One of the things that they don’t teach you at University is that as an engineer you will never have enough time. Nope you will never have the time in the schedule to execute that perfect design process in your head which will answer all questions, satisfy all stakeholders and optimises your solution to three decimal places. Worse yet you’re going to be asked to commit to parts of your solution in detail before you’ve finished the overall design because for example, ‘we need to order the steel bill now because there’s a 6 month lead time’. Then there’s dealing with the ‘other guys’, the electrical team hates the mechanicals, nobody talks to structure and everybody hates manufacturing (1).
So good engineering managers, (2) spend a lot of their time managing the risk of early commitment and concurrency, disentangling design snarls and adjudicating turf wars over scarce resources (3). Get it right and the design team is only late by the usual amount, get it wrong and very bad things can happen. Strangely you’ll be unlikely to find a lot of guidance in traditional engineering education on these issues, for my part what I’ve found to be helpful is a pragmatic design process that actually supports you in doing the tough stuff (4). Oh and being able to manage outsourcing of design would also be great (5). This all gets even more difficult when you’re trying to do vehicle design, which I liken to trying to stick 5 litres of stuff into a 4 litre container. So at the link below is my architecting approach to managing at least part of the insanity. I doubt that there’ll ever be a perfect answer to this, far too too many constraints, competing agenda’s and just plain cussedness of human beings. But if your last project was anarchy dialled up-to eleven it might be worth considering some of these possible approaches. Hope it helps, and good luck!
1. It is a truth universally acknowledged that engineers are notoriously bad at communicating.
2. We don’t talk about the bad.
3. Such as, cable and piping routes, whose sensors goes at the top of mast, mass budgets, and power constraints. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
4. My observation is that (some) engineers tend to design their processes to be perfect and conveniently ignore the ugly messiness of the world, because they are uncomfortable with being accountable for decisions made under uncertainty. Of course when you can’t both follow these processes and get the job done these same engineers will use this as a shield from all blame, e.g. ‘If you’d only followed our process..’ say they, `sure…’ say I.
5. A traditional management ploy to reduce costs, but rarely does management consider that you then need to manage that outsourced effort which takes particular mix of skills. Yet another kettle of dead fish as Boeing found out on the B787.