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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 2/13/2003

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.


Even Small Cogs Are Essential to the Machine (Recognizing That Your Role Makes a Difference)
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

When we think of a product that a company markets, we generally think of the hardware, firmware, software, and mechanical pieces that make up that product.  Each of these myriad pieces is one of the “cogs” that work together to make a working product “machine”, and if any of these “cogs” fail to operate properly, the product itself may fail.

While the company’s “machine” may be its product, engineering’s “machine” is its product development process.  Requirements are fed in, specifications are defined, jobs are assigned, and milestones and schedules are defined and tracked.  Pieces are developed and tested, which are then integrated together with other pieces and tested as sub-systems, until eventually all the pieces come together, get tested, and a finished product results.  The product itself is made from the hardware, firmware, software, and mechanical pieces, but each of those pieces come from human efforts to design, test, and deliver them in an orderly and timely fashion.  Each individual effort that goes into this product development process “machine” is a “cog” that is a critical element of that “machine”.  If the efforts associated with one piece of the development effort (one “cog”) fail, the entire product development “machine” can fail.

Engineering projects generally require the work of a lot of people involved in a wide variety of disciplines.  Often, so many people are involved that it can be difficult for individual engineers to recognize how their role can possibly make a difference.  They can feel small and lost, that their contributions are an insignificant part, and don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  But these people need to recognize that every individual counts, and that their success ensures company success, and their failure can lead to company failure.

Lets look at some examples:
Systems Engineers work w/ marketing, engineering, and others to define what product customers would like to see, what features are required in that product, what timeframes are necessary for delivery, and what benefits this product will provide to the company.  If systems engineers do their jobs properly, the direction for the product is well established (“well begun is half done”).  If they don’t do their jobs properly, then it is likely that chaos and frustration will result, as the underlying foundation will not have been laid.
Architects determine the framework of the product and each of its sub-systems.  They determine how the pieces will be constructed and interconnected.  They determine if the overall goals of functions, features, and performance will be achieved.  If they do their jobs properly, all of the pieces will fit together as planned, and the implementation will proceed smoothly.  If they don’t do their jobs properly, then frustration will reign as developers and testers try to force their pieces into a framework that wasn’t built for them, and disaster will likely result.
Project Managers include the planners, trackers, and gatekeepers who ensure engineering delivers on its commitments.  They develop the project plan, meet with all the relevant parties, tweak and cajole people to get their parts done, and keep the project on track and on time.  They identify issues early and find ways to address them.  If they succeed, the project will be developed on time, and the product will have the desired features and be of high quality.  If they fail, it is likely that the project delivery will late, the product quality will be poor, and the development costs will be high (see eN-021107 – Ineffective Engineering Costs You Time, Money, and Customers!).
Developers include the software and firmware coders and the hardware and mechanical designers who implement the product.  They take broad requirements, define detailed design specifications, and creatively transform those specs to make the product come to life.  If they their jobs properly, the right product gets implemented, with quality designed in.  If they don’t do their jobs properly, the result will be a product that does not meet design specifications, and one where quality is likely questionable.
Testers verify that the product works as specified.  If the developers have done their job, testing should not uncover underlying quality issues; if developers have not done their jobs, testing can become a nightmare.  Testers test to the specifications (inside the box testing) and beyond them (outside the box testing).  They do unit testing, integration testing, functional testing, system testing, white box testing, black box testing, negative testing, etc.  If they succeed, the product released will encounter few problems in the field.  If they fail, the reception in the field can be disastrous.
Others:  Of course, there are many others who are equally critical to the overall success of the development effort.  These include usability specialists, performance engineers, technical documenters, sustaining engineers, and many, many others.  As with the above, it is essential that each does their job, or the overall product development process is jeopardized.

Many functions are performed as part of a product development process “machine”.  Done properly, with everyone recognizing the importance of their role in the overall process, the company ends up with a product that all can be proud of and that satisfies a real customer need, makes customers happy they bought the product, and makes the company money.  Done wrong, with some individuals not doing their best or understanding their role in the overall process, the result may be a product with minor flaws, or a product that’s hard to use or doesn’t work as advertised, or a product that doesn’t work at all.  The result will be customer dissatisfaction, which will reduce sales, reduce profit, and reduce or destroy the reputation of the company.

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