Archive for September, 2011

…Talk me out of this.

Bob Lutz was a leader in the automotive design world. Both Chrysler and the old GM benefited from his vision and drive. I read that he had a sign on his office wall, "Often wrong, Seldom in doubt". I like mentioning this because as an engineering leader, you have your hands on the wheel steering your group toward a desired objective. As a leader, your team looks to you to know where to direct effort, and know we are the right path. You’re decisions and results are out there for everyone to judge and appreciate. But, you don’t know everything.
As a leader, it is OK to change your mind when new information about the challenge solution comes around. Letting yourself, and your engineering staff know that, is important to the success of the project. They know who is responsible and accountable for the departments success, and they also need to know that you are open to discussion on the projects many challenges. You steer with conviction, and every now then, you adjust your course.
That is when I come to “…Talk me out of this”. I will admit to having strong opinions about a design once I have decided on the path. Experienced engineers, using analysis and visual renderings, will determine the best solution given a variety of inputs. I have developed an ability to “see” the final product based on my design decisions. This vision needs to be shared with the design team, so they will move toward the same objective. And, this is when I enjoy engineering work the most. Challenging the design team to “talk me out of this” decision, drives your team members to sell their vision. They have to do their due diligence in determining if an alternate design satisfies the objective. They come to you, and the team, with their design solution and explain why this better and suggest a course correction. When you, as the project leader, recognize and appreciate that their solution makes sense, you adjust course. That is what leadership is all about…it may appear that you are “Often wrong”, but you are “Seldom in doubt” on the success of the project. When you have a team of engineers and designers, working together like this, they will be an incredibly effective design engine.

“The Design of Design”

I have been reading a really interesting book on design management by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr. The Design of Design. Chapter 6 covers "Collaboration in Design". He makes some interesting observations, and points that make sense. Especially about two-person design teams.

In the chapter, on page 81, “Two-Person Teams Are Magical”, he notes…

“The typical dynamics of two-person design collaboration seem different from those of multi-person design and solo design. Two people will interchange ideas rapidly and informally, with neither a protocol as to who has the floor nor domination by one partner. Each holds the floor for short bursts. The process switches rapidly among micro-sessions of proposal, review, and resolution.There is typically a single thread of idea development, without the maintenance of separate individual threads of thought as in multi-person discussions. Two pencils may move over the same paper with neither collision nor contradiction”

In my experience whether using paper and pen, or a large white board, two-person teams are incredibly efficient at working through very tough challenges. I have personally witnessed engineers and designers coming out of their shell, so to speak, working together to solve a problem, or work through an idea. This has been the pleasure in engineering for me. Working alone once the path has been established, is just easier when you know you have a partner that will work with you in the ideation phase of solving the issue at hand. Once you experience the feeling of working in a two-person team, you want to keep that going.