Engineering Engagement Patterns and Human Inertia

Engineering job descriptions are usually prepared by people who cannot write and do not understand the depth of the job responsibilities and commitments of engineering management. Those job descriptions are becoming expensive to be prepared and updated, but at the same time are becoming morale-drainers. There is something inherently vague about the title of the “project manager”.

For many engineers being a project manager means that you fit a stereotype, according to which, most probably, you were not good enough in your field to be an engineer and through politics and self-promotion, you found ways to take credit for the hard work done by others. Many project managers in engineering pay extensive attention to the production of spreadsheets, presentations, deliverables KPIs, and status reports, failing to realize that these are the least interesting and most bureaucratic things produced by a group of engineers. This mismatch of value exposes the engineering manager and his team into a downward trend where the engineering manager is asking for more and more respect in ways guaranteed to push people further away.

The core problem is perspective. Today’s culture does not think of engineers, nuclear physicists, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers, even though much of what these cool, high profile occupations do is manage projects. Everything is a project. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They would describe themselves engineers, nuclear physicists, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars first, and as a project manager or team leaders second. They are committed first to the output, not the process. However, the perspective that many project managers have is that they are committed first to the process, and their status in the process, not the output. The result is that most of the world thinks of project management as boring. Not sure how it happened, but instead of thinking of the great moments in project management history, say the NASA space race, the construction of the pyramids, the Empire State building, or any of a thousand great things made possible only by someone’s effective management of the project, people think of budget protectors, overdesigned charts, epic status reports, and people who spend too much time in rooms filled exclusively with other project managers. If you are not going out of your way to separate yourself from the stereotype, odds are good that when you say “I’m a project manager” the person you are talking will encounter you with lower criteria of value and importance, with regards to your organization.

Thus, engineers with job titles like “Project Manager”, “Program Manager”, “Information Architect” or “Quality Assurance manager” have similar problems. These titles all make it hard to relate to what it really is that the person gets paid to make happen: a sure sign of title inflation, confusion via over-specialization, or abstraction from the real work. I suspect all these people have similar problems with getting respect from people when they introduce themselves with their literal job title (process), instead of what it is they help make (output). Of course, this lack of respect creates a huge opportunity for engineers with open minds. If you take the time to find out what it is that the people on the project need from you, or value from you, and make that as large a part of your job as possible, then you’ll get more respect than you expect. And you may find that people start referring to you as a different kind of project manager, and you will earn not only their respect, but their trust and best work too. The existence of a big number of engineering managers is a big impediment for the progress of a project. Then, you need an effective leader to put order to the collected big gang of engineering managers which has been unable to bring positive results. Thus, most engineering schemes fail to show positive results with regards to communication, meetings, policy manuals, budgets, salaried employees, minimal personnel, and time clocks.

Today, the general tasks of a project engineer are manifold. They are in constant contact with their team, documenting the progress of the project, finding, and solving problems and assigning responsibilities in such a way that the individual participants can best focus on targeted aspects of a project. They report on the progress of the project and coordinate activities via interfaces with product development, marketing, or sales. The day-to-day responsibilities of a project engineer are focused on the development of engineering objectives, the collaboration with the senior management to develop efficient methods and practices, the development of the proper specifications for all required tools and equipment, the development and framework of the metrics for monitoring an engineering project, the management of collected project data, the formulation of realistic parameters for each project, the documentation of project progress, the allocation of responsibilities, the finding and solving problems, and the control of compliance with time and budget requirements.

Herein, I present a list of mandatory technical skills and patterns required by a project engineer:

  • Requirements analysis. In systems engineering and software engineering, requirements analysis focuses on the tasks that determine the needs or conditions to meet the new or altered product or project, taking account of the possibly conflicting requirements of the various stakeholders, analyzing, documenting, validating and managing software or system requirements. Requirements analysis is critical to the success or failure of a systems or software project. The requirements should be documented, actionable, measurable, testable, traceable, related to identified business needs or opportunities, and defined to a level of detail sufficient for system design. Figure 1 depicts a system engineering perspective on requirements analysis.

  • Design skills. Every engineer is required to be equipped with a good eye for detail, critical thinking and problem solving, well-developed technical and creative skills, teamwork and collaboration, communication and interpersonal skills, professionalism and strong work ethic, IT skills, and leadership.
  • Manufacturing methods and procedures. An entire manufacturing process is composed of several heterogeneous units/procedures, which each have a structure and are closely correlated. The dynamic-orderly running of entire process requires an identical activity of motion for each unit procedure device in a quite long timescale. Because of the differences in the physical and chemical functions of each various unit (procedure), the relationships between different procedures are extremely complex and are affected by the external environment. It seems that the dynamic operation of a manufacturing process is an unpredictable complex problem, and it is difficult to find its running rules. However, the theory of self-organization of the dissipative structure system founded by the school of Prigogine (Ilya Prigogine, 1917–2003) gives the possibility of studying the complex problem above. To know the dynamic-orderly operation rule of the entire manufacturing process, it is of importance to study the dissipative structure theory. With respect to process manufacturing industry, the manufacturing process often contains the storage, transportation, and pretreatment of raw materials and energy, the reaction processes and the processing of reaction products, and it also involves the auxiliary materials and energy supply system connected with reaction processes for realizing the functions of the manufacturing process.
  • Technical understanding. It enables you to understand an engineering domain. Your detailed understanding of anything that can be applied or reasoned with in any shape or form for any issues or applications is technical knowledge which is an understanding of modern technology, its working, and advances.
  • Process improvement. This is a proactive task of identifying, analyzing, and improving upon existing technical and business processes to improve products, services, or processes. These efforts can seek "incremental" improvement over time or "breakthrough" improvement all at once.
  • Documentations skills. The best way to improve your documentation skills is to make use of a self-serve knowledge base software to create and manage documentation. The best practice to create good documentation is making information available in an efficient way, timesaving, and value added. Documentation is especially important because it helps ensure consent and expectations. It helps to tell the narrative for decisions made, and how yourself or the client responded to different situations. In this same manor, it is important to record information that can help support the proper treatment plan and the reasoning for such services.
  • Project management. The project engineer must be highly organized, detail oriented, entrepreneurship savvy, with the ability to see how the project deliverables are tied to the organization's overarching business goals. He must have excellent communication skills and the ability to motivate. Also, he must be resourceful to adequately manage risk.
  • Safety management. The project engineer must be efficient towards posting incident analysis, planning, implementing, and overseeing company's employee safety at work.
  • Solidworks1.
  • Matlab2.
  • CAD / CAM Circuit Design3.

Because of management responsibility, a project engineer must be able to work independently and be seriously organized. In addition, today’s project engineer must be characterized by decisiveness and a high sense of accountability. Through precise communication skills and a high level of empathy for the needs of the project staff, he can tickle the maximum efficiency out of the employees. Project engineers, today, must foster a number of new principles such as frugal engineering culture, sophisticated engagement and iteration, flexing of the available assets, create sustainable solutions, shape customer behavior, co-create value with partners for the benefit of the employer and the client.