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  • 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

  • 10 Feb 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    (This data reflects new and renewing Certifications and Memberships from the fourth quarter of December 2017.)

    ASEM is proud to announce our newest CPEM, Ryan Batt - ID (US)!

    The following are ASEM's latest re-certified CPEMs: Rolf Jostad - MN (US), Larry Mallak - MI (US), Michael O'Connor - MI (US) and Ed Pohl - AR (US)

    Interested in certification? The ASEM website has all the details, here:

    ASEM welcomes our new and renewing Academic Partners:

    Pire Adrien - Belgium

    Pieter Baeyens - Belgium

    Ryan Leemans - NY (US)

    Isaac Manderyck - Belgium

    United States Military Academy - NY (US)

    Alban Mockel - Belgium

    Sam Peeters - Belgium

    Bavo Pevernagie - Belgium

    Jonathan Pierre - Belgium

    Daniel Provaznik - NY (US)

    Justin Thomas - NY (US)

    Alexander Van Hal - Belgium

    Charles Wagner - NY (US)

    Brecht Windey - Belgium

    There is more information about becoming an Academic Partner at the ASEM website, here:

    ASEM welcomes our new and renewing Student Members:

    Rabia Almamlook - MI (US)

    Jerry Almos - WA (US)

    Carina Barbosa - Brazil

    Flamarion Batista - Brazil

    Raphael Bento - Brazil

    Andrew Biller - NM (US)

    Spencer Brom - TN (US)

    Derrick Buck - AZ (US)

    Ryan Call - ID (US)

    Sergio Campo Periago - TN (US)

    Kyle Carpenter - MD (US)

    Mario Chaita - IS (US)

    Ananya Chandra - FL (US)

    Francis Chua - CA (US)

    Chad Clawson - ID (US)

    Leonardo Coelho - Brazil

    Bobbie Cooney - TX (US)

    Wesley Croom - NV (US)

    Axel de Góes - Brazil

    Jonathan Elder - TX (US)

    Leigh Emerson - ID (US)

    Nicholas Fecteau - IN (US)

    Nathan Fletcher - WA (US)

    Javier B Franco - OK (US)

    Roberto Garcia - SD (US)

    Ahmad Khalid Haddad - MI (US)

    Alexandre Hagihara - Brazil

    Amir Hedayati - IL (US)

    Mark Hill - ID (US)

    Rabie Jaifer - Canada

    Brian Jarrell - TX (US)

    Abhishek Jiandani - CA (US)

    Kelsea Jones - (US)

    Phiwat Klomkaew - AL (US)

    Jordan Lanning - ID (US)

    Alicia Lomas - ID (US

    Dennis Miller - ID (US)

    Arun Nair - CO (US)

    Rafael Navizaga - ID (US)

    Yidan Nie IN (US)

    Sangjin Park - IN (US)

    Mayank Prajapati - MA (US)

    Natiele Rodrigues Carvalho - Brazil

    Sarang Sambharia - MN (US)

    Veronica Schrimpsher - AL (US)

    Rebecca Seidl - MD (US)

    Erick Senga - (US)

    Fumbah A. Sheriff - MN (US)

    Abdulgader Shuaib - MO (US)

    Joshi Siddesh - OR (US)

    Natasha Smith - VA (US)

    Chadd Smith - ID (US)

    Misael Soczek - Brazil

    Ethan Stanley - NJ (US)

    Ryan Stevenson - (US)

    Letrisha Taylor - OR (US)

    Matthew Tompkins - VA (US)

    Miguel Toro - VA (US)

    Kgotso Tsoai - South Africa

    Sean Wainwright - MI (US)

    Zachary Walker - ID (US)

    James Williams - TN (US)

    Jun Zhao - ID (US)

    Fabio Zilli - Brazil

    H. Zondi - South Africa

    Are you a student and seeking ASEM membership? There is more information at the website, here:

    ASEM welcomes our new and renewing Professional Members:

    Wolday Abrha - TN (US)

    Roger Allman - IL (US)

    Ronald Barca - OR (US)

    Roderick Boyer - GA (US)

    Collin Broglie - TX (US)

    Dale Callahan - AL (US)

    Sorin Cohn - Canada

    Demian Cooper - MI (US)

    Carlos Roberto Cordova Morales - Peru

    Lawrence Curtis, Jr. - WA (US)

    Paul DaRosa - MA (US)

    Thomas Edwards - PA (US)

    Paul Gergets - IL (US)

    Amr Ibrahim - Egypt

    Nikolaj Tinggaard Jørgensen - (US)

    Gamze Karayaz - (US)

    Yiorgos Kostoulas - TN (US)

    Mary Malast - MO (US)

    Yosef Manik - Indonesia

    Debashis Mishra - India

    Belinda Misiego - Spain

    Johnny Morales - NC (US)

    Abumenre Odigie - Nigeria

    Alejandro Salado - VA (US)

    Jeff Salem - (US)

    Devis Saputra - Indonesia

    Jena Shafai Asgarpoor - NE (US)

    Robert Simons - IL (US)

    Valerie Stephens - PA (US)

    Anthony Streletz - CA (US)

    Scott Turnbow - TN (US)

    Richard Wakeland - TX (US)

    Want to become a Professional Member? You guessed it, there is more information at the ASEM website, here:

  • 01 Feb 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Happy New Year – and what a year we have ahead!

    Early planning is underway to ensure you have an enjoyable and informative Conference this year. The conference promises to have something for everyone. So don’t be left out, respond to the call for papers and share your knowledge and research.

    The board will meet in Idaho in March to engage in the annual strategic planning session to discuss ways to continue to move the society forward. If you have any suggestions you would like us to explore, feel free to contact me; I am at your disposal.

    ASEM is proud to partner with other groups to sponsor events such as:

    • SWE “Diversity and Inclusion Fuels Innovation in STEM” Capitol Hill Day and reception on Wednesday, March 14th in Washington, DC.
    • The “15th Annual Engineering Public Policy Symposium”Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Washington, DC.
    • TEMSCON 2018, International Conference of the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society, June 28 - July 1, 2018, Evanston, IL.
    • International Joint Conference in Europe, July 18-20, 2018, Lisbon, Portugal, EU.

    A new year means new opportunities. The Southwest Regional Director position is available and represents a good opportunity to get involved. Possibly a new adventure awaits.

  • 27 Jan 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    by TA Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, CPEM
    (Blog #1 EMBOK series)

    Not so long ago, an engineer graduated from university and went to work for a company.  He would work on various projects and programs, learning a few new skills as he advanced from junior engineer to senior engineer, and eventually to department and section manager.  As his career closed at age 55, the company rewarded the engineering manager with a gold watch and he moved onto his retirement, satisfied with his many contributions to the company he served for life.

    Today, an engineer is expected to change jobs as many as ten or twelve times in their careers.  She will need to continually update her skills to remain relevant and competitive in the workforce.  Engineers will swap between technical and managerial roles at various firms and in entrepreneurial roles before working part-time well past an average retirement age of 62.  No longer can she depend on one company and one technical track to succeed.  In today’s world, an engineer must be business savvy.

    The Business of Engineering

    Engineering managers are successful when they speak the language of business.  Engineering managers bridge the growing gap between technology specialists and financial decision-makers. Moreover, engineering managers are in growing demand as global competition heats up and technology advances at an ever-rapid rate.  In some regions of the world, like the United States, there is a growing skills gap between practicing engineers and managers just entering the workforce from university.

    So, just what is the business of engineering and how does an engineering manager differentiate herself from many qualified competitors?  Over the next several months, we will be sharing a series of posts based on A Guide to the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBOK) published by the American Society of Engineering Managers (ASEM).  The EMBOK guide condenses the skills required for a practicing technical engineer to successfully transition into an engineering management role.  Further, the EMBOK forms the basis for the Certified Professional Engineering Manager (CPEM) exam, a credential that demonstrates education, experience, and knowledge in the field of engineering management.

    Engineering Management Domains

    There are eleven (11) domains in the EMBOK; an understanding of each is necessary for an engineering manager to be business savvy in his or her career endeavors.  These domains are as follows:

    •          Domain 1 – Introduction to Engineering Management
    •          Domain 2 – Leadership and Organizational Management
    •          Domain 3 – Strategic Planning
    •          Domain 4 – Financial Resource Management
    •          Domain 5 – Project Management
    •          Domain 6 – Operations and Supply Management
    •          Domain 7 – Marketing and Sales Management in Engineering Organizations
    •          Domain 8 – Management of Technology, Research, and Development
    •          Domain 9 – Systems Engineering
    •          Domain 10 – Legal Issues in Engineering Management
    •          Domain 11 – Professional Codes of Conduct and Ethics

    Domain 1, the Introduction to Engineering Management, lays out the overarching organizational structure and roles of a manager.  Strategic issues of engineering managers are addressed in Domains 2 through 4, while tactical engineering management is discussed in Domains 5 through 10.  Ethics (Domain 11) support all the activities of engineers and engineering managers.

    Candidates for the CPEM exam should expect 200 questions covering these 11 domains.  These domains are also the focus of the International Conference.  More information about the CPEM exam can be found here and information on the conference can be found here.

    Becoming a Business Savvy Engineer

    Successful engineering managers master skills in leading people, organizing resources, and directing work.  Limited financial resources must be managed within the constraints of the organization to actively support strategic goals and objectives.  Tools and techniques that broaden technology development, enhance market segments, and improve logistics are necessary to build a sustainable operation or product portfolio.  All these business skills supplement and complement the basic engineering education we review so that we can become effective and productive managers, grow a business, and drive intriguing careers.

    Next month, look for the next post in this series as we begin an in-depth discussion of Domain 1 from the EMBOK – What is an Engineering Manager?  In the meantime, if you aren’t already registered with ASEM, you can learn more here.

  • 03 Dec 2017 12:30 PM | Anonymous
    By Engr. Jesus "Jess" N. Matias, ME, CPEM, PMP

    The National Engineering Center, the industry provider of engineering services of the University of the Philippines – College of Engineering will launch a training program in engineering management for practicing engineers this coming April to May 2018.

    The program will introduce the engineering management body of knowledge (EMBOK) of the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) to local industry practitioners.  Philippine companies have long sought for a framework that will equip engineers and other related professionals with competencies needed to manage organizations and highly-technical processes; this new collaboration between the UP-NEC and the ASEM hopes to fulfill that need.

    The program will consist of fifty-six training hours of lectures and workshops based on the ASEM EMBOK including a simulated examination for the ASEM CPEM certification.  Satisfactory completion of all requirements, as well as a passing grade in the final examination, will earn for the program participant the “Professional Certificate in Engineering Management”, a new credential which is expected to help young practicing engineers become recognized for upper management positions.  

    Successful completers of the program will then be highly encouraged to obtain the internationally-recognized Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) credential of the ASEM.  In order to facilitate the ASEM examination process, the UP-NEC may soon seek to become an ASEM-accredited online examination proctor.  

    The program is designed and will be facilitated by Engr. Jesus N. Matias, ME, CPEM, PMP, who has more than thirty years in experience in the business of construction contracting, as well as close to twenty years in lecturing experience at the UP-NEC for various training programs related to construction project management.  He is a Certified Professional in Engineering Management (ASEM), a Project Management Professional (PMI) and a practicing mechanical engineer with technical specializations in steel construction and cost engineering.  He is also a faculty member of the Institute of Civil Engineering in UP, a co-author of a textbook in Engineering Economy and an award-winning author of books on spirituality.

    The University of the Philippines has long been considered the country’s premier educational institution and its College of Engineering is among the most renowned schools of engineering excellence, with unparalleled international credibility, producing many of the Philippines’ most respected names in academe, government and industry.

  • 03 Dec 2017 11:53 AM | Anonymous
    By Donald Kennedy, P.Eng.

    A huge problem that is seldom discussed and maybe even often not recognized is the tendency for many engineers to over design.  The thinking is that more is better, but sometimes adding too much makes a situation worse.  It is difficult to personally take the responsibility for cutting back on a design but in a competitive environment these decisions may save a company.

    I am going to relate an example where over design had been taken to an extreme.  I had to champion a project to handle steam condensate in a process plant.  This was basically distilled water that came off the system and was collected in a tank.  There were nine such tanks at the plant.  The company was paying $4 million dollars a year to have the water trucked off site.  The filling of the tanks was not uniform nor predicable and a truck and driver were paid to be on hand 24 hours a day 7 days a week to empty any tank that was full.  However, the proposed project to automate the pumping of the water back into the process was $8 Million, making it difficult to raise the capital to eliminate the need for the truck to be on standby.

    When I became the champion of the pump project, I was told that each tank held 380 barrels.  Although the tanks filled at unpredictable rates, I was told that the tanks were sometimes emptied twice a day.  To assure the tanks would not overflow, the proposed pumps were sized at 80 gallons per minute (gpm) in the $8 million dollar project. The water needed to be injected at a high pressure on the discharge side of a pump.

    First off, I realized that a 380 barrel tank is 16,000 gallons.  It would take 200 minutes to completely empty this tank at 80 gallons a minute.  That is a little over 3 hours.  When I talked to the process engineer, he said that he was given 40 gpm as the needed rate.  There was a common pump that could do that, but he was nervous that he might need a little more, so to be safe he went to the next larger common size.  When I went to the operations person that provided the 40 gpm rate he said he calculated that 22 gpm was needed but the common pump that could easily handle it was the 40 gpm size.  Each person had built in a buffer.

    By this time, I figured I better confirm how the 22 gpm rate was derived.  This was based on the assumption that the 380 barrel tank was emptied twice a day.  When I went to the truck driver, he stated his truck held 60 barrels.  Because the fill rate was unpredictable, operations would notify him to empty a tank whenever it was half full to assure it would not overflow.  So the maximum volume emptied was 120 barrels in a day, not 760.  That is 3.5 gpm (and I will not round up to 4 to be safe) compared to the 80 gpm being designed for.  I also discovered by checking the process data, that only half of the tanks had to be emptied more than once a week.  I also checked with the environmental group and they confirmed that if the condensed steam overflowed out of a tank, it was basically just distilled water and no negative environmental impact would result, nor would any regulatory reporting be necessary to account for water being on the ground.  By selecting pumps 1/20th the size and only installing them on half the tanks, the $8 Million project shrank to $2 Million.  That is now a 6 month payback and much easier to raise the capital for.  If any tank was filling up, a truck could be ordered to empty it and if the truck was late some water would be released onto the ground.

    A manager without the engineering background may not feel comfortable challenging the assumptions made in the original proposal.  This becomes another example of the value of the Engineering in Engineering Management.
  • 03 Dec 2017 10:30 AM | Anonymous

    By Heather Nachtmann, Ph.D., ASEM Past President

    It was a pleasure to lead the 2017 ASEM award process.  It is humbling and exciting to see the contributions our members are making to the engineering management community.  Through my ASEM executive committee service, I get the opportunity to work with members of our leadership team as they dedicate their time to ASEM.  What I do not get to see is their careers and their investments in the broad EM community outside of ASEM.  Each year I am impressed with our nominees and winners of our Engineering Management of the Year award, and this year’s recipient NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Director Todd May clearly exemplified the great work one can accomplish when one brings engineering management skills to a leadership position.  I am always so proud when I review the nomination packets of our ASEM Fellows and get to see the contributions our new Fellows are making and have made to their employers and communities.  Also of particular note is the accomplishments of our students.  Each year the best student paper and best dissertation competitions become increasingly competitive and it is impressed to see the quality of student our EM programs are producing.  We are very proud of all the 2017 ASEM award winners and are pleased to have this opportunity to recognize their efforts.

    Congratulations to the ASEM 2017 Award Winners!

    Bernard R. Sarchet Award

    • Ben Baliga

    Frank Woodbury Special Service Award

    • Jimmy Ghandi
    • John Farr

    Meritorious Service Awards

    • New Member Recruiting:  He Liu
    • Outstanding Non-Board Member: Jishan He

    Best Dissertation Award

    • Michael Bromley, Texas Tech University; Advisor,  for "A Synopsis of Economic Analysis Model for High Reliability Organizations"

    ASEM Fellows

    • Harold Conner
    • Rolf Jostad
    • Walter Nowocin
    • William Schell

    Merritt Williamson Best IAC Paper 

    • "Are Engineers’ Leadership Attitudes and Experiences Different than Other Students?" by Bill Schell and Bryce Hughes from Montana State University

    Founder's Awards

    • Student Chapter Award - Missouri S&T
    • Undergraduate Award- US Military Academy
    • Graduate Award - Missouri S&T

    Merl Baker for Best IAC Student Paper sponsored by MS&T

    • "Energy Sans Water" by Jonathan D. Elder from Texas Tech University

    Echenbach Award for Best EMJ Paper

    • "An Enterprise-Wide Knowledge Management Approach to Project Management' by Oun, Blackburn, Olson, and Blessner

    William Daughton World Headquarters Service Award

    •  Jim Schreiner
    • Tricia Simo Kush
    • Teresa Jurgens-Kowal
    • Bill Sabados

    ASEM Undergraduate Student Scholarship  in honor of Ronald Cox

    • Sarah Godbehere, Gonzaga University

    ASEM Graduate Student Scholarship in honor of Joette Sonnenberg

    • Katie Kelly, Montana State University
    Student Case Competition
    • Missouri S&T, Advisor Dincer Konur
    Past-President Award
    • Heather Nachtmann
  • 03 Dec 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    Designing Your Life:  How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.  Knopf:  New York (2016).  238 + xxxi pages.  US$24.95 (hardcover).

    A recent trend in product development projects has recognized the value of designers in meeting customer expectations.  We heard a great talk by Amy Hawkins on design thinking at the 2017 IAC, for example.  Engineering managers, of course, are also aware of the enhanced development capabilities for a project team that includes cross-functional representation.  Design thinking formalizes the roles of designers in problem-solving and project execution.

    Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have recently released a new book called “Designing Your Life” that applies the principles of design thinking to career planning.  Many of the tools that we use in design thinking for determining product or system requirements are discusses as examples for life planning.  The authors share real-life stories from their students and colleagues at Stanford to support the design thinking methodology. 

    First, in the “Introduction,” Burnett and Evans pave the way with five design thinking mindsets (pg. xxvi-xxviii).

    •      Be curious
    •      Try stuff
    •      Reframe problems
    •      Know it’s a process
    •      Ask for help

    Each of these mindsets is supported by design thinking tools.  For example, in being curious, we can investigate different pathways to reach goals.  An important element of setting goals, however, needs to include a balance of work, love, play, and health (Chapter 1).  Everyone’s ideal balance will be different, but we must each understand the role that work plays in our overall life view.

    In Chapter 2, the authors recommend a deep evaluation of how we view work and to align that perspective with our values system.  The outcome of this exercise helps us to refine our perception of jobs we love as well as jobs that are not a good fit.  The authors advise trying stuff to prototype various carious.  Rather than jumping in to own and operate a restaurant, try running a food truck instead.  The investment is smaller and you will be able to assess your level of commitment and enjoyment in this new career.

    “Designing Your Life” includes a lot of useful design thinking tools applied to our careers and lives.  Of course, journaling is a strong design thinking tool that allows us to investigate qualitative aspects of a problem as well as the emotional pull that any given alternative reflects.  Mind mapping is another design thinking tool the authors utilize in “Designing Your Life”.  Mind mapping is a quick ideation exercise to explore different linkages among ideas, thoughts, and themes. 

    Storyboarding is another design thinking tool, used to capture a potential single solution from initiation to execution.  This technique is often used in film-making but is also used in market research for new product development customer interactions.  Thus, we can apply storyboarding to a personal question or to an engineering design challenge.

    Chapters 9 and 10 follow a theme that is also familiar to engineers and developers.  We must choose to learn from failure in order to grow.  Some of our best life lessons will come from mistakes or mis-directions.  However, if we also choose happiness (Chapter 9), we can move forward with new knowledge and insights.

    Finally, Chapter 11 discusses building a team.  In life design, as in engineering or product design, we need a collaborative and committed team.  Our life design team can help us frame the right questions and offer new perspectives.  The team aids us in investigating alternate solutions and to debrief the lessons learned after we try something that doesn’t work as planned.

    “Designing Your Life” is a great book and easy to read.  If you are going through a career transition at any stage of life or seeking to plan the next stage in your life, “Designing Your Life” is a great resource.  To get the most out of the book, though, you need to practice the design thinking exercises, be curious and try stuff.  I highly recommend this book to engineers and engineering managers.

    I’d love to hear from you as you move through your career and design your life.  I have personally completed many of the exercises from the book and am beginning to assemble a team of appropriate collaborators (mentors).  If you want to share your story, I can be reached at

    Which design thinking tool do you find most useful for career planning?

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

    Global NP Solutions, LLC

  • 03 Dec 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Teresa Jurgens-Kowal

    Q:  Your presentation on user experience was fascinating and touches on the theme of design thinking which is becoming very important for engineered products and services to be successful in globally competitive markets.  Engineers might be unfamiliar with how important customer experience is.  You discussed a few soft skills in your presentation.  What soft skills would you recommend that engineering managers learn in order to be successful with customer user experiences?

    A:  When I am hiring team members, I think about two characteristics – humility and confidence.  Humility is important as a listening skill.  Your customers and clients really know much more about what they do than you do.  It takes humility to listen carefully and ask relevant, probing questions.  You really must listen for an answer instead of just trying to formulate a response.  And you need to have confidence how you implement the methodology of the user experience process – inquiry and data gathering.  With the right approach and process, you will get good answers.  Pointsource is a company that states this well:  “We have no idea what you need yet.  But together, we’ll figure it out.”

    What I’m told is that empathy is a better word than humility to describe gathering of customer insights.  But using your empathy still means you need to be a good listener to get a good answer.  It’s very important to communicate well as an engineering manager.  Ultimately, we have to understand qualitative information to design products with a desirable set of requirements.

    Q:  As you discuss communication, how would you advise a young engineer interested in this field to learn how to translate qualitative information into quantifiable specifications?

    A:  First of all, there is no one size fits all solution.  As I explained in the presentation, it’s important to tell the story.  That is, the customer’s journey and the story describes his or her challenges.  Once we can tell the story, we break it into steps.  Then we can translate the steps into tasks and we can create a model based on these tasks.

    Customers often don’t have the tools or training themselves to dissect the story.  In other cases, they are too close to the story to see it clearly. As systems engineers, we help them translate their needs into product requirements.  We use a design thinking tool called a customer journey map to track a user’s experience.  With a customer journey map, we are looking for (negative) emotional impact or a break in the flow.  We call these “red threads” and they offer opportunities for product solutions.  We want to convert red threads into a green path (using a traffic light analogy) to make the flow smooth and straightforward. We also look at positive emotional states in their journeys so that we don’t inadvertently take the joy out of their work.

    So we look at what the user expects and what the system does to better understand a customer’s journey or interaction with the product in their environment.  We put these opportunity items into a backlog (using an Agile project management philosophy) and then the designers, developers, and engineers work on the given tasks from the backlog.  We use the task flow to work on product development, product design, and quality assurance.

    Finding bugs or interruptions in the work flow is an opportunity.  We want to make the system better for our end-users because that makes a difference in people’s lives.  For instance, we measure usability as a success factor. This approach isn’t a replacement for other methods of developing requirements, but it is a cross-check, a validation. It is a valuable tool in scoping and scheduling products cost-effectively.

    Q:  Engineers and engineer managers dream of working on things that make people’s lives better!  What would you tell a young engineering manager to do if s/he want to work in this field?  What skill should s/he gain?

    A:  I came to the field of customer experience from a background in computer and information science working at IBM.  One of the biggest criticisms we had for our products was that they required too much documentation.  The story I shared in the presentation about documentation is what drives me to seek better customer insights and user experiences.  In the story, that specific toaster oven is an example of a poorly designed product.

    If you put something on the bottom rack of the toaster oven, the oven might catch fire.  But, if we put a bottom rack in the oven, of course, people want to use the bottom rack.  The warning that the oven might burst into flames is buried in small print in the middle of a thick instruction manual.  That doesn’t help users. Instead, we want things to be intuitive and simple. People shouldn’t need to read a bunch of documentation to do simple tasks.

    So, a young person coming into this field needs to get grounding in data structure and information science.  Another field that offers insights into working on customer experiences is cognitive psychology.  It might not be a traditional class for engineers, but it teaches you how to be more empathetic and to analyze a conversation for customer needs, wants, and desires.

    A hugely important skill for engineers is communication, especially writing.  While I just discussed a need to decrease documentation, engineers still need to have good writing skills to communicate with other team members and customers.  A lot of our follow-up “visits” with customers are not face-to-face.  Therefore, being able to communicate well by phone or email is an important skill to master.

    I would add that anyone who wants to become a leader should also have technical skills.  When a developer tells me that a task is too difficult, I like to say, “Hmm, let me see how I can do this task.”  Then, I can steer them in the right direction.  I can demonstrate myself that the activity is really not too hard.

    So, three skills are important as systems engineers focused on customer experience.  First, being able to conduct user research effectively.  Second, having an ability to manage and understand data.  And, finally, strong communication skills.

    As an afterthought, I’d also recommend that young engineers take a class in visual design or data visualization.  Everything we are doing today is built on graphic displays so learning skills to better present information to a non-technical audience is differentiating.

    Q:  I’m an engineer and I know that engineering degree programs in college tend to focus more on technical competency.  Lots of my friends have said things like, “I’m really smart and do great work, why do I have to fuss with soft skills?”  How would you convince an engineer or engineering manager that communication and soft skills are really important for success?

    A:  From our domain, that’s pretty easy.  We enable police, firefighters, and EMS personnel to do their jobs better.  It really is a matter of life and death.  At Hexagon, we know the work we do will literally save lives if we can help first responders do their jobs better.  To accomplish that, we have to support real-time situational awareness.

    People are the end-users of our products and communication is how we learn about people and behaviors.  Team members that are removed from the end-user will not (necessarily) demonstrate humility and confidence.  No matter what product you are making, you should not put pen to paper until you know what your end-user is going to do with that product.

    Communication also drives systems engineering – the theme of ASEM’s conference.  Team members are motivated to create sub-systems when they know it serves a larger purpose as a system.  Again, a lot of our products are used by first responders and they really do save lives.  Our team members and developers are motivated by that aspirational goal.

    Q:  Communication is hard for engineers, I think, because we are often introverted.  What do you think?

    A:  (Laughs.)  You probably can’t tell by my presentation, but I’m an introvert too.  I have a colleague who calls herself an “ambivert” – meaning we can do an engaging public presentation, talk and listen to customers, or work with the sales team.  But at the end of the day, the ambivert needs to recharge his/her batteries with quiet time reserved for reflection and thinking.

    In some ways, I believe, introverts are better at conducting qualitative research and gathering customer insights.  An introvert is always thinking but s/he is not thinking about what they’re going to say next.  They’re thinking about the problem.  There’s a great book called “The Introvert Advantage” by Marti Olsen Laney on this very topic.

    Extroverts are good to have on the team as well because they are so good at talking to people.  A hinderance for some extroverts is that sometimes they are making judgements while they or other people are speaking.  I encountered an example of this on a recent project.  We were working on documenting customer insights and had conducted more than 40 interviews with police officers through ride-alongs.  One team member, an extrovert, complained that we just kept going back to visit the same customers over and over again.  He just said this without thinking through the complete idea.  I had to stop him and asked how many repeat visits he thought we’d conducted.  When he considered the question, the number was less than 10%.  Extroverts are thinking the idea through by talking about it – a “think aloud protocol” – while introverts are quietly listening and evaluating the conversations.

    We need to build goodwill with our customers.  We do sometimes return to customers for multiple visits to understand their needs, but we usually use different methods. The process to build effective user experiences involves customer visits to conduct ethnographic research, gain feedback on prototypes, and then test usability.  That whole process relies on effective and efficient customer interactions.  Success hinges on what you do with the data and how it’s useful at that stage in the process.

    Q:  What is the #1 piece of advice you’d give to a young systems engineer or engineering manager?

    Get an internship.  You need to figure out what skill sets you need in the field you want to pursue.

    There are some roles that are generalist roles and you can learn those skills with on-the-job training.  Then there are specialist skills.  In the presentation, I talked about how we are engaged in studies on eye movement tracking and how important this is to designing intuitive software and hardware for police officers.  That’s a highly technical skill that might require special and advanced education.  An internship can help you determine what sort of job you might like and what kinds of advanced education or training is necessary to achieve that role.

    Q:  Thank you for your time, Amy.  Your presentation was fascinating and eye-opening.  I’m excited to learn that engineers and engineering managers have such an important role in building new products and systems that lead to satisfied customers.

  • 30 Nov 2017 7:00 AM | Anonymous

    Fellow ASEM Members,

    As the incoming President, I am honored and excited for the opportunity to build on the great foundation laid by my predecessors. In my new role, I will focus on enhancing communication, continue to work toward expanding the value of ASEM membership, and improve industry recognition of the value of ASEM. We are in the process of expanding our ASEM Strategic Plan with the addition of metrics that will be posted on the ASEM website.

    I would like to welcome our new Board and Committee members. After our annual conference, the Board of Directors welcomed new members: Simon Philbin as Secretary; Teresa Jurgens-Kowal as South Central Regional Director; Yesim Sireli as International Director; Ean Ng as Conference Director; and Patricia Anzalone, representing Council of Engineering Management Academic Leaders (CEMAL). I would also like to thank all our continuing Directors for their ongoing support of ASEM and its mission. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge our outgoing President, Dr. Heather Nachtmann, who deserves a huge thank you for her leadership and contributions, guiding the society so ably during the previous year.

    This year (2017) was an eventful and successful year as we engaged in various activities and several collaborations that are continuing to move the organization forward. We had a successful conference in Huntsville during October with record attendance. I would like to thank Dr. Bryan Mesmer and his staff for a job well done hosting this conference. During the conference, we recognized many members and professionals for their contribution to ASEM and the field of Engineering Management. I would also like to congratulate all this year’s award winners – Great Job!

    We have an exciting year ahead of us with not one, but two international conferences. Be sure you check out all the deadline dates, you don’t want to miss out.

    I look forward to working with and serving all of you as we move into 2018 together.

    Frances Alston, PhD, PEM 

    ASEM President 2017 - 2018


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