Episode 85 — Unwritten Rules

unwrittenAdam, Brian, Carmen, and Jeff discuss the values and ideals that often guide engineering decision making, even if these policies are rarely written down or mentioned in academic settings.

  • Brian finds that Dilbert cartoons help him develop a “befuddlement with life and others.”
  • Scott Adam’s book, Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook, provides guidance on how to appear technically proficient, even when one is not.
  • W.J. King wrote the original version of “The Unwritten Laws of Engineering” back in 1944.
  • King’s Rule #1: However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  • King’s Rule #3: In carrying out a project do not wait for foremen, vendors, and others to deliver the goods; go after them and keep everlastingly after them.
  • Adam makes reference to the “rule of pi,” which was introduced in Episode 1. This maxim suggests new projects will take about pi times longer to complete than first anticipated.
  • King’s Rule #6: Avoid the very appearance of vacillation. (Is this still valid in 2015?)
  • King’s Rule #15: Whatever the boss wants done takes top priority.
  • The Unwritten Laws of Systems Engineering” was authored by David F. McClinton half a century later, in 1994.
  • McClinton’s Rule #1: Everything interacts with everything else.
  • McClinton’s Rule #2: Everything goes somewhere.
  • Brian makes a joke about “chazzwazzas” that confuses his co-hosts.
  • McClinton’s Rule #3: There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • McClinton’s Rule #4: Never confuse change with progress.
  • Carmen has fond memories of his JNCO jeans.
  • McClinton’s Rule #10: There is no shelf.
  • Brian wondered if the prior rule had some connection to the Matrix movie line, “There is no spoon.”
  • McClinton’s Rule #14: Nothing is impossible to the man who doesn’t have to do it.
  • McClinton’s Rule #16: Any analysis will be believed by no one but the analyst who conducted it. Any test will be believed by every one but the person who conducted it.
  • McClinton’s Rule #21: Never use a word chart when a picture chart will do.
  • McClinton’s Rule #22: Never go in with the first wave.
  • McClinton’s Rule #23: Never go in with the second wave either.
  • McClinton’s Rule #24: Have the heart of a child but keep it in a jar on your
  • Jeff references the book, “Thick Face, Black Heart: The Warrior Philosophy for Conquering the Challenges of Business and Life.”

Thanks to Kate Hiscock for use of the image titled “an open book.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 84 — Workflow Balance

workflowChemical engineer Aaron Spearin chats with Jeff and Adam, sharing insights on workflow balance, value stream mapping, and the importance of interdepartmental communication.

  • Adam gets frequent complaints about traffic backups at this time of year, as many of his employer’s road construction projects are in full swing during the summer.
  • Our guest for this episode is chemical engineer Aaron Spearin, a trainer and practitioner of Lean, Six Sigma, and Quality systems. Certified as a lead ISO 9001 auditor and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Aaron has been practicing Lean Six Sigma since 2000.
  • Aaron participated in the EUROTECH program at the University of Connecticut.
  • Keen listeners may remember that this podcast previously discussed Six Sigma in Episode 42.
  • Our guest says Six Sigma is a methodology, philosophy, and metric that has become an industry “buzzword.”
  • Lean manufacturing was popularized in the best-selling book, “The Machine that Changed the World,” by Jim Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos.
  • The seven Toyota wastes are transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, and defects.
  • ISO 9001 is a standard that, when met, ostensibly certifies an organization is meeting the needs of its customers and stakeholders.
  • Takt time is the average interval for manufacturing each product unit if customer demand is to be met.
  • Throughput time is mean interval for each product unit to pass through a manufacturing process.
  • Gemba is a Japanese word for “the real place.” In lean manufacturing parlance, improvements come from going to the gemba, where the work is being done.
  • Both Adam and Aaron are too young to realize that Jeff was serious when he mentioned Management by Wandering Around (MBWA).
  • A repeatable pattern of activities designed to achieve an organizational objective can be deemed a workflow.
  • An increasing level of work-in-process (WIP) serves as a good indicator of process imbalance.
  • Eli Goldratt developed the Theory of Constraints, and authored a popular business book, titled “The Goal.”
  • A value stream map attempts to track each state that a product might assume during a manufacturing process, and to analyze the level of customer value added between states.
  • Aaron notes that 70% of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing initiatives fail; this is rarely because of technical problems, but more frequently due to interpersonal and social issues.
  • A Kaizen event is a company-wide (or department-wide) activity in which all employees gather together to improve a process.
  • Netflix intentionally disrupts its network with a background service called Chaos Monkey to ensure the company’s software protocols are robust.
  • Aaron co-hosts the E6S Methods Podcast with Jacob Curian, in which they discuss Six Sigma and Lean tools on a weekly basis.
  • Listeners can reach Aaron via email: aaron -=+ at +=- e6s-methods.com. He can be also be reached on Twitter as @E6SIndustries, or on LinkedIn, and his website is at www.e6s-methods.com.

Thanks to David Evans for use of the image titled “Pontsticill Overflow.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 83 — Career Planning

propellerWe talk with aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan about the challenges of developing and navigating a career road map, Archimedes’ lever, and the Star Trek method for being perceived as a miracle worker.

  • Although he’s enjoyed his career, Jeff isn’t ready to claim that he’s changed the world in any meaningful manner.
  • Jeff points out that it is rare for business, personal, financial, self-esteem, and societal interests to simultaneously align.
  • The E-Myth, a book by Michael E. Gerber, highlights the difficulty of starting a business as a technical “doer,” as the process of “doing” conflicts with the overarching goal of growing a business.
  • Our guest for this episode is aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan, a lead engineer for Liftoff Engineering Services, located in Melbourne, Florida.
  • About ninety-three percent of engineering degree graduates started in an engineering program, where as only fifty percent of social science degree holders started their academic career in that particular major.
  • Only about one in three engineering graduates works as an engineer (although many have moved on to managerial or non-engineering technical positions).
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 83,000 aeronautical engineers currently employed in the United States.
  • A Designated Engineering Representative (DER) is an engineer who may interpret and approve technical data in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • The FAA has implemented a newer Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program to certify engineers who may approve repairs, alterations and airworthiness.
  • Patrick notes that modern aircraft design delegates limited, component-level responsibilities to a large number of engineers, each of whom is responsible for a small portion of the overall flight system.
  • Jeff notes that during the course of our employment with a given firm, we have to balance our expectations of personal growth, a healthy work/life balance, reliable benefits and increasing compensation against the employer’s expectation that we will aid them in becoming more profitable.
  • We discuss the Star Trek method for managing your boss’s expectations: under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Jeff admits his patience with engineers working for him was frequently tested when he became a departmental manager.
  • Employees increasingly expect that their career advancement will be self-directed.
  • It’s easy to get discouraged when comparing your professional work to the “highlight reel” of engineering accomplishments one finds on the internet, according to Jeff.
  • Patrick mentions a YouTube video showing quadcopters capable of tossing and catching an inverted pendulum.
  • Jeff suggests engineers be specific about the relative importance they attach to career factors such as money, power, prestige, confidence, authority, leadership, wisdom, insight, respect, experience, and technical ability.
  • Our guest notes that analysis skills are more valued in industries where prototyping is difficult or dangerous, while tinkering skills find greater favor in fields where prototypes are more easily produced.
  • Average lifespans of S&P 500 companies are rapidly decreasing, with experts predicting that more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 in 2020 will be companies we’ve not heard of yet.
  • Two-thirds of college students believe they’re going to “change the world.”
  • Young people in their twenties want to be promoted every year or two, with more than 40% of them expecting to be in a management position within two years.
  • Listeners can reach Patrick via email: patrick -=+ at +=- liftoffengineering dot com.

Thanks to Dave Nakayama for use of the image titled “rotate.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd