2 things to speed up engineering work.

the history books tell us that. Often engineers, or any creative for that matter, are pressured to finish projects on the kinds of timelines that aren’t conducive with good products.

The work engineers do isn’t obvious to others. It’s lines and dimensions on a page. It’s not apparent to an outside observer that’s the easy part. It’s the tasks performed to decide what those lines should look like and what those dimensions should be that’s the long road. Calculations, simulations, tests, vendor coordination, product literature review, ordering, and administrative tasks are the real time consumers.

Unlike a construction site, these tasks aren’t in ready view, they require communication to paint a picture to management of what remains to be done. When the pressure is on, it’s possible before increasing haste, an increase in communication is order.

Here’s two things that could be going slow, and some ideas about how to communicate the issue:

  • Assembly instructions take a long time. “Our assemblers need clear instructions. If you tell 4 different people to make spaghetti and meatballs, you’ll get 4 different versions. If we want to control the customer experience, we need to write ‘the recipe’ clearly in a way that can be consistently repeated. If we don’t we’ll end up dealing with returns and recalls.” If assigning cost savings, and recall savings numbers is possible, add that as well. If management still doesn’t see the value, make some of the higher ups do a cooking exercise, ask each to make the same dish without a recipe. Have them bring it in and see how different they all look. It will be clear why documentation is needed.
  • Analysis is taking longer than is comfortable. “The physics involved are complicated. If we don’t want to build many prototypes, which will require more time to design, and even more time to fabricate, we’ll need to make sure everything works correctly. That’s a lot of calculations to be performed and reviewed. Even using software, computers can only calculate so fast. Doing this work right is the fastest way to launch our product.” If it’s still not clear why the analysis is taking so long, ask if they have been involved in any business planning, the answer is likely, yes. And it’s likely a 1 year, 3 year or 5 year plan. Ask them how long those numbers took to put together. Those numbers are all a lot more subjective and simpler, and it probably still took months, weeks if it’s a smaller company.

The trickier balance is not putting more time into communicating the issue than it takes to resolve the issue. After all, many things can be resolved faster than writing that history book, save paper, save your sanity. Do what you can, communicate what you can’t.

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