Win Hearts and Minds
As an engineering leader you have the biggest profit lever in the company. You lead the engineering teams, and the engineering teams design the products. You can shape their work, you can help them raise their game, and you can help them change their thinking. But if you don’t win their hearts and minds, you have nothing.
Engineers must see your intentions are good, you must say what you do and do what you say, and you must be in it for the long haul. And over time, as they trust, the profit lever grows into effectiveness. But if you don’t earn their trust, you have nothing.
But even with trust, you must be light on the tiller. Engineers don’t like change (we’re risk reducing beings), but change is a must. But go too quickly, and you’ll go too slowly. You must balance praise of success with praise of new thinking and create a standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants mindset. But this is a challenge because they are the giants – you’re asking them to stand on their own shoulders.
How do you know they’re ready for new thinking? They’re ready when they’re willing to obsolete their best work and to change their work to make it happen. Strangely, they don’t need to believe it’s possible – they only need to believe in you.
Now the tough part: There’s a lot of new thinking out there. Which to choose?
Whatever the new thinking, it must make sense at a visceral level, and it must be simple. (But not simplistic.) Don’t worry if you don’t yet have your new thinking; it will come. As a seed, here are my top three new thinkings:
Define the problem. This one cuts across everything we do, yet most underwhelm it. To get there, ask your engineers to define their problems on one page. (Not five, one.) Ask them to use sketches, cartoons, block diagram, arrows, and simple nouns and verbs. When they explain the problem on one page, they understand the problem. When they need two, they don’t.
Test to failure. This one’s subtle but powerful. Test to define product limits, and don’t stop until it breaks. No failure, no learning. To get there, resurrect the venerable test-break-fix cycle and do it until you run out of time (product launch.) Break the old product, test-break-fix the new product until it’s better.
Simplify the product. This is where the money is. Product complexity drives organizational complexity – simplify the product and simply everything. To get there, set a goal for 50% part count reduction, train on Design for Assembly (DFA), and ask engineering for part count data at every design review.
I challenge you to challenge yourself: I challenge you to define new thinking; I challenge you to help them with it; I challenge you to win their hearts and minds.
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Dr. Mike Shipulski brings together the best of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, Axiomatic Design, TRIZ, and lean to develop innovative products and technologies. His blog can be found at Shipulski On Design.
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