Why is Engineering the last to call for help?

Engineering and the product development organization are critical to a company’s survival. In successful companies, they deal daily with a vast array of problems, from technology shifts to people loss. One of the key talents of successful technical managers is to deal with changing priorities and resource availability. They manage these dynamically whether by PERT charts or just seat-of-the-pants intuition.

So why is it that they don’t often ask for help?

I believe it has to do with two aspects of the occupation itself.

(1) When your daily life is filled with adaptation and improvisation, you have trouble imagining that there is anything anyone can do to help. Your talent as a technologist managing others is to be able to evaluate technical directions in an instant, moving people around to cover the top priorities of the day, and communicating to your bosses what is going on. How could a consultant or an internal mentor help this kind of activity?

(2) You are already in the midst of trying to improve the engineering process and the way your people accomplish projects. You have the credibility with them, so you can influence their work to improve a little at a time. It is inconceivable that an outsider, or a non-specialist insider, could have more influence on your staff.

The Marketing Department and even the Finance people know that Engineering is in trouble when products don’t get completed on schedule, turnover is high, or products need extensive tweaking to meet customer needs. But inside Product Development, life is normal: dynamically adapting to the shifting priorities, making quick decisions about fixes, and just getting the next product out the door.

The only way to get the processes to improve significantly is to get perspective. And perspective is the one thing that most Engineering departments don’t have. They’s too busy meeting their commitments. Perspective is what consultants and internal mentors have.

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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

For more information, email him at johnlevyexpert.com, or call 415 269-4096.
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