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  • 30 Mar 2022 4:34 PM | Patrick Sweet

    This post is by Anand Safi

    Over the past decade, I've worked both as an individual contributor as well as leadership/ management roles. I also do a lot of Mentorship and Coaching for engineers who aspire to move to engineering management and early-tenure engineering leaders. Through this experience, I've learned that many engineers who want to make the move into management are unprepared for this transition, and there is very little training available to support them.

    Through this article, I wanted to provide some guidance for new engineering managers and provide a couple initial focus areas that a first time EM can build upon.

    Focus Area 1: Trust, Collaboration and Communication

    When you are a new/ recent engineering manager (say, in your first 90 days) a quick thing you will realize is you need to gain trust, build relationships and rapport quickly -- not only with your fellow engineering talent, not only with your direct reports, but also with all the other discipline stakeholders. As an individual contributor, you might spend 80% of your time with your engineering team. But in an engineering management role, you might only spend 50% of the time with your engineers. The other 50% time is spent with people who are stakeholders representing other cross-functional disciplines, such as product, design, UX,  or QA. 

    Additionally, there are other teams like people ops, recruiting, platform, customer support, customer success and deployments for example. Hence, you need to build relationships early on because your team cannot be successful unless everyone in each discipline is aligned on the common goal and plan to get there.

    Focus Area 2: Information Collection, Compartmentalization and Sharing

    The amount of cross-communication and information that will be made available to you will continue to rise exponentially. Whether that is pre-set routine meetings, ad-hoc situations or some form of change management – there will be a plethora of details that you will hear, will need to act upon, or will need to pass around. The need to manage information will quickly become a core part of your day-to-day role as an engineering manager. 

    To manage the volume of information you can expect to receive, you should develop a structured way to capture and process all the information that you were going to be exposed to throughout the day. Important information can be conveyed through casual conversations in Slack messages and routine one-on-ones with your staff. Bearing this in mind, it's important to have your subconscious mind active in terms of recognizing the need to bring information to others, or to take some other action. You do need to make sure that you are staying at the top of all conversations.

    Focus Area 3: Active Listening

    Given the importance of sharing information mentioned above, an important skill as an engineering manager is being an active listener. Being an active listener is important because you can never be sure when important information is going to come to the surface and when that information will be needed. Modern organizations are very busy places, with many people working on many different things. If you don't pay close attention, it is going to be difficult for you to recall important information days, weeks, or months after the fact. To that end, keeping some sort of documentation system and an action item as a to-do list can help a lot.

    About the Author

    Anand is a Senior Engineering Leader for Mark43 - a public safety SaaS company. Over the past decade, Anand has progressed from starting as an aspiring engineer to becoming an engineering leader. Anand also is a Startup Advisor, Volunteer Board Member and an established tech mentor outside of his role. He loves reading about engineering culture, team dynamics and new advancements in tech.

  • 29 Mar 2022 8:57 AM | Patrick Sweet

    This post is by Joshua Plenert, PE, MS, MBA

    The full potential of an intelligent workforce is being limited by outdated management systems.

    The industrial age brought growth like never before.  It allowed production to be scaled larger.  The manager held all the knowledge, and the workers were given a simple task to perform repeatedly, day after day.  The developed management style was focused entirely on control, and employees were nothing more than expendable cogs in the machine.

    Throughout the 1900s, organizations continued to grow, and managers focused more and more on standardizing processes, optimizing outputs, and preventing variation.  Workers were task-oriented, and the relationship between managers and workers was utterly transactional.  But workers were gaining more knowledge and experience in their fields.

    The Modern Worker

    Modern organizations are still heavily influenced by the long and oppressive shadow the industrial age management style casts.  But the manager-worker relationship is quickly changing.  Workers today are highly educated, experienced experts in their industries.  In most organizations, the expertise of the workers far exceeds that of the manager.  This evolution has moved the manager’s role into a servant leadership role rather than the controlling authoritarian role of the past.  Managers are coaches, mentors, administrators, and facilitators, but the workers are now the experts.

    The transactional relationship of the past has changed into a transformational relationship.  Workers expect more than just a paycheck.  They hope to be part of an innovative organization with a genuine purpose.  They expect to be valued members of a healthy community.  They want to be free to be great at what they do without the belittling micromanagement systems of the past.  

    This shift is an exciting time for modern organizations.  Workers are intelligent, driven professionals. They take ownership of their work and their careers.  The challenge now is to re-learn what it means to be a manager.  It’s no longer about controlling the individual tasks of the workers and more about providing strategic direction and organizational systems that will support them in their work.

    The Modern Workplace

    As the way we do work has changed, so has technology.  Most of the actual work done in organizations today is executed in virtual environments rather than physical ones.  Electronic communication allows workers worldwide to cooperate and coordinate their efforts.  The vast majority of the productive work we do is completed on computers tied to worldwide networks, and our physical location has become entirely irrelevant to our ability to be exceptional in our fields.  

    Even though technology has created a new virtual working environment, many organizations still hold tight to the physical office.  But the COVID pandemic has disrupted the flow managers had become so used to.  As we’ve learned to maintain high productivity levels while quarantined in our homes, we realized that our dependence on the physical office was a complete misconception.  We’ve entered a new realization that organizations and managers are now frantically trying to cope with.

    The reality is that remote work is here to stay.  Intelligent professionals will never be happy encaged in a cubicle doing work they know very well they could be doing from their home office.  They will never be satisfied working for an organization still operating under the micromanaged environment of the physical workplace.  In fact, in recent surveys published by Owl Labs, 1 in 3 employees say they would quit their jobs if they weren’t allowed to continue working remotely.  More than half would expect a pay raise, and nearly half would be less willing to go the extra mile if required to return to the office.  

    How Organizations Need to Pivot

    It’s time for organizations to stop viewing remote work as a difficult challenge and start viewing it for what it really is, an exciting opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to move your organization into a healthier and more rewarding work environment.  It’s an opportunity to reduce to cost of doing business and enhance the value of a happy, productive workforce.  It’s an opportunity to realize the full potential of modern technology and a global talent pool. 

    The competitive advantages of high-performance organizations of the future depend heavily on fully engaging a remote workforce.  The organizations that take too long to figure out how to operate effectively and efficiently with remote teams will undoubtedly be left behind.  But those that embrace this new way of getting work done will have opportunities to enhance their value and expand their operations in ways the world is just now beginning to imagine.

    About the Author

    Joshua Plenert is highly passionate about the continuous improvement of organizations in the AEC industry.  With more than two decades in the AEC industry, he has held multiple technical and leadership roles in addition to providing consulting services.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Structural Engineering and an MBA.  He has taught engineering, business management, and construction management courses at two different universities, and he is the author of Strategic Excellence in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries

  • 15 Dec 2021 2:21 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Chris Coventry, CPEM

    "Eye-opening" is the best phrase I can use to describe ASEM's webinar series on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE/I) in Technical Management and Technological Development.  In 2021, I was fortunate to discover and become a member of ASEM in time to attend this important series.  As a practicing Engineering Manager who has worked for companies with strong DE/I commitment for many years now, I thought I'd heard it all when it comes to this subject.  I realized though that everything I'd done in this space - every training, every book, every discussion - was focused on the human resources part of the equation (i.e., recruiting, hiring, promoting, and developing employees in a more equitable way - all worthy goals, to be sure), but never had I considered how DE/I issues factor into technology itself.  I'd fallen into the trap, as Dr. Rosalyn Berne described in her talk on 

    Race Matters in Engineering and Technology, of assuming that technology is "value neutral".  This series showed me that is not the case. Dr. Berne's presentation revealed that technological devices are actually part of complex systems and that in fact it is not possible to separate technology from its environment, the values of its creators and users, and all of the social, political, financial, and regulatory systems that it exists within.  Thus, technology is inevitably influenced by the same systemic racism and other biases that exist in broader society.

    Annie Jean-Baptiste's talk on Product Inclusion provided further evidence of this and made the argument for diverse perspectives throughout the product life cycle.  The example of the hand-held pulse oximeter was used as a case study and cautionary tale in this area.

    Dr. Ayanna Howard's seminar on Diversity & Inclusion in Robotics discussed how bias can find its way into even a highly technical field like robotics and the dangers that presents, especially in the emerging field of Artificial Intelligence.  Again, the influence of humans on their technology creations was an important theme.

    My takeaway from all of these was a greater understanding of the permeation of DE/I-related issues and problems into technology, be it research, product design, manufacturing, or automation.  At first this may seem a bit discouraging since we as Engineering Managers can't fix all of society's problems in this area to prevent that permeation.  But the more hopeful note here is we do have the power to continue building awareness on DE/I topics – by educating ourselves, by having conversations with colleagues, by taking action when needed  and in doing so we can gradually ingrain more positive, inclusive values into our technology systems.  This series has done us a real service in that regard.

    If you weren't able to catch these webinars the first time around, I would highly recommend checking them out; those available publicly have been linked within this article.  Perhaps together we can open some more eyes.

    About the Author

    Chris Coventry, CPEM is the Process Engineering Leader for Corteva Agriscience, a leading pure-play agriculture company founded on the rich heritages of Dow, DuPont and Pioneer. In this role, Chris manages a team of engineering professionals dedicated to designing and optimizing agricultural chemical manufacturing processes. Chris is a graduate of Queen’s University (Kingston, Canada) with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering. In 2021, he became a Certified Professional in Engineering Management and member of ASEM.

  • 14 Dec 2021 5:05 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Woodrow Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM

    It has indeed been my honor and pleasure to present this series of “Reflections from the Field” in response to the ASEM+UMBC webinar series that explored Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE/I) in Technical Management and Technological Development.  I am so thankful to the leadership of ASEM in affording both space and time for these deeper and more contemplative engagements with the concepts, topics, and insights offered by the series.

    Too often in engineering – both in education and practice, reflection is undervalued.  I feel that we often get so caught up in acting (i.e., doing) that we don’t generally make or take the time to pause and reflect on truly (a) What we are doing? (b) Why? (c) How? and (d) What are/could be the associated unintended and/or unanticipated consequences of these actions (e.g., bias, exclusion, oppression)?  Particularly as we accelerate the use of technology in addressing some of society’s greatest challenges, the importance of this line of questioning is great and, in my opinion, should be simply a part of “how” engineering is done (see:  Forget ‘fail fast’.  Here’s how to truly master digital innovation)

    Mr. Chris Coventry, CPEM, in this installment’s reflection, discusses how the series prompted “questions for him” and “opened his eyes” to both the relevance and need for a greater awareness of DE/I within engineering and engineering management contexts.  This is encouraging and truly demonstrative of the intent of the series.  It is my belief that only through the critical self-examination and reflection role-modeled by both Mr. Chris Coventry, CPEM and Dr. Jamie Gurganus, can we as a community begin to fully embrace the more holistic and reflexive engineering approaches needed to develop and deploy more inclusive, equitable and just technological solutions.  Echoing sentiments expressed in the paper Engineering, Patriarchy, and Pluriverse: What World of Many Worlds Do We Design? What Worlds Do We Teach?

    “…we must begin to question our own assumptions, challenge ourselves on our mindset, and become self-critical in how and why we do things the way we do.” So that, “we can work to better understand cultures, places, and ways of being other than our own

    About the Author

    Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM® is the Graduate Program Director for Interdisciplinary Graduate programs in the College of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). He is also the Professional Development & Continuing Education Director for ASEM. A trained human factors engineer and Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM), Dr. Woodrow W. Winchester, III is an advocate for more equitable, inclusive, and consequential approaches to technological design and deployment. He is currently under contract with CRC Press to write Inclusion by Design: Future Thinking Approaches to New Product Development (ISBN: 978-0-367-41687-4).

  • 08 Oct 2021 7:08 AM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    Javier Calvo-Amodio.  Dr. Calvo-Amodio holds an MSc from The University of Hull Business School (UK) and a PhD in Systems and Engineering Management from Texas Tech University.  Calvo-Amodio is currently an Associate Professor of the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at Oregon State University. Dr. Calvo-Amodio has international professional experience in quality Assurance with Bachoco, S.A, de C.V. and CAABSA Construtora, S.A. de C.V.  He served as a research assistant at the Environmental Quality Center, Technolgico de Monterrey (Mexico) where he also received a B.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering.  Dr. Calvo-Amodio has delivered EM workshops, was the 2010 Merl Baker award, a 2021 ASEM Meritorious Service Award and a member of Epsilon Mu Eta.  He has been active in all phases of IACs for a number of years.

    Julie Drzymalski.  Dr. Drzymalski holds a PhD in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Lehigh University, an MS in Management Science (Lehigh), a Master of Engineering in Engineering Management from Widener University, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Polytechnic University.  She is currently Professor and Program Director of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Temple University.  She was most recently Clinical Professor and Program Director of Drexel University’s Systems Engineering and Engineering Management program. She was the NSF IGERT Fellow at Lehigh University.  She has several years of industrial experience that informs her academic work. Dr. Drzymalski has served as a reviewer for multiple EM related journals and is first author on eleven publications.  She was chair of the 2018 and 2019 IAC conference and has served on the Academic Partnership Committee.

    Shereazad Jimmy Gandhi.  Dr. Gandhi holds an MS Engineering Management from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and a PhD in Engineering Management from Stevens Institute of Technology.  Gandhi is currently the Interim Associate Dean of the Tseng College of Graduate, International, and Midcareer Education at CSUN and remains active in EM classroom instruction in the Tseng College’s Leadership Certificate program and Smart Manufacturing program.  He received early promotion to Associate Professor in the Department of Manufacturing Systems Engineering and Management in 2017 and was Director of the Ernie Schaeffer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for 5 years at CSUN.  Gandhi has industrial experience as a Board of Directors member and Consultant/Project Manager for various organizations.  He is the 2017 recipient of the ASEM Frank Woodbury Special Service Award and has served as an editor for three editions of ASEM’s Engineering Management Handbook.  Dr. Gandhi has also been a track chair and paper reviewer for ASEM IACs since 2013.

    Neslihan Alp. Dr. Alp holds a PhD in Engineering management for the University of Missouri-Rolla, an MS in industrial engineering from Istanbul Technical University, and a BS in Engineering Management from the Istanbul Technical University.  Additionally, Alp holds a Management and Leadership in Education from Harvard Graduate School. She currently is the Dean of the College of Technology at Indiana State University.  She has held positions of increasing responsibility at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga including Associate Dean and Department Head of the Engineering Management and Technology and Director of Engineering Management and Graduate Programs at UTC. Dr. Alp is credited with 66 publications, 53 of which she is first author and 22 of which were ASEM publications.  She has served as a paper reviewer for multiple ASEM IACs.

    Ganapathy (Gana) Natarajan. Dr. Natarajan received a PhD in Systems and Engineering Management from Texas Tech University, an MS Engineering Management from the University of Minnesota Duluth, and a B.E., Mechanical Engineering from Anna University. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Science, at the University of Wisconsin Platteville where he teaches eager students in EM related courses such as Production and Operations Analysis, Management of Engineers, Technical Forecasting, Engineering Economics, and Lean Production. He is the lead author on 11 publications and 8 proceedings. Dr. Natarajan is most noted for his service to ASEM as part of the Technical Program for the previous 3 years, the last two as Program co-Chair.  He has served as Track Chair and Session Chair multiple years. He has also served as ASEM’s Director of Communications and was the Founding President of ASEM’s UTT student chapter. Dr. Natarajan is CPEM, a recipient of ASEM Meritorious Service Award and a member of Epsilon Mu Eta.

  • 22 Aug 2021 12:41 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Dr. Tres Bishop

    According to research, one of the most common issues that small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) face when starting a continuous improvement journey is a lack of resources. This usually comes in two different flavors. The first being financial resources, which can be loosely defined as not having the requisite funds to finance the transformation. The second, a lack of the human resources with the know-how and experience to drive the transformation forward. Larger organizations, where much of the research related to continuous improvement has been targeted, do not seem to have these problems to the same degree as SMEs.

    In “How to build a quality management climate. An Action research project”, published by the International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, a SME used the action research methodology to investigate the process of implementing a quality management climate. Action research (AR) is an ideal research methodology for practitioner-scholars, especially in the engineering management community because it combines the generation of theory with solving business problems in a real-world environment. The researcher acts on the system under study, and there are usually two or more interventions within the system. This methodology was first popularized by Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s and has been used in a variety of settings including manufacturing, education and health care. In the study, the research team collaborated with a local SME where the lead researcher was also employed. The cross-functional team chose to employ the 5-step action research cycle first promoted by Susman and Evered in the 1970’s:

    1. Diagnosing: Identify or define a problem in the organization
    2. Action planning: Consider alternative approaches for solving the particular problem
    3. Action taking: Select and implement an action
    4. Evaluating: Study the consequences of the action taken
    5. Specific learning: Highlight what was learned during the project

    More details regarding each process step and its related outcomes can be found in the article. For this audience, I’d like to discuss one specific step in the AR cycle, action planning, the second stage. It considers the many alternative approaches a team may use to solve a particular problem.

    The main problem this team faced was how to build a climate of quality (COQ) in a SME with limited financial and human resources. In other words, the SME aimed to build the COQ at the lowest possible cost and to use the human resources that were already available to the team, i.e. no other resources would be added. They used existing internal quality data and the collective experience and intuition of the employees of the sponsor company to create a solution unique to the content of the situation.

    The team chose to build the COQ based on the following 4 critical success factors (CSFs), or what the team called to as the lean pillars:

    1. Top management support
    2. Collaboration
    3. Data centered decision making
    4. Process focus

    Interestingly, two of the factors (top management support and collaboration) were thought to be positively correlated to the SME environment, and two (data-based decision making and process focus) were thought to be negatively correlated to the same environment. This meant that two of the factors should be easier to implement than the others and require less time than the other two therefore allowing the team to focus on the negatively correlated factors. This line of reasoning turned out to be accurate; however, the mixture of factors was incorrect. Top management support was indeed easier to manage at the SME but encouraging collaboration proved to be difficult, at least in the beginning of the effort. Data-based decision making caught on quickly once a tool to manage all the data was procured and the team was properly trained on its use. Process focus was, as expected, difficult to implement.

    The key takeaway from this study is that the SME was able to make a lasting and impactful result in the quality management climate of the organization as measured by a reduction in defect count. After the first iteration of the action research cycle, the team had successfully reduced the defect count by 80% equivalent to nearly $230,000.

    The next step and the focus of the next iteration would be to examine the organization’s training processes and ensure that the gains from the first iteration could be continued or improved.

    To see those results and more on the project, refer to the IJLSS article referenced earlier, written by Dr. Kingsley Reeves and the author of this article: How to build a quality management climate. An Action research project


    1. Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human relations, 1(1), 5-41

    2. Susman, G. I., & Evered, R. D. (1978). An assessment of the scientific merits of action research. Administrative science quarterly, 582-603

    About the Author

    Dr. Tres Bishop is an Engineering Manager for Kaman Aerospace in Jacksonville, FL. He and his team are responsible for continuous improvement activities across three sites in North Florida. Before moving to Kaman, Bishop held positions of increasing responsibility at Comtech Systems, Rockwell Collins, and Harris Corporation.

    Bishop earned a degree in IE from the University of Florida, an MBA and MS in Engineering Management Florida Tech, as well as a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of South Florida. He is a LSS Master Black Belt, a Certified Manager of Quality/ Organizational Excellence, and a Certified PMP.

  • 06 Aug 2021 10:00 AM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Dr. Jamie Gurganus

    What a year, and now it's that time again. The new academic season is upon us! I teach freshmen, sophomores and senior engineers. Each group comes with different anticipations, excitement and readiness to embark on their next adventure as they learn to act, think and behave like a professional engineer. However, there is more to think through than just the usual technical content. Events over the past few years are helping drive more discussions about the need for our community to focus on developing more ethically and socially responsible engineers.

    In one of the talks I attended, Diversity and Inclusion in Robotics: The Black in Robotics Initiative by Dr. Ayanna Howard, during the ASEM+UMBC Engineering and Computing Education Program webinar series, made the point that “Machines are influenced by their creators.” As we help guide students through engineering, it's critical that we help them understand the way their biases, values, and the importance of strong ethics will influence everything they do. One of our fundamental canons, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers, is to hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Engineering educators are not omitted from this principle.

    As an engineering educator, I have to intentionally think about what I'm delivering and representing in my classes. In Spring of 2021, our department and college began strategically focusing on integrating ethics and social responsibility throughout the curriculum, instead of treating it as a separate, standalone module. In addition to the engineering knowledge they gain, students need to make immediate connections to how social responsibility and ethics factor into their coursework. This practice will lead to more authentic understanding of ethical practices for students.

    My colleagues and I have ongoing conversations around how we can assess our students to determine if their habits of mind are truly evolving around these concepts. Assessing ethics can’t be done through purely quantifiable notions, but should be considered through qualitative pathways. Our habits, practices and knowledge contribute to our process of thinking as an engineer. There are many solutions to an engineering challenge, and we want our future engineers' problem-solving processes to reflect notions of global impact, cultural awareness, empathic understanding, and beyond.

    I want to leave my fellow engineering educators with these final thoughts as we march into our Fall semester. We stand at the frontlines in developing our future engineers. Our students will ultimately decide how they will carry forward in their engineering career. However, as the superheroes of our profession, we have the awesome responsibility to ensure that we expose our students to the human aspect of engineering. We want to leave them always asking, and questioning, “Am I being ethically and socially responsible?”

    About the Author

    Dr. Jamie Gurganus is Faculty in Mechanical Engineering, Associate Director of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) and Director for the Center for Integrated, Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) in the Graduate School at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Her research focuses on solving problems relating to educating and developing engineers, teachers and the community at all levels (P12, undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate and faculty development). She seeks to identify best practices and develop assessment methods that assist faculty and teachers with student engagement, helping them to navigate the various pathways in STEM. Dr. Gurganus teaches several first and second year Mechanical Engineering classes along with the Mechanical Engineering Senior Capstone design course for UMBC. Jamie is also a Director in the research collaborative Advancing Excellence in P12 Engineering Education (AE3). 

  • 02 Aug 2021 6:38 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Duncan Oyevaar

    Research of the entire value stream of engineering services organizations combined with the financials shows a substantial negative gap between the actual and the potential profitability.

    According to the 500+ engineers, staff, and leadership involved in our research - improving commercial understanding is key to close this performance gap. It’s therefore essential to invest in the commercial growth of the engineers, indispensable for the organization and for delivering the valuable services clients ask for continuously.

    This behavior change requires leadership to stimulate cross-functional training and action learning to incorporate commercial awareness in their daily work.

    Research found that the commercial profitability for Engineering Service Organizations has a potential of at least 14% EBIT (Earnings Before Interest & Tax). But on average most engineering companies underperform financially with an EBIT below 4%,resulting in engineers being undervalued and underpaid for the value they add to our society and daily lives. Consequently, there is little room for investments or a salary raise. This is further hindered by the strong cash absorption caused by long order to cash lead-times, measured by the number of Days Revenue Outstanding (DRO).

    The main reason for the low financial performance is caused by margin leakages, generated by the lack of business insight and commercial cooperation in the value stream by engineers. The sources of margin leakages are many and involve the entire value stream.

    Engineers are trained in their specialization and not necessarily in recognizing opportunities for creating the best value for their clients and their organization at the same time. The total size of the margin leakages is >10% of the total revenue - this underscores the need for a drastic increase of business savvy knowledge and enhanced cooperation of the departments within the engineering companies.

    Business Savvy Engineers

    Business Savvy is an understanding of how a company works and what it takes for it to grow sustainably towards more outstanding results—recognizing how strategies, behaviors, actions, and decisions affect the numbers and drive the organization's profitable and sustainable growth.

    In addition, it enables engineers to use this knowledge to understand their customers' business objectives, becoming a true Business Partner instead of just 'an engineer.'

    Therefore, engineers must be stimulated and facilitated by the leadership to understand and speak the language of business by becoming Business Savvy.

    Business Savvy makes the connection between the engineers' involvement, the added value for the client, and the company's success. It helps understand the benefits of being involved, the perception of value for the client, and how it makes money. It makes engineers more commercially engaged, taking ownership and responsibility for improvement.

    Business Savvy Culture

    But it is not only about the numbers; it's also about creating a Business Savvy Culture. Financial results will only be sustainable when a change of behavior is established. Companies will not change their corporate culture through punch lists and ticking boxes. They will only succeed by enabling their employees to feel empowered to make the change. There are 6 kind of behaviors that form the basis of a Business Savvy Culture:

    1. Value Driven: The organization focuses on creating value for customers, the organization, and the employees.
    2. Transparent: Employees have insight into how their work affects the financial performance of the organization as a whole.
    3. Entrepreneurial: The organization chases opportunities and takes action based on estimations instead of certainties.
    4. Collaborative: The organization works cross-functionally for a common purpose.
    5. Interactive: The employees discuss at least monthly the performance information.
    6. Appreciative: Everyone in the organization appreciates the performance of each other to learn and to celebrate.

    Business Savvy Culture empowers the engineer and staff to commercialize the value by their service provision, reflected in improved sustainable operational and financial results.At the same time, the culture enables a proud and satisfying feeling when a project is successfully delivered technically and commercially, enhancing the engineer's job satisfaction, retention, and growth.

    About the Author

    Duncan Oyevaar began his career being responsible for business development at an engineering company. He gained extensive international business experience and achieved the $250 million Dow Ethylene Project award in the Netherlands. At one of the Netherlands' largest power producers, he had various jobs from M&A, Project Director Lean Power Plants up to the management of Industry Parks in Germany. Since 2011 he is the founder and CEO of OpenBook.Works and created the Business Savvy Engineer Program. He holds a BSc in mechanical engineering, a finance degree from Ashridge Business School, and a management degree from INSEAD.

    by OpenBook.Works

  • 23 Jul 2021 12:00 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg.
    Random House: New York (2017). 400 pages. US$18.00 (paperback).

    Among other tasks, engineering managers are charged with improving productivity. Equipment operation and movement of materials must be efficient and without waste. Moreover, we demand that our teams also increase productivity as companies continually seek to do more with less.

    But how, you might ask, do we improve the productivity of people? Charles Duhigg's recent book, Smarter, Faster, Better, offers several tips that engineering managers can readily apply to improve our own personal and professional productivity. Smarter, Faster, Better is an easy book to read, and each principle is illustrated by engaging stories, narratives, and examples.

    First, the author teaches self-motivation is key to productivity. In Chapter 1, we learn that taking control of even the smallest detail can make the difference between motivating decisions to take control of our situation or being a passive bystander. Duhigg shares a story from the Marine Corps. New recruits were less confident and less motivated than in the past. So, a new training program forced recruits to make small decisions. These choices helped build confidence and self-efficacy so that graduates of basic training developed necessary mechanical, emotional, and team skills to become successful Marines.

    Teamwork is the focus of Chapter 2. Engineering managers are already aware of team dynamics leading to success, or not, in any project. Duhigg’s research reinforces the role of diversity in building successful and productive teams. Of course, diversity is far more than demographics. True team diversity must include elements of work experience, educational background, and industry participation. Diverse teams thrive with open dialogue and generate more creative solutions to engineering problems.

    Chapter 3 discusses focus as a way to improve productivity. Letting focus become tunnel vision can be dangerous, as the author illustrates with a tragic example. Airplane pilots were so focused on understanding data from their instruments that they were unable to identify signs of an imminent crash. Instead, using tools such as mental models, we can frame a challenging situation into variables and conditions we do understand; thus, better addressing risk. The author illustrates this point with a touching story of a little baby's survival within the intensive care unit of a busy hospital.

    Goal-setting and decision-making (Chapters 4 and 6) are intertwined for engineering managers. We have all heard of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). However, like focus, Duhigg’s research found that as people drive to create measurable goals, we might miss larger growth opportunities. Instead, if we subdivide our largest strategic objective into smaller SMART goals, we can still enjoy the short-term accomplishments while sustaining longer range progress.

    Decision-making, closely tied with setting goals, was briefly introduced in Chapter 1. Small choices motivate us to grow personally and professionally. Additionally, research shows that humans are very effective at making accurate predictions (leading to better decisions) with little data. In a famous study, regular people were pitted against experts to forecast national intelligence threats. With only a brief training in probabilistic theory, the novices outperformed the highly trained and experienced experts. The most successful executives often focus their decisions on information and situations that are unknown as compared to analyzing detailed data sets. We, as engineering managers, can certainly apply these learnings to our day-to-day activities to improve team productivity and to make more rapid decisions.

    Chapter 7 discusses innovation. Consistent with the emerging trend of Design Thinking for new product development, Smarter, Faster, Better documents evidence of small trials to improve innovation success. Getting quick feedback and making small adjustments through rapid experimentation leads to higher success rates in innovation. Duhigg also recommends changes in team structure if creativity encounters natural barriers. He shares an engaging story from the development of the Disney movie “Frozen”. When the design team got stuck, innovation and creativity were jump-started by just a small change in team leadership.

    Finally, Chapter 8 describes how to manage the overwhelming amount of data coming into our lives and processes. The key to managing data is to convert it into information. One bank was able to convert data into information and see increased collections on credit card debt. Instead of simply tracking how many payments were made, the bank began analyzing when payments were made, especially after phone calls at different times of the day. Information included background noise and the gender of the card holder. Engineering managers can apply these learnings to better analyze process, product, and sales data to improve efficiency and productivity in our systems.

    Overall, Smarter, Faster, Better is a great book to support our roles as leaders in engineering organizations. Most of us struggle with finding enough time in the day to do all our work. Yet, Duhigg’s tips to take control (even with small decisions) and to build diverse, problem-solving teams can help us become more productive in our jobs and in our personal lives. This book is recommended for engineers and engineering managers wanting to build successful careers with increased efficiency and productivity.

    What is the biggest productivity challenge you face?

    About the Author

    Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is writer, speaker, and facilitator. Teresa founded Global NP Solutions to help organizations learn, adopt, transform, and sustain innovation. She frequently presents keynote presentations on innovation and design thinking.

    Teresa is the co-editor of the PDMA Body of Knowledge 2nd edition and is the author of a popular book on innovation, The Innovation ANSWER Book.

    Prior to founding Global NP Solutions, Teresa worked in R&D, process technology, innovation at ExxonMobil Chemical Company. She has degrees in Chemical Engineering and an MBA. She is a Certified Professional Engineering Manager. You can reach Teresa at

  • 15 Jul 2021 3:37 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

    by Don Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., CPEM, FASEM

    Throughout my career, I have noticed certain fads come and go while I continue more or less doing the same things day in and day out relating to heavy industrial construction contracts. In the early 1990s there was a focus on Continuous Improvement and / or Total Quality Management. At some point I noticed that the Continuous Improvement department at my employer was no longer listed in the phone directory. Then there was a push for Team Building and working as a cohesive unit. At the same time, my then employer moved to treating individual departments as separate “business units” where they had internal customers and parallel functional departments such as HR and procurement for each business unit. Outsourcing non-core competencies became a thing around 2000 along with flattening the organization. I noticed the latter had definitely died at my then employer in 2005 when another reorganization increased the number of vice presidents from 30 to 215. Six Sigma was talked about often at ASEM conferences in the mid 2000s along with ISO 9001. My employer was a big promoter of ISO 9001 from 2007 to 2010 at which time they went bankrupt and I moved on. Concurrent engineering was popular in the mid 2000’s, and when I found a new employer in 2010 I noticed a new trend to proceed in the opposite direction. I had not heard of Stage Gates prior but I definitely learned fast what the concept was. Perhaps there were issues with concurrent processes when fully developed plans were found to be unfeasible for some reason and the sunk cost was deemed unacceptable when a project had to back up and redo work. This was seen to be solved by having gates at defined stages prohibiting any work from starting until prior steps were completed and approved. In the mid 2010s, focus shifted at my then employer to alignment of culture among the workers. We were trained on leadership skills, providing feedback and achieving key performance indicators. Although that employer went bankrupt, I see these initiatives going on in recent workplaces as well.

    Throughout all of this, I have heard of Lean Management and have browsed many articles on the subject. One of the key failures in the adoption of Lean is the basic assumption that the potential long term benefits of Lean to an organization will appeal to the people within it. An underlying truth in management theories is that people are generally motivated to do what benefits themselves personally, for example money, power or perks. The pitch for Lean has followed the idea that if you show someone how profits and organizational health will benefit in the long term, they will be sold and become adopters of the new philosophy. Traditional Management will continue to dominate until and unless the pitch for Lean can focus on how taking on the risk of a new way to operate will benefit the decision maker personally and not solely on organizational performance.

    About the Author

    Dr. Don Kennedy is a fellow of ASEM. He works mostly in heavy industrial construction. Many readers will know that Don has struggled to stay employed at one organization for very long. He is pleased to announce that he reached his 14th month work anniversary with his current employer at the time of this publication. “Improving Your Life at Work” is Don Kennedy's ebook which includes a lengthy bibliography for people looking for references on management theory.

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