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 anthology.

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 replacement quickly.
    TT: and you want to move into management?

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