked me to write a few words for the ASEM blog.  Write whatever comes to mind.  In a few hours, I’ll have a new role in ASEM. Some might call it a leadership role.  I think it is more about an experience in service.

    Leadership.  Sometimes we aspire to it. Sometimes we might be forced into it.  Sometimes we might be elected to it.  Sometimes we just act our way into in.

    If there was a potion for creating leaders, would engineering managers ever use it?   Why would they expect a potion to do what only the tempering of experience can do?  Experience is the beginning of leadership.  Experience is the one true method for leadership development.

    Leadership is a process that is composed of leaders, followers and purpose.  A system of actions and reactions.  A system of interactions.  Like sharpening a saw, developing leadership within an organization is an interactive process of leader and follower interacting to achieve a goal, a reason, a purpose.  Maybe it involves providing a service to someone, for someone?

    ASEM leadership is like that.  So many volunteer leaders and followers.  Members having a desire to move this society into an international voice for engineering managers everywhere.  Members who want to provide a service to practitioners, to students, to faculty.  Or for each one of those.  Practitioners and academics, students and mentors, theorists and users all coming together to provide value to ASEM, to their employers, to their institution and to themselves. Leadership development through service and experience in a professional society.  Service that adds value to present members and members yet to come.  Experience that teaches and molds and shapes. Members who have been led by other members.  Experience that is shared and gained.

    ASEM is a lot of folks from a lot of places with a diversity of interest bound in a commonality called ASEM.  ASEM is a place with a common core of knowledge focused on strategic management, leadership and organization, and systems of people.  Primarily knowledge workers.  Hard workers.

    ASEM offers opportunities to gain leadership experience.  Be a leader.  Be a follower.  Bring along someone new.  Be ASEM.

    The surf.  The sound of sea coming to shore.  Bringing one side of the world to the other.  ASEM brings us together. In service.  In experience.  In leadership.

    Your leadership development can start with ASEM experiences.


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