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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 1/16/2003

This is your bi-weekly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.


Poor Product Vision Blinds Engineering
By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

A company vision gives a high level view of what the company is, what it wants to be, and how it intends to get there.  Such a vision is critical in order to give everyone involved with the company (employees, customers, suppliers, stockholders, financial analysts, and other stakeholders) a common view of the company (see eN-010203 – Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyone’s View).  While such a high-level vision and perspective is necessary (in fact, essential), it is not sufficient.  A product vision is also required.  While this product vision is valuable to all stakeholders in the company, in a fashion similar to the company vision, it is most critical to engineering.  The product vision states clearly to engineering (and others) exactly what the vision is for the company with regard to their current and future products (and/or services).  In fact, without a good product vision, engineering will be running in the dark and operating blind.

Engineers are rather unique animals.  While they want to be financially comfortable, money is not what really drives them.  They are most motivated by challenging work that they enjoy doing.  You can pay engineers a ton of money, but if they don’t understand how they’re efforts fit into the product vision and direction of the company, they will not be happy.  And when they’re not happy, they’re not productive.  And when they’re not productive and busy with work they enjoy, they gripe.  Many of them are quite vocal in voicing their opinions.  This then spreads and can sometimes become contagious.  The gripe sessions will start with broad-based complaints about not understanding the company’s plans and how they fit into them.  Broad-based complaints beget many smaller complaints, and as the resulting frustration level grows, effective engineering grinds to a halt, and ineffective engineering takes hold.  Without a clear product vision, engineers lose their own vision and blind themselves to the real issues at hand.  While this can be turned around, it takes time and often heroic effort, and time is something most companies do not have to spare.  They have made internal and external commitments, and meeting those commitments is essential (see eN-110702 – Ineffective Engineering Costs You Time, Money, and Customers!, and eN-112102 – Late Projects Kill Companies!)  All this because engineers don’t understand and buy into a vision of what the product direction of the company will be and how they fit into implementing that vision.

Contrast the above situation with the case where the company has a well crafted product vision that everyone (particularly engineers) understands, can clearly articulate to others inside and outside of the company in just a few sentences, and can readily understand how they specifically can contribute to making that vision a success.  With everyone on the same page, decision-making becomes straightforward and cooperative.  People understand how their decisions contribute (or don’t) to the product vision.  Engineers become busy beavers, each building their part of the product, working together on the overall development effort, and understanding how the decisions they make today can apply to both today’s and tomorrow’s products (as opposed to the angry hornets, stinging others with their criticisms, of the previous scenario).  They don’t have the time or desire to complain, and they practice effective engineering.

It is simply amazing how many companies don’t have a product vision at all, or how many of those who do have a product vision state it so broadly or at such a high level that the employees don’t or can’t understand their specific role in implementing that vision.  The product vision doesn’t have to be complex and all encompassing with lots of specific details.  That can come later in the product roadmap.  It simply needs to state the direction the company plans to move in, with enough information so that engineers can recognize how each of them fit into the vision and so that they are challenged by their roles.

To be effective, engineers really need to be part of the process of defining the product vision.  Engineers are savvy enough to recognize that they can’t be a part of every product vision discussion that takes place, and (keeping the animal analogies going) that a camel is a horse designed by a committee – something that no one will be happy with.  However, it is key that they be involved, even if only to make suggestions and to participate in preliminary review discussions about the product vision.  If they feel they have been part of the process and have been heard (even all of their concerns do not get addressed), they will buy into the vision.  When they do, they will put their hearts and souls into making that vision come true.  In this way, the company has many eyes looking out for the best interests of the company, as opposed to a blinded workforce that can’t see where it’s going.

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