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The ASEM Board of Directors just held its Spring meeting at the 2019 IAC venue and we are all in for a treat at the next conference! This conference space will be very different from the 2018 meeting in Idaho, but every bit as vibrant in its own way. The conference will be housed in a bustling neighborhood with many excellent dining choices nearby. Some of the most historic sites of the early history of the US are housed just a short distance away. It will be another world-class meeting.
Beginning in the April eNews, we plan to invite multiple guest columnists to help get the buzz going around the conference and the local industry. We hope you’ll enjoy this change of pace!
Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash
In this final installment on the Engineering Management Body of Knowledge (EMBoK) blog series, we take a look at professional codes of conduct and ethics. I share an overview of what ethics is, some of the important concepts surrounding ethics, and why ethics is so important to our work as engineers and managers.
Ethics relates to the set of values and morals that are accepted as good and desirable by society or an individual. When a person’s behavior or character is deemed good or virtuous, regardless of the pressures put on them to act otherwise, they are regarded as ethical.
Stakeholders are the groups and individuals who may be affected by, directly or indirectly, what an engineering manager or organization does and the decisions they make. A typical organization may have stockholders, employees, suppliers, customers, and communities as their stakeholders. Ethical decision-making on the part of engineering managers requires consideration of how decisions will affect all relevant stakeholders.
Ethical theories are useful because they provide a framework for use in decision-making. There are two broad groups of ethical theories considered in the EMBoK: conduct theories and character theories.
Conduct theories are concerned with the actions a person takes and what the underlying motivation is for taking them. These theories range from the altruistic to the self-centered. On one end, a person’s ethics lead them to act in ways that benefit others. On the other end of the spectrum, a person’s ethics can lead them to “look out for number one” and make decisions that benefit themselves at the expense of others.
Character theories, on the other hand, are concerned with a person’s character and virtues. These theories do not suggest explicit ways of acting; rather, they suggest ways of being such that ethical behavior will naturally result. Virtues like courage, honestly, and justice are promoted in these theories.
There is no one process or flow chart to guide an engineering manager towards making ethical decisions. However, there are practical tools and models that can be used to help. For example, the utilitarian model mentioned above could be used to help a manager determine which decision could be made that would result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
With each model, however, there are pitfalls that need to be understood and mitigated. In the utilitarian model, it can be difficult to measure benefits and harms for each stakeholder group, and to rank the order the importance of those groups.
The EMBoK also offers a series of practical questions that engineering managers can ask themselves when faced with ethical decisions. Questions like “What would my mother think of my decision?” are simple, but can be very useful in cutting through the complexity of a given situation and get to the heart of whether a given decision is ethical.
Our profession demands ethical behavior from its members, especially those in management and leadership roles. As a result of recent major scandals in the corporate world, such as the Enron scandal, many have lost faith in the business community. Furthermore, the nature of our work as engineers is such that the public’s well-being is often implicated in the decisions we make. Therefore, maintaining a high ethical standard for ourselves is of critical importance.
One challenge in behaving ethically in any given organization is lack of clarity on what constitutes ethical behavior. To address this, high-performing organizations develop clear, robust codes of conduct and train their staff to understand and apply those codes. Additionally, professional associations like the National Society of Professional Engineers create and promote codes of ethics that have broad applicability in many different industries and situations. Engineering managers and leaders can rely on these codes to help guide them in managing the difficult situations they face in the workplace.
Ethics and ethical decision-making are likely not at the forefront of most engineering managers’ minds in the course of a week. However, it is all but certain that, at some point in your career, you will be faced with an ethical dilemma. Being able to recognize a situation as such, and understanding the tools you have at your disposal for managing that dilemma can go a very long way toward resolving your challenge in an ethical way.
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, ASEP is a recognized expert in engineering management and leadership. His mission is to create a better world through high-performing engineering organizations. You can read more from Pat at the Engineering & Leadership blog.
This has been a busy month for the society. Our new projects are starting up, new board members are getting up to speed, and plans for the spring board meeting are moving forward.
The Board of Directors meets face to face twice a year, in March and prior to the International Annual Conference in the fall. The primary focus of our March meeting in Philadelphia involves linking society performance metrics with our director activities and projects so we continually improve our service to the global engineering management community. We plan to include updates on society metrics and various projects in future eNews editions.
In the last few months, a growing area involves our international presence. Currently there are graduate program certification visits being planned and conducted, ideas being developed to grow international chapters, agreements being finalized with the Canadian Society of Professional Engineers, and work on a proposal to grow international presence at the International Annual Conference. Speaking of which, please make your plans for Philadelphia, an excellent venue. Details on the abstract submission deadline are below.
by Alexis Devenin, MBA, PMP
One of the most typical problems in projects is scope creep, or the appearance of new requirements during project execution. The consequence of the appearance of new requirements is an increase in costs and time to complete the project.
One of the principal reasons to have unexpected requirements is an incomplete identification of project stakeholders. In fact, if you are unable to identify stakeholders, how you can understand and identify their needs, requirements, and constraints?
To identify stakeholders requires a 10,000 feet panoramic view. Because of your role and career path in the organization, and because of your academic background, personal skills, and character, you have a personal vision of the project goals, priorities, and scope. And that's okay! The company put you in a project management role because of your personal skills and vision. Nevertheless, if you don't have the ability of active listening and observing, you will advance in your particular interpretation of the project. Along the way, you will be surprised by unexpected stakeholders with complex and unexpected requirements.
In my particular area of practice, plant engineering project management, I have to link engineering phases to different stakeholders. Engineering projects usually have at least three different distinct phases: conceptual engineering, basic engineering, and detail engineering. Once these three phases of engineering are completed, construction begins. Each of these phases is dominated or influenced by different stakeholders.
In general, the project initiation is related to a business opportunity. The product definition, the production capacity, the location, and the plant performance are defined in this conceptual engineering stage. An outline or sketch up of the plant is defined, and the project at this stage is seen through business and strategic lenses. Clearly, in this phase, the highest influencer stakeholder is top management of the organization.
Once the conceptual phase is defined and concluded, the basic engineering phase is developed. At this stage, we have to put boots on the ground with engineering design. Process and instruments (P&I), layout diagrams, energy, raw material flow and principal equipment must be defined. Logistics and product storage shall be specified. A more precise investment estimation must be developed. At this stage, operations managers and production engineers are the most interested stakeholders and the ones that have to contribute the most to the engineering definitions.
Finally, detail engineering completely defines the equipment specifications and layout in sufficient detail that the constructor can execute the project. At this stage, is very important to check with operators and maintainers. These stakeholders have a practical “field” interest. To include these stakeholders in design review can avoid a lot of problems in operations and can improve the reliability and maintainability of the new production line.
The following table summarizes the engineering phases and the most important stakeholders in each stage:
In each engineering phase, it is important to check the design with the interested stakeholders. The division is not rigid or immovable, if not rather diffuse and iterative. Important changes in design have to be checked with all stakeholders. Implementing this process as a practice will help to achieve better results and minimize unexpected requirements during the execution phase.
Alexis Devenin is a Mechanical Engineer with his MBA and PMP certification. He is an Engineering Project Manager with 20 years of experience in the Steel, Mining and Renewable Energy industries. Connect with him on Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/alexisdevenin
by Joshua Plenert, PE, MS, MBA
Far too often organizations will unknowingly sacrifice long-term success for a few short-term gains. They get so caught up in the urgent things that they lose sight of the important things. Like jeopardizing the stability of a structure by not paying enough attention to the integrity of the foundation. A healthy corporate culture is that important foundation that will sustain your organization and make long-term success achievable.
Culture is inevitable. Ignoring the culture of your organization doesn’t make it go away. A culture will develop with or without any intervention from the leadership. But keep in mind, not all culture is good. And, not every culture is the right fit. Some cultures can drive very negative behaviors, toxic attitudes, and even unethical business practices. In order to ensure an organization develops into something to be proud of, the culture will need to be deliberately led.
The easiest places to start with culture is the corporate strategy. The strategy and the culture must be aligned. A strategy that is not aligned with the culture of the organization is nothing more than wishful thinking. All strategic planning efforts need to be designed to support a healthy culture. Otherwise, strategic initiatives will face serious resistance from the members of the organization and will at most produce only short-term gains but never sustainable improvements.
Leaders will often hope for high-performing teams. A desire that is not possible without a healthy culture of collaboration, cooperation, and a strong sense of belonging. Any leader that wants to see higher levels of performance, needs to be focusing on leading the culture in a healthier direction. Simply driving the team harder or increasing levels of micro-management will only increase resistance. High-performance teams are born from high-performance cultures.
A forensic engineer walking into a structure with the purpose of evaluating its structural integrity will likely cringe if significant and wide-spread issues with the stability of the structure’s foundation are easily visible. Correcting a failing foundation can be a serious undertaking and in some cases isn’t worth the cost. But the sooner you can catch the slipping foundation and take actions to stabilize it, the more likely you will be to save the structure.
A healthy culture is the solid foundation your organization must build on for stable long-term success. The sooner you correct any failing aspects of your cultural foundation, the more likely you will be to ensure your organization will continue to thrive far into the future.
Joshua Plenert is highly passionate about the continuous improvement of organizations in the AEC industry. He is currently a Regional Director for an Architecture and Engineering firm where he has been a key player in the development of two highly profitable branch offices. He holds a master’s degree in Structural Engineering as well as an MBA. He has also enjoyed teaching engineering courses at the university level and is the author of Strategic Excellence in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industries.
Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly by Janel Anderson. Gale House: Farmington Hills, MI (2018). 230 + ix pages. US$15.95 (paperback).
As a young manager, I dreaded doing performance reviews. I never felt good about receiving performance feedback – even when it was stellar – from my managers in the past. I didn’t know how to conduct the performance review with my own staff and without all of us feeling bad.
What I desperately needed, as a new engineering manager, was a toolkit for communication, especially those very difficult conversations like performance reviews. Janel Anderson’s book, “Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly,” offers methods for negotiating these difficult topics. Applying her techniques can improve both workplace and other relationships by increasing our ability to handle uncomfortable conversations.
“Head On” is divided into three sections. The first section summarizes neuroscience studies explaining why seemingly intelligent and competent people either become belligerent or shut down when faced with complex, emotionally-charged conversations. Part 2 provides tools, tips, and guidance for approaching sticky topics at home or at work. Finally, Part 3 gives the advice that I needed as a young engineering manager – how to handle performance reviews – along with other typical professional contexts where communication is challenged (meeting, senior management presentations, and so on).
Dr. Anderson starts “Head On” with a quick review of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Though we are no longer trying to outrun lions in the jungle, our not-so-deeply buried animal instincts kick in whenever we feel threatened. “Our bodies do not distinguish between modern office politics and a saber-toothed tiger chasing us down” (pg. 11). So, we “fight” in difficult conversations by yelling or screaming, and we may literally take “flight” by leaving the room to avoid the discussion. Many people will take “flight” by simply disengaging from the situation but remaining physically present.
Anderson’s research into neuroscience also shows that human beings will assume a negative outcome when presented with an ambiguous situation. Of course, this is just the case when office rumors and gossip outweigh facts and authentic conversations.
The best tip from Part 1 of “Head On” is to become better in tune with your own physiological reactions to stress. Does your neck ache or your fists clench when the fight-or-flight mechanism is triggered? When you first recognize these symptoms, ground yourself by touching a familiar object (like your watch or eyeglasses) to validate that the conversation is challenging but also to reassure yourself that you can approach the topic calmly and logically.
In Chapters 4 through 8, Anderson provides a manual to guide us through the difficult conversations. First, we need to prepare for the conversation. This means taking the time to understand the need to discuss the topic and clearing our emotions.
What does “clearing emotions” mean? We are often running from home to work and from meeting to meeting without taking a break. The stress from a situation earlier in the day can put us on edge and make a complicated situation worse because we let our emotions run together. Anderson advises taking a few moments before a tricky conversation to ground yourself (touch your watch or eyeglasses) and then clear your body of the past emotions.
From the neuroscience viewpoint, this is why you “take a deep breath” since these actions can literally clear toxic substances from the blood stream that build up stress. If possible, Anderson recommends a short walk or jog in a green space to effectively clear those negative emotions prior to a challenging discussion. Light physical activity helps prepare the body and mind for the next activity.
Next, the conversation must start with verifiable facts to keep your conversation partner from responding defensively and triggering his or her fight-or-flight mechanism. Practice active listening and acknowledging alternate perspectives. Then, you should close the conversation with agreement on action steps.
Here, Anderson describes two types of agreement. Type 1 agreement is resolved in a single conversation. Type 2 agreement, however, might require multiple discussions to achieve the desired behavior change with your team or staff member. In a Type 2 agreement, you close the conversation by describing your motivation and commitment to change the situation. Then, you ask for their commitment in return.
Finally, Chapter 11 in Part 3 addresses the specific situation of a performance review, often a very difficult conversation even when there is good news. Of course, performance feedback between a manager and direct reports should be ongoing and not reserved for an annual discussion. Feedback that is prompt can result in changed behaviors while delayed feedback more often yields a defensive response or disengagement with the task.
As I learned and as Anderson describes (pgs. 179-182), a manager must be able to read non-verbal cues that employees present during the review meeting. Often words don’t match the person’s posture which signals discord and lack of agreement with a go-forward plan. It’s okay to take a break during the discussion if you feel your emotional triggers (fight-or-flight) whether you are giving or receiving performance feedback.
Finally, Anderson closes “Head On” by acknowledging our human nature to make mistakes while we seek perfection. If we make an error, we can learn from it. Some difficult conversations start with “I’m sorry” and the parties build trust form there.
“Head On: How to Approach Difficult Conversations Directly” by Janel Anderson is an easy to read book with lots of tips and exercises to help us improve our workplace communications. Strongly grounded in neuroscience, the author provides many contextual examples of challenging discussions, providing guidance and step-by-step instructions to address specific conversation types. I recommend this book to anyone engaged in communication, but especially for engineering managers and team leaders responsible for employee development. Moreover, each of us can apply the actions and methods of “Head On” to improve our own abilities in conducting difficult conversations.
What triggers your fight-or-flight mechanism? How can you practice grounding yourself and clearing your emotions before a difficult conversation?
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, PE, PMP, CPEM, NPDP
Global NP Solutions, LLC
Friends: The New Year is barely a month old and yet the news is filled with stories of struggle and hardships, but also the rays of joy that help us all to keep going. I know some of your personal stories and want you to know that we at ASEM do care; we celebrate your successes and shed tears with those who have experienced loss or uncertainty. Part of what allows us to do this is that we are small enough to be agile, but it is also true that it is important that we grow and that we know your thoughts on the society. We need to know what you find valuable, what products matter to you, and how we can do better. One important step is providing feedback. I ask that each of you consider completing the very short survey from our Communications Team. It only takes a few minutes and the information is so helpful to us! Here is a link to the survey: https://goo.gl/forms/eYGk3Bpq7PyQXxwW2.
Also, a quick reminder that the call for participation is open for the 2019 ASEM International Annual Conference. More details on the conference and the 40th Anniversary party for ASEM is found below. Note that you will need to create a new profile as we’ve changed software management systems, but it is quick and easy!Friends: The New Year is barely a month old and yet the news is filled with stories of struggle and hardships, but also the rays of joy that help us all to keep going. I know some of your personal stories and want you to know that we at ASEM do care; we celebrate your successes and shed tears with those who have experienced loss or uncertainty. Part of what allows us to do this is that we are small enough to be agile, but it is also true that it is important that we grow and that we know your thoughts on the society. We need to know what you find valuable, what products matter to you, and how we can do better. One important step is providing feedback. I ask that each of you consider completing the very short survey from our Communications Team. It only takes a few minutes and the information is so helpful to us! Here is a link to the survey: https://goo.gl/forms/eYGk3Bpq7PyQXxwW2.
Finally, I hope that you’ll consider where your journey with ASEM will take you next! We have several leadership opportunities available in the society and a new assortment of projects for the upcoming year. Let me know if I can provide information on any opportunity and if you’re contacted in the upcoming weeks by a member of nominating committee about an ASEM office, I hope that you’ll consider saying yes!
With warm regards,
ASEM Friends: Here’s hoping that each of you have been able to enjoy some downtime and celebrate the magic of the holiday season with friends and family! Whatever holidays are close to your heart, all share common ground of warmth, peace and good will to all and it is a special time for many. It can also be a time for considering next steps or opportunities that can add meaning to your life.
We are so pleased that many have continued to answer the call to service to ASEM on the Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and at ASEM HQ. One new addition is featured in the newsletter below and we are pleased to welcome Jose as the new Northeast Regional Director! In addition, we are delighted to welcome Annmarie Uliano as Communications Director and Bryan Mesmer as Publications Director. We’re also thrilled to welcome back former ASEM President, Geert Letens, as Chair of Fellows! Look for more on them in future issues. In this issue you’ll also find the call for participation for the upcoming ASEM IAC. You won’t want to miss ASEM’s 40th Birthday Party so mark your calendars. It will be a blast! There are details on opportunities for service on upcoming ASEM Projects as well.
Looking forward to ringing in 2019 with each of you!
(EMBOK Blog Post #11)
Greetings! We continue our yearlong series of EMBOK (Engineering Body of Knowledge) blogs with a discussion of Domain 10, “Legal Issues in Engineering Management”. And while this isn’t the most compelling domain for practicing engineers, it does contain important and relevant information. You want to be familiar with the legal issues in engineering management before you need to use that knowledge.
Engineers, project managers, and leaders are often involved in contract negotiations and purchasing decisions. It is important to recognize that legal terms and conditions in a contract may impact the delivery of equipment, quality of work, and project schedules. Engineering managers should always be involved with contract negotiations, alongside the organization’s legal advisors, to ensure technical aspects of the agreement are justified and accurate.
There are typically three stages in a purchasing agreement (EMBOK, Domain 10).
Other legal areas in which engineers and engineering managers find themselves include environmental and human resources (HR). Engineering must design and develop processes that meet all required environmental regulations within their city, county, region, state, and/or national jurisdictions. These include compliance with laws that protect the air, water, and land. It is a good corporate practice to meet US or international environmental standards even if the plant jurisdiction has no environmental regulations. Most facilities have designated environmental specialists on staff and these personnel should be consulted when any question arises regarding design or operation of a facility with respect to discharges, waste, or raw material consumption.
HR laws are complex and include arenas covering age, gender, and physical ability discrimination. Engineering managers often are the go-betweens of staff and official HR departments. Engineering managers must always maintain a professional demeanor and act in an ethical way.
Engineers are frequently the source of new ideas. These ideas may lead to various forms of intellectual property protection. Most countries have a version of patent law which protects the inventor, allowing exclusive and unhindered practice of the invention for a certain number of years. Patents must be novel and non-obvious. Authors of patents must directly contribute to the invention and one or more of it claims. Patents are granted by the government of a single nation, but international agreements allow filing in several blocks of countries for an added fee.
Copyrights are a weaker form of intellectual property protection and allow a creator to protect his or her work. Copyrights apply to written works of art like books, music, and certain other art forms. The life of a copyright usually extends beyond the life of the author. (Copyright is usually indicated by the letter C in a circle.)
Finally, trademarks are generally used by companies to protect their marketing collateral. Logos and slogans are frequently trademarked. For example, the Nike “swoosh” logo is quite famous and is protected by a trademark. This means that no other sporting goods, shoe manufacturer, or clothing retailer can copy or mimic a “swoosh” on similar goods for sale in similar markets.
Engineers and engineering managers are often asked to document the specific, technical claims in a patent. In our writing, we must be aware of prior art and provide appropriate references of copyrighted materials. And finally, we cannot use a logo or slogan without a proper trademark reference (given by the superscript “TM”).
Engineers, especially licensed professional engineers (PE), are bound by a code of ethics to follow the highest standards in their industry. US and international bodies disseminate standards that are essentially best practice design procedures and policies. For instance, in the State of Texas where I live, a building code requires all houses constructed after a certain date to have a non-porous floor in any room where water is present. (Practically, this means you need a tile floor in the kitchen and bathroom.)
Similarly, ASEM offers standards of practice for engineering managers through the EMBOK. Certification as a Certified Professional Engineering Manager (CPEM) demonstrates knowledge, experience, and mastery of the eleven domain areas. Following these standards drives the highest level of performance for engineering managers. Hiring a CPEM ensures the organization that an individual will practice the engineering management profession with a broad skills base and will behave ethically.
How do you encounter legal issues in your job today as an engineer or engineering manager?
by Don Kennedy, President of The International Engineers Conference on Ethics.
Early in my career, the regulator of the Engineering profession in my area hosted an afternoon workshop on ethics. There were about 400 people divided into groups of about 10. They gave us topics to discuss. I recall one question was "do Engineers owe a greater ehtical duty to the client or their employer?" In such a setting, people will often tend to say things they think they are supposed to say rather than what they honestly believe. As it was, about 15 tables came to the conclusion that there was a greater duty toward the client and 25 said employer. There was considerable debate and it struck me how each table became a tribe that supported their cause. That is, it defies random distribution that all the people at each table would hold similar views that are the opposite of the opposing tables. Each side defended their view. No concensus was reached that day.
For the question asked at the workshop, it struck me as odd that there could be any discussion. But if you take the perspective that somehow engineers are protectors of the public against the actions of management, you might think that the expected answer is that this would extend to protecting clients against your employer. For people who want to provide the expected answer they will think up reasons to support their quickly reached conclusion.
However, the direct consequence of taking the stand that your loyalty is to outside groups is called acting in conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is not ethical behavior, especially when you are being paid to act in the best interests of the side you working against. For a simple example, let us say your company is negotiating a contract that has an 80% margin. The 15 tables are essentially arguing that it is the duty of an engineer to go to the client and tell them your employer could offer a 30% discount and still want the job. The Kantian view of ethics implies that the correct action is the one that applies universally.
Even though we can all now (I hope) agree that ethics dictates that an engineer owes loyalty to their employer over customers, I would like to now mention a common occurrence I see from time to time. If you have ever worked for a large organization, you will know that there are many times you might need contingent workers to provide help over a short time. One of the easiest ways to meet this demand is to bring in contracted workers from a large Engineering services company. The service providers are typically leery to send their people into another organization. The transplanted workers will often behave in a way that clearly shows they have shifted their loyalty to their host organization. A big driver for this behavior is that the worker wants to jump over to be a permanent employee of their host. It happens very often when we have sent people in only to hear a few months later than the workers sent to the client are now giving notice and joining the client organization. Twenty years ago, there may have been damage to the professional reputation of the engineer that jumped, but today changing jobs is so ubiquitous that no one can keep track of all the places different people worked or why they left any of their jobs.
The above situation highlights the real life ethical challenges that face engineers. Most of the discussion on ethics involves illegal activity or issuing designs that cause catastrophic failure. In a workshop, we can usually reach a consensus of what is ethical and what is not and people agree they would be ethical. How many of us would not readily accept an increase in pay and stay working in the same office we are now in?
I have been in situations where I worked for an Engineering service provider and was seconded to a client who in turn seconded me to a competing service provider who in turn seconded me to another client. I recognized many urges to shift loyalties but I managed to remember who was paying me to be there. Being ethical is a personal choice that can create personal dilemmas. It is important for engineers to remember the responsibility they carry and where their loyalties lie.
About the Author: Dr. Don Kennedy has been a regular attendee of the ASEM conference since 1999, with particularly good participation at the informal late evening "discussions" (sometimes making it difficult to get to the morning plenaries). He has spent much of his time working on large construction projects in remote areas, lecturing at a few universities, and is now trying his hand in an unfamiliar role as a director of engineering in R&D. Don Kennedy is the President of The International Engineers Conference on Ethics.
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