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  • 11 May 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Used with permission from John Walston, Co-Founder of ResourcefulManager

    Let’s set the record straight.

    Everyone who is a great leader isn’t necessarily a great manager. And great managers aren’t necessarily great leaders.

    So when it comes to the Leaders vs. Managers debate, where do you land?

    Here’s a list of 17 traits that separate the two. Go down the list and check off which ones match you. Most of us have some qualities of each. For example, do you have 10 Leader traits and 7 Manager traits? Or the reverse? Are you happy with the answer?

    Make sure to tell us in the comments section and read more insightful articles at the Resourceful Manager website:

    Differences between managers and leaders

    ResourcefulManager Illustration by Michael Credle | Research by Lisa McKale
    © Copyright 2016 ResourcefulManager

  • 11 May 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    The 2017 data is in, and job announcements are up substantially for U.S. manufacturing.

    By Harry Moser and Millar Kelley; used with permission by Harry Moser, Founder of the Reshoring Initiative.

    Reshoring and foreign job announcements (FDI) surged in 2017 to over 170,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs. This is strong evidence that work can and will be successfully brought back—and is especially relevant in a time of intense debate over tariffs and the trade deficit.

    All told, job announcements were up 52% from 2016, and a whopping 2,800% from 2010. Announcements lead to hiring typically within 6 to 24 months.

    There is substantial potential for many more jobs to come back, if the right policies are implemented going forward.

    Implications for the Economy and Manufacturing

    President Donald Trump has announced tariffs on solar panels, appliances, steel, aluminum and a broad range of Chinese products. His aim is to eliminate the $700 billion/year non-petroleum goods trade deficit, thus increasing U.S. manufacturing by about 40%--about five million jobs.

    Many observers question these actions based on likely retaliation and higher U.S. consumer prices. Others question the feasibility and wisdom of trying to increase manufacturing’s share of the economy by bringing back to the U.S. the industry that we have lost over the last 40 years.

    We observe from our 2017 data on reshoring, combined with other Reshoring Initiative reports, that:

    • It is now clear that U.S. manufacturing, including foreign-owned plants, can be started up or grown to support a substantial flow of work back to the U.S.
    • U.S. and foreign companies increasingly recognize that it is in their interest to supply more of the U.S. market by local production and sourcing.
    • Based on timing of announcements, much of the surge was due to the anticipation of lower taxes and regulations and higher tariffs. To bring back more than about 10% of the five million offshored jobs will require more U.S. competitiveness, more leveling of the playing field—including some combination of lower USD, stronger skilled workforce training, still lower corporate tax rates, and a VAT (Value Added Tax).
    • Bringing so many jobs from offshore disproves the weak claim that only 4 to 13% of the decline in manufacturing jobs has been due to offshoring, with the rest to automation. If so few had been lost to offshoring, so many could not be recovered in one year.

    In addition to federal policy, states and cities need to play a role:

    • Some states are more attractive and effective as destinations. The Southeast and Texas have dominated. The Midwest is now moving up in the rankings. Government incentives are the most frequently mentioned motivating factor
      Education and skills training need to be improved in almost all regions. Skilled workforce is the third ranked driver of reshoring and FDI.
    • Infrastructure is highly ranked.

    Companies can profit from the data below—here are some things to keep in mind:

    • Skills training is a corporate responsibility. Some companies have taken that responsibility; others have ignored it. Without a larger and better trained workforce, the flow will decline rapidly. Skilled workforce is the third highest ranked motivator of reshoring.
    • Industry 4.0. Automation, productivity, innovation and lean collectively are the highest ranked enablers of reshoring. Have you optimized?
    • See which industries or companies are reshoring. Join them or sell to them.
    • Reevaluate offshoring. Recognize and quantify the frequently mentioned costs and risks. For example: quality, delivery, inventory and IP risk are often ignored when offshoring.
    • Made in USA branding is the fourth-highest rated factor. Would increased volume and a moderately higher price cover the cost differences on some products?

    Read the entire article at Reshoring-Rise-What-it-Means-for-the-Trade-Debate?

  • 11 May 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous
    Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, PhD.  Ballantine Press:  New York (2016).  301 + xi pages.  US$17.00 (paperback).

    Engineering managers are called to lead and to inspire.  Yet, many of us struggle to understand what motivates our staff and how to improve engagement and creativity.  What can we do – as leaders – to build success in ourselves, our teams, and our employees?

    Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset,” provides great insight to the perspectives that each of us brings to work, school, and relationships.  A Stanford psychologist, Dr. Dweck’s decades of research on learning and talent help us to encourage those we influence to achieve their utmost.  At the heart of her research is how we think about abilities.

    People with a fixed mindset assume that intelligence is limited and talent reigns over effort.  These people will find blame with others when they experience failure because they view failure as a reflection of their own self.  For example, the great tennis player, John McEnroe believed only in natural talent and could not stand the thought of losing (pg. 100).  When he lost a match, McEnroe blamed the weather or any other “little thing” (pg. 102).  He didn’t pursue self-reflection or analysis to seek improvement.  People with a fixed mindset rely upon a pre-determined pool of “unique” talents to “win”.

    Alternatively, people with a growth mindset seek interesting challenges and view failures as learning opportunities.  They believe that qualities and capabilities can be cultivated through greater effort, improved strategies, and help from others (pg. 7).  In one of Dweck’s studies with young children, those with the fixed mindset attempted new puzzles only when they did well the first time.  Meanwhile, kids with a growth mindset sought more challenging puzzles even if they could not solve the original one.  They were motivated by the challenge itself and sought novel strategies to identify potential solutions.

    So, what does mindset have to do with engineering managers?  As leaders, we encounter both personality types.  Some of our colleagues believe they are skilled and talented engineers just because they are inherently special and unique.  Others (like Edison) recognize that each failure represents a chance to grow our knowledge base and to continuously improve.  It is the responsibility of a good leader to build and reward project team members while simultaneously growing a learning culture that drives toward project success.

    Dweck relays tips to help us establish a growth mindset.  Rewarding effort over talent encourages people to try new theories and to investigate new possibilities.  Punishing failure is, of course, adamantly discouraged.  Dr. Dweck freely admits that she tends toward a fixed mindset in many situations, but by focusing on goals and learning, she can change her perspective to a growth mindset.  So can we and with a focus on project objectives, we can encourage team members to also learn and grow.

    For instance, she tells of a colleague who wanted to lose weight for a class reunion.  He tried the same things as he had in the past, but to no avail.  Implementing the same tools and techniques is an indication of a fixed mindset personality.  A person with a growth mindset instead would try new strategies to tackle the old problem – change meal portions, exercise with a buddy, etc. 

    Mindset is packed with data and research from Dweck and her colleagues, much of it from the field of education.  Chapter 5 focuses on examples and application of mindsets in business.  Mindset is a fascinating look at how our internal perspectives can lead us to decisions in how we learn and how we achieve success.  I recommend Mindset to any engineering manager or leader as well as to all practicing engineers.  All of us can benefit from a positive growth mindset!

    What learning and success perspectives influence your engineering teams?

     Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, PMP, CPEM, NPDP

    Global NP Solutions, LLC

  • 04 May 2018 6:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA
    (Blog #4 EMBOK series)


    Photo credit:

    At some point, engineering managers will have the privilege and responsibility of being involved in strategic planning and management in their organization. Strategic planning is the process of setting up, launching, adjusting and improving a corporate-level strategic plan. Strategic management, on the other hand, constitutes the set of tools and techniques to put that strategy to work.

    Coming up with strong, focused strategies and executing them well is critical to the success of any organization in a competitive, global market. Engineering managers play a central role in making that happen. We, as engineers, are uniquely positioned to understand our organizations’ products and technology, and how they can fit into the bigger picture.

    In this post, I’ll provide a summary of Domain 3 in the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge: Strategic Planning. I’ll cover the main sections in that domain, including the planning process, strategic management, strategy formulation, and executing strategy.


    Strategic Planning Process


    The first step in the strategic planning process is to understand the organization and its current state. You need to understand where you are before you can plan to end up somewhere else. Once you establish a baseline, you can launch into a “plan, do, check, act” cycle.


    Plan – This involves creating the organization’s mission and vision statement, understanding the relationships between the firm and its suppliers, customers, and competitors. Next, medium and short-term goals are set in order to realize the long-term vision. Finally, specific strategies (such as growth strategies, acquisitions, partnering, etc.) are chosen in order to realize the overall vision.


    Do – This stage is all about the day-to-day work to actually execute the strategy. This often happens in the form of projects and requires strong project management.


    Check – The checking process happens in parallel with the other steps, and is used to control the strategic planning and management activities.


    Act – This final step is to adjust work in response to having checked the work in the previous step to make sure things stay on track.  Using the measurement in the “check” step above, corrective action is taken, and the PDCA cycle starts again.


    Strategic Management


    Strategic management is about implementing strategy and making changes as problems and opportunities arise mid strategic-planning cycles. The tools and techniques used to do this should help make sense of the organization’s current state, what the future should look like, and how to get from the current state to the future state.

    A number of tools have been developed that can help with strategic management:

    CROPIS Analysis – CROPIS stands for Customers, Requirements, Outputs, Processes, Inputs, and Suppliers. An in-depth analysis of each of these elements can help to reveal opportunities for improvement throughout the organization.

    SWOT Analysis – SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. In a SWOT analysis, an organization is looks at the good and bad in the organization’s internal and external environments. This can help an organization understand which risks and opportunities to address and how.

    Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Competitor Matrix Analysis – This tool uses a matrix to plot products, services, divisions and companies on two axes: sales growth rate, and market share. Products and services fall into one of four quadrants, called Stars (high growth, high market share), Cash Cows (low growth, high market share), Dogs (low growth, low market share), and Question Marks (high growth, low market share). Understanding what quadrant your products or services fall in can help you understand what to do with them in order to improve your company and help it meet its strategic goals.

    The Product Life Cycle Model – All products progress through a life cycle. They move from introduction to growth, maturity, and decline. Understanding which phase your products are in will inform how you treat those products and what kind of investments you make in them – a brand new product needs to be treated differently than one that is in decline, but both can help the company reach its goals if treated properly.

    Strategy Formulation

    Strategy is fundamentally about choosing a way to try and realize an organization’s vision. There are three fundamental steps to forming strategy:

    1.      Use strengths to capitalize on opportunities
    2.      Mitigate weaknesses by acquiring new resources
    3.      Adjust course in response to environmental changes

    Numerous models can be used to understand an organization’s strategic environment, including the SWOT analysis and BCG matrix described above.

    Porter’s Five Forces – Michael Porter’s Five Forces model distills what an organization needs to consider with respect to the formulation of strategy into five elements: rivalry among existing firms, threat of new entrants, buyer power, supplier power, and threat of substitute products. All of these forces need to be evaluated in order to know where a firm should go with its strategic direction.

    Porter’s Generic Strategies – Michael Porter also developed a series of generic strategies that companies can use as starting points for understanding how they should position themselves in the market. Strategies can be plotted on two axes. The first axis has cost leadership (providing a product or service at the lowest cost) on one end of the spectrum and differentiation (offering something unique and valuable in the market place, which commands a high price) on the other end. The other axis deals with market focus, with a focus strategy (trying to appeal to a specific, niche market) on one end, and a global focus (selling to a broad market) on the other.

    Core Competence Strategy – The core competence strategy focuses an organization’s business activities on areas of expertise that would be difficult for competitors to replicate. This strategy grew in response to the failure of vertical integration strategies that had worked so well previously.

    Services-Based Strategy – Many companies in the West have started making moves toward becoming more service-based than manufacturing-based. This is in response to the dominance that regions outside the West have enjoyed in manufacturing in recent years due to lower worker wages. Companies such as IBM, who used to focus their attention on hardware and computer products, now offer services such as consulting as their main business.

    Joint Ventures, Outsourcing and Partnering – Joint ventures and outsourcing are two strategies that can be used to help a company compete in a market where they either don’t have all the core competencies themselves, or they are too expensive. Partnering with other companies is an effective way to leverage the strengths of both organizations. Outsourcing can be a way to shift scope to another organization in order to realize cost reductions, take advantage of special capabilities, or shift risk. Partnering is sometimes achieved through joint ventures, and other times through acquisition.

    Executing Strategy

    Once a strategy has been established, it needs to be put into practice. This can be either in the form of permanent teams that take care of ongoing operations, or special teams organized to achieve a one-time objective. Regardless, teams need to be clear on their mandate, and be comfortable and competent at leading change.


    The Strategic Planning domain covers topics that are critically important to organizations of every size and in every industry. When an organization is technical, engineering managers play a vital role in the formation and execution of the company’s strategy. Developing a strong sense of strategic management and the tools used to develop and implement strategy can be very beneficial to both the engineering manager and the organization as a whole.

    About Patrick Sweet

    Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA is a recognized expert in engineering management and leadership with expertise in systems engineering, project management and product management. You can read more from Pat at the Engineering & Leadership blog.

  • 01 Apr 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    We have just completed a successful Board Meeting at the Coeur d’Alene Resort where the 2018 IAC will be held. The venue is a perfect location for the conference with all of the amenities necessary to make the conference successful. Beginning January 1 of this year, Ed Pohl and Heather Nachtmann assumed the role of Co-Editors for the Engineering Management Journal (EMJ). They have just released for your reading pleasure, Volume 30, Issue 1 of the Journal. I would like to personally thank Toni Doolen and Eileen Van Aken for their dedicated service to the EMJ over the years as Co-Editors and their role in facilitating a smooth transition of the EMJ to Heather and Ed.

    The Board continues to be visible and actively engaged in various activities such as joining the Society of Women Engineers and other professional societies in sponsoring the fourth Annual STEM Capitol Hill Day. ASEM also welcomed the institution of a new student chapter at the University of South Florida.

    Just a reminder! We continue to have opportunities to serve the society and continue to solicit assistance from the membership. I am excited that Elizabeth Gibson yielded to the call of service and has been elected the new South West (SW) Regional Director, replacing Christy Bozic. I would like to thank Christy for her service during previous years.

    Enjoy the newsletter and make plans to attend the 2018 IAC.

  • 28 Mar 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    by TA Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, CPEM
    (Blog #3 EMBOK series)

    Business savvy engineers are found at all levels within an organization.  Last month, we learned that engineering managers are charged with planning and organizing work, allocating resources, and directing and controlling work activities.  In this post, we will drill down into the management skills, tools, and philosophies that a business savvy engineer needs to lead, direct, and organize resources effectively.

    In Chapter 2 of the EMBOK, we are introduced to the Integrated Management Model.  The external environment is made up of customers, competitors, suppliers, vendors, and regulatory agencies.  The internal environment, on the other hand, includes all of the company’s staff, assets, and special capabilities.  We’ll dig deeper into the management systems, organization structures, and people orientations at the heart of the integrated management model.

    Management Theories

    Most leadership training programs today fully endorse the idea of motivation over punishment of workers.  You know the old adage that you get more with a carrot than a stick.  Thus, it is helpful for business savvy engineers to be familiar with the major philosophies and teachings regarding motivation.

    First, Douglas McGregor proposed that managers make assumptions about workers which translate into behaviors.  Theory X is one in which managers assume workers are lazy, would rather be doing something else, and all they are about is their paycheck.  Theory Y managers, instead, assume workers are dedicated to the organizational goals and will act in ways to achieve these objectives.  Fortunately or unfortunately, our expectations often result in the outcome we support.

    Next, Frederick Herzberg proposed that a manager can motivate workers to higher levels of performance through a two-factor model.  He identified minimal elements of a job that must be present to prevent worker dissatisfaction.  These are called hygiene factors and include safe working conditions, relationships with supervisors, and fair pay.

    While Herzberg identified that the presence of hygiene factors prevents dissatisfaction, these elements do not motivate workers to higher levels of performance.  In contrast, motivating factors are often the least expensive for a firm to provide and will yield higher dedication to organizational goals.  These motivators include recognition, advancement, and responsibility.

    Finally, psychologist BF Skinner’s behavioral research demonstrates that behavior that is rewarded will be repeated while behaviors that are ignored will be extinguished.  When leaders combine McGregor and Herzberg’s motivational theories with Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory, we - as leaders - are empowered to improve working environments for engineering and knowledge workers.  We also learn about ourselves and can improve our own management skills.

    Organizational Structures

    Business savvy engineers innately understand that cross-functional teams improve the effectiveness and efficiency in achieving project objectives.  Henry Mintzberg identified five basic organizational structures composed of the operating core, middle managers, upper management (called the “strategic apex”), technical support, and traditional support functions.  The relative power, influence, and concentration of these groups determines the speed of decision-making in an organization. 

    The organizational structure must align with the firm’s strategic objectives in order to deliver long-term value.  Team structures may change with the maturity of an organization and/or the complexity of the project work as well.

    People Orientation

    Of course, no project or engineering work is done without people.  Business savvy engineers will recognize that they will need to adjust their leadership style to suit their environment.  For example, global teams include people from both high context and low context cultures.  In a high context culture, relationships reign supreme, while task completion takes center stage in low context cultures.  Engineering managers must negotiate a balance between team member needs and work performance.

    If conflict arises, managers often act as mediators.  In this role, the engineering manager must ensure both sides are able to share their positions and s/he can negotiate an equitable outcome that allows the team to move forward.  Chapter 2 of the EMBOK presents a conflict model that illustrates the need to address issues as they arise, not allowing them to fester under the surface.  Furthermore, learning to apply conflict resolution and negotiation skills can benefit an engineering manager both inside and outside of the work environment.

    Leadership and Organizational Structure

    Chapter 2 of the EMBOK is packed with management and leadership theory that has stood the test of time.  Engineering managers bridge external and internal environments and understand their role in team motivation.  Creating the right organizational environment to empower people across all cultures leads to a satisfying and rewarding career.

    Next month, we’ll delve into the role strategy plays for an engineering manager in a leadership position.  In the meantime, if you’d like to read the previous posts in this series, click here and you can learn more about becoming a Certified Professional Engineering Manager here.

    Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is a Certified Professional Engineering Manager (CPEM) with a passion for lifelong learning helping individuals and companies achieve strategic growth through Global NP Solutions.  You can connect with Teresa on Linked In

  • 03 Mar 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    As the year progresses, I continue to be excited about all the great work the ASEM Board continues to do on behalf of our members. We have accomplished many key initiatives that will continue to distinguish ASEM and provide value for the membership, which includes: The transition of the new editorial team for EMJ; update of the strategic plan and key performance indicator metrics for the Society; development of director goals that tie to performance indicators; development of EMBOK PowerPoint slides to support professional training or use in the classroom; the practice periodical continues to evolve and provide relevant information for EM practitioners; completion of a very successful conference in Huntsville; and finalized plans for upcoming conferences in Coeur d’Alene (2018) and Philadelphia (2019).

    There is plenty to look forward to this spring – and it’s not too late to get involved. There are two calls for papers with deadlines fast approaching: the deadline for the 2018 International Joint Conference in Europe is March 3, 2018; and deadline for the ASEM 2018 International Annual Conference has been extended to March 5, 2018. In all of the hustle to prepare for the conferences, don’t forget to submit your chapter and section reports and your nominations for Engineering Manager of the Year Award by the end of March.

    We have two critical leadership opportunities available and we are soliciting interested candidates. The positions are for the Associate Executive Director and the SW Regional Director. Members who are living in the South West Region can expect to see a ballot coming their way soon.

    We have a lot going on that represents many opportunities for your involvement and talent sharing.

  • 27 Feb 2018 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA
    (Blog #2 EMBOK series)

    In this first installment in our series on the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBoK), we answer a fundamental question: what does an engineering manager do?

    Management is easy to see but difficult to describe. Given how hard it can be to wrap your arms around what constitutes management, nailing down a definition becomes very important. Understanding what is involved in being an effective engineering manager is critical to executing and improving your work.

    The EMBoK says that engineering management is the “art and science of planning, organizing, allocating resources, and directing and controlling activities that have a technological component.” (p. 3). In the rest of this post, I’ll dig into what all this means in a practical sense in order to help you apply it to your day-to-day work.


    Planning is the act of determining an end state you wish to see realized and determining which steps need to be taken to get to there. There are three basic levels of planning in an organization: strategic, tactical, and operational. Engineering managers, depending on where they reside in a given organization, can play a critical role in any or all three levels of planning.

    At the corporate level, the CEO and executive team craft a mission and vision for the organization. These are the foundational elements of strategic plans. These plans reflect the organization’s big picture and the long-term.

    Strategic plans get translated to tactical plans at the business unit level, where the planning gets more concrete and focuses on a shorter time horizon. If a company were to have a strategic plan to differentiate themselves through their advanced technology, for example, a corresponding tactical plan might be for a business unit to increase it’s spending on research and development.

    Finally, tactical plans are broken down into operational plans. Operational plans cover the day-to-day work that goes on in an organization. These are the plans that get down into the nitty-gritty of how work actually gets executed.


    Organizing is the part of management that has to do with providing a structure and relationships for people in an organization. These structures make it easier for people to contextualize and execute their own work. Structures help people to see where they stand in the grand scheme of things and how they should relate and interact with others.

    There are three basic organizational structures that engineering managers are likely to encounter in their organizations: functional, project-based, and matrix.

    Functional organizations are the traditional hierarchical organizations that most companies used until recently. Each branch of the organization represented a particular function, like engineering, human resources, or manufacturing. Here, the functional manager is in charge of the work that goes on within their function.

    Project-based organizations are grouped around the individual projects that the company is pursuing. Project teams are multi-functional and led by a project manager, who has autonomy over the project and its work. Project teams in an organization like this are a bit like mini-companies within the larger organization. When the project gets wrapped up, the team is disbanded.

    In matrix organizations, employees report to both a project manager and to their functional manager, creating a hybrid of the other two organizational types. This allows for everyone to have a “home” in his or her function, and for each project to have a full cross-functional complement in order to execute work.

    Allocating Resources

    Allocating resources is exactly what you might expect – assigning people, capital, or equipment to a given task. Strong engineering managers are able to allocate resources in a way that gets the job done as effectively and efficiently as possible. This is often a fairly active part of an engineering manager’s work given the dynamic and uncertain nature of the technical work that many of us do.


    Directing is composed of three related activities all geared towards helping staff get work done: motivating, supervising, and influencing. Anyone who has led a team before can tell you that simply asking the team to accomplish its goals won’t get the job done – teams need leadership in order to keep work going in the right direction. This is why leadership is so critical to engineering management. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” This is the essence of directing in an engineering management context.  


    Controlling is a fairly analytical component to management – one that many engineers, myself included, tend to gravitate towards. Controlling has to do with measuring performance against a pre-established baseline and taking corrective action where necessary. The real art in controlling is to decide which things to measure and when to take corrective action. With so much information available to most engineering managers, being able to cut through the fog of data to pay attention to what’s really important can be the difference between a good manager and a great one.

    Next Steps

    If you’re already an engineering manager, spend some time this week taking note of the activities I’ve mentioned above. Which ones tend to get emphasized for you? Which ones aren’t emphasized enough? If there is a significant imbalance, is that creating problems in your team or project? Try and make a conscious effort to redistribute your time and energy into the areas that may not be getting enough attention. There’s no doubt that the effort will yield positive results for both you and your team.

    Next month, Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, CPEM will tackle Domain 2 in the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge, which covers leadership and organizational management. If you’d like to read the other posts in this series, click here. You can learn more about becoming a Certified Professional Engineering Manager here.

    About Patrick Sweet

    Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA is a recognized expert in engineering management and leadership with expertise in systems engineering, project management and product management. You can read more from Pat at the Engineering & Leadership blog.

  • 10 Feb 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By: Alice Squires, Washington State University, email:, Alberto Sols, University College of South-East Norway, Erika Palmer, University of Bergen

    Early Saturday morning on October 21st, the Empowering Women as Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) sponsored technical workshop Leading and Managing System and Specialty Engineers was delivered at the American Society of Engineering Management (ASEM) annual conference in sweet Huntsville, Alabama. The workshop, developed by Alberto Sols, Alice Squires, and Erika Palmer, addressed three major topics for technical managers of systems and specialty engineers: Part I) Technical Competency, Part II) Diversity and Team Building, and Part III) Processes and Policy.

    Part I results included the identification of two common roles between systems and specialty engineers: systems thinker and effective communicator. Traits associated with the systems engineer role included leadership, adaptive learner, technical breadth, knowledge management, systematic, mindfulness, and patience. Traits associated with the specialty engineer included technical knowledge, analytical skills, teamwork, accuracy, and self confidence. Results for improving traits focused on intention and commitment as well as recognition of ignorance and the desire to improve.

    Part II results included the recognition that diversity, discrimination, and expectations differ between countries, and that while age and gender are visible, mindset and values are invisible, and culture is in some ways visible and in other ways invisible. One participant raised the point “Do you want to sacrifice efficiency for effectiveness, when you communalize a model you eliminate diversity.” Pros and cons related to building diverse teams were discussed with pros including new and diversified ideas, varying experience, balance, and innovation and with cons focused on challenges with communication and what type of communication is best depending on individual preference and styles (direct versus subtle). The discussion about leveraging diversity in teams focused on the importance of openness and adaptability, matching people to what they are naturally good at while also giving them a stretch goal and providing higher opportunities for self-development, being knowledgeable of and avoiding micro-aggressions, and getting the best out of everyone, but also raised the question as to whether or not we were coming from a perspective of privilege focused on how we can leverage diversity to provide value to ‘us’. The team decided that positive goodwill, intention, authenticity, empathy, and respect from the heart were what was important and everything else (such as miswordings or potential biased actions) can be overlooked when these positive factors are clearly present. Some things we can do are ask people about needs and expectations, listen to the answers, show we care, be respectful, and, as always, lead by example.

    For Part III the group reviewed a case study and developed a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) matrix with recommended actions for the systems and specialty manager for the case presented. These actions, applicable to most organizations, focused on generating awareness and building demand for systems engineering in the organization, filling the gaps and areas of expertise that are missing in both the system and specialties area, and focusing on the link between training, tools, and processes.

    Interested in learning more? The outcomes of the ASEM 2017 workshop are included in the attached set of workshop slides. Enjoy!


  • 10 Feb 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Being Agile: Eleven Breakthrough Techniques to Keep You from “Waterfalling Backward” by Leslie Ekas and Scott Will.  IBM Press:  New Jersey (2014).  189 + xxiii pages.  US$34.99.

    Flexibility.  Cooperation.  Teamwork.  Collaboration.  These are all words that describe engineering managers.  These are also all words that describe agile project management.  Agile project management is an emerging practice to add efficiency and effectiveness to project execution, and many engineers and engineering managers are being asked to make their organizations more “agile”.  Moreover, the EMBOK has added a section on agile project management, acknowledging the adoption of these practices in recent years.

    “Being Agile” is a great book to help engineering managers and project team members learn tips, tricks, and new techniques in their transition from traditional project management to agile project management.  The Agile Manifesto ( was first published in 2001 to enhance software development.  Since then, many organizations have adopted agile principles, such as stand-up meetings, Kanban boards, collaborative problem-solving, and sprints, to improve project management effectiveness.  Unfortunately, many firms also struggle with this new way of doing things and despite a declaration to “be agile,” projects continue following old management styles.

    Leslie Ekas and Scott Will offer eleven specific techniques to help teams move from traditional, waterfall project management to effective, agile product development organizations.  The authors draw on their experience as practitioners and facilitators of agile transition in the software industry, particularly at IBM.  However, many of their examples can be easily adapted for tangible product development and engineering design and construction projects. 

    Each chapter is built on principles and practices in which the authors share their personal stories and experiences.  Then, they suggest some potential metrics to ensure the organization is driving forward in its quest to become more agile.  Finally, each chapter concludes with a novel, breakthrough practice to implement agile project management in your own organization and a brief chapter summary.

    For example, Chapter 1 describes the concept of “whole teams”.  Like the authors, I have found myself leading, participating in, or facilitating project teams in which all participants are not available all the time.  In a case where you need testing to verify assumptions in development or accuracy of coding, you may find that testing personnel are only available near the conclusion of your project.  When the testing is finally completed, it’s too late – and too expensive – to make changes in the product.  Often, the decision is made to launch the product anyway, leading to lower than expected sales or a backlog of bug fixes and endless quality improvement projects. 

    Instead, recommendations in “Being Agile” include acquiring a “whole team” that represents all necessary functions and for these staff to work together throughout the entire project life cycle.  Speed-to-market improves as design, coding, and testing are done simultaneously and customer feedback is timely to development decisions.  A simple metric is to track team membership from project initiation through execution and to closing and project launch.

    The idea of whole teams overlaps with concepts presented in Chapter 4, No Multitasking and Chapter 10, Agile Leadership.  Certainly, senior management must commit to the paradigm shift introduced by an agile approach.  Moreover, customers must also understand their commitment to giving time-sensitive and effective feedback on product designs.  This is also emphasized in Chapters 7 and 8.

    Agile project management is not for every company and “Being Agile” focuses on the software industry.  Even if your organization is not attempting to undergo the radical transformation that is introduced by agile management, engineering managers can learn from this book.  In traditional staged and gated project management, teams should collaborate more and test ideas with customers frequently.  Multitasking is a burden to any technical personnel and eliminating waste (Chapter 5) is a key concept to improve quality across the spectra of industry practitioners. 

    “Being Agile” is recommended for any engineer or engineering manager working in the software or computer industry.  This is also a good book for anyone transitioning to agile principles or working within traditional project management systems but with a desire to improve productivity and efficiency.  As a chemical engineer working in new product development, I admit that some of the software language bogged me down a bit; however, the concepts of moving 100% to agile practices far outweigh the few terms that were new to me.

    What is your organization’s biggest challenge to becoming agile?

    Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, PMP, CPEM, NPDP
    Global NP Solutions, LLC


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