Engineering and Management Potpourri #1
August 2, 1996.
Pot-pourri: 1. orig., a stew. 2. a mixture of dried flower petals with
spices, kept in a jar for its fragrance. 3. a medley, miscellany, or
Unlike the other long articles in this series, this is a collection of short
pieces of news, comments, editorials.
Centralized engineering replaced by cross-functional teams at Chrysler.
“We took the functional engineering organization and divided it into cross-
functional teams focused on the specific products we produce," Raymond J.
Maloni, small car platform business planning manager, Chrysler Corporation
(Auburn Hills, Mich.) shared at the recent Design Engineering Conference.
There are no longer centralized engineering functions at Chrysler, except
scientific labs and proving grounds. Instead, there are now five mini-
versions of each function, such as body and chassis engineering, electrical
and powertrain, one for each of Chrysler’s major product platforms. Besides
the engineering groups, “all our other functional organizations, design,
planning, purchasing, and manufacturing are organized to be an integral part
of the five platform teams." Additionally, as part of Chrysler’s extended
enterprise concept, outside suppliers are selected before designs are
initiated, and stay “for the long haul."
TT: I remember this being called "divisionalization" in the 80's!
Prime time for product development engineers. Nearly a third of all
midsize U.S. manufacturers plan to hire management-level employees this
year, according to a national study conducted by Grant Thornton LLP. Michael
N. Cantwell, national director for manufacturing, anticipates that the types
of management positions that these midsize manufacturers are most likely to
demand will be in product development and manufacturing production. With
smaller manufacturers benefiting from the outsourcing decisions of the
larger companies, Cantwell suggests, they’11 need managers who have broad,
deep skills and capabilities. “Highly skilled and experienced business
leaders, especially those with design, production, cost management, and
quality assurance skills are needed to ensure that nothing is sacrificed
along the way," he offers. He believes that managers displaced from the
nation’s larger companies could find opportunities among the midsize
manufacturing companies. But he cautions that individuals who are accustomed
to big-company perquisites and practices will need to understand the culture
of many smaller companies.
Resolving team disputes most effectively. Engineering managers are we]1
aware that members of project teams occasionally become embroiled in a
“difference of opinion," can’t resolve the situation on their own, and often
need the intervention of the department head. When this happens, "Project
Management" suggests the following rules of engagement: (1) Never let them
fight it out in public – go behind closed doors. (2) Summarize – take no
more than five minutes to summarize the issue and let each party state its
position. (3) Let the parties either offer a solution or admit they don’t
have one. If they don’t have one, help them realize that they’11 have to
live with someone else’s. (4) Don’t allow attacks on anyone’s character.
Stick to the objective facts. (5) Let them blow off steam. If the real issue
is simply that someone’s actions are making someone else angry, encourage
the of-fended person to vent the anger. (6) Make a decision. After hearing
all sides, the manager, leader, or department head decides the action to be
taken. (7) Present a unified front. After the decision is made, everyone
abides by it.
Six principles for managing people. While helping the federal government
prepare for the future, the Government Accounting Office has issued a
document that can be useful for the private sector, as well. Based on a
symposium of private industry representatives, federal officials, and
academicians, the GAO found several interrelated principles of new, more
flexible ways to manage people. They include: (1) Value people as assets
rather than costs. (2) Emphasize mission, vision, and organizational
culture. (3) Hold managers responsible for achieving results instead of
imposing rigid, process oriented rules and standards. (4) Choose an
organizational structure rather than trying to make one size fit all. (5)
Treat continuous learning as an investment in success rather than as a cost
to be minimized. (6) Provide sustained leadership that recognizes change as
a permanent condition, not a one-time event. For a copy of the complete
report, GAO/GGD-96-35, contact GAO Document Distribution Facility, P.O. Box
6015, Gaithersburg, MD 20884; 202-512-6000; fax, 301-258-4066.
TT: 1. appears to have been lost in the downsizing in the 80's and 90's.
New “preventive” advice for avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome. Engineers
and designers alike have become victims of carpal tunnel. Now, according to
research by Cornell University’s Alan Hedge, workers bend their wrists less
when they type at keyboard platforms that slope 12 degrees away from them.
The negative tilt changes the angle of keys, he says in IIE Solutions,
“improving posture and reducing chances of developing repetitive stress
disorders." A study of 38 Honeywell employees by Hedge and Daniel McCrobie,
Honeywell’s corporate ergonomist, indicates that those individuals who used
negative-tilt keyboards kept their wrists in a safe, neutral position 67% of
the time. Other ergonomics research has proven that ergonomic devices can do
as much harm as good if used improperly. Using wrist rests or splints while
typing can put pressure on nerves and make repetitive stress injuries worse.
“If you’re going to use a wrist rest, use it to rest," says David Rempel,
University of California in San Francisco. Wearing splints too frequently
can cause muscle atrophy, he offers. “While splints are useful for
immobilizing wrists at night, they can force the wrist into awkward
positions at the keyboard."
What CEOs look for in engineers. Ironically, the same personality traits
that cause CEOs to describe engineers as “just impossible" are the identical
qualities they value in employees. Tenacity, creativity, and intelligence
are the characteristics that CEOs look for in their engineers, even though
they know they will cause managerial headaches, concludes a CEO forum co-
sponsored by Product Design and Development and Philip Adam & Associates.
According to the publication, CEOs want engineers who can “grapple with the
most complex issues without giving up." However, they say this same tenacity
can cause problems when it’s time to drop a project for economic reasons.
“Engineers often have a difficult time letting go, believing they can
guarantee a project’s success by simply working out the technical glitches,"
the CEOs agree. The top execs also want engineers who have a low threshold
of boredom. “The CEOs want engineers to be innovative and to come up with
technological breakthroughs that will turn into exciting, money-making
products," PDD reports. “However, the CEOs also find that creative
individuals are the most difficult to manage because they have their own way
of doing things." Intelligence/technical competence is important, too. The
CEOs describe today’s engineers as very intelligent and having big egos,
however, an unfortunate by-product of this is their tendency to have
difficulty with criticism.
Focusing creativity is one secret to Microsoft’s successful product
development strategy. Having creative people in a high-tech company is
important. However, Microsoft believes it is often more important to direct
their creativity. The company structures projects around “milestones" or
subprojects of prioritized features. It also uses “vision statements,"
according to Research/Technology (TM) Management, to guide teams “but with
no attempt to determine everything that they do in advance." This leaves the
engineers room to innovate or adapt to change or unforeseen competitive
opportunities and threats. Particularly for applications products,
“development teams come up with features that map directly to activities
that average customers perform, and then they design products and projects
around these features."
R&D trends forecast a positive 1996. “The prospect for industrial R&D
looks brighter than it has for some time," concludes the 12th annual
forecast of the Industrial Research Institute. According to the findings:
R&D budgets up 6%; slightly more “directed basic" research; and most
respondents (52%) see increases in R&D alliances and joint ventures.
Engineers’ lack of basic management principles stifles their rise into
higher management positions. Industrial organizations often appoint
engineers as technology supervisors, says Ron K. Bhada (Technology
Management, Auerbach Publications). These supervisors “have the ability to
identify potential problem areas in any new process and provide corrective
solutions before the problems become a reality, which is invaluable to
senior management." However, when it comes to move ahead, these individuals
are usually bypassed, he notes. The reason: “They are totally unacquainted
with such basic management principles as motivation, interpersonal
relations, and group dynamics." Even though engineers are not insensitive,
he says, they often “unintentionally alienate their superiors, subordinates,
and peers." However, many of these individuals can profit both themselves
and their companies if, early in their careers, management skills are added
to their excellent technical knowledge, and that they have the opportunity
to practice them in their work environment, Bhada observes.
Management cycle time also being compressed. A decade-old Harvard study
found that it once took executives an average 2.5 years to become fully
competent in a new job. Today, reports, Across The Board, there’s growing
evidence that managers “had better get up to speed much quicker
than that." A Manchester Partners International survey finds that 40% of
newly hired or promoted managers fail within 18 months of assuming their new
position. An American Management Association study also shows that 22% of
companies will fire a newly hired manager within three months “if
he can’t cut it." Even within engineering management ranks, the sources of
available talent are so great that companies are confident of finding a
TT: and you want to move into management?
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