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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter Ė 4/10/2003

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.

eN-030410:

Use The Right Tools to Do the Job Right
  By Tom Dennis Ė President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

Have you ever tried to hammer in a nail using the handle of a screwdriver, or tried to chisel out a pocket for a hinge using that same flat-head screwdriver?  Sad to say, I have done this.  I tried to make do with the screwdriver I had on hand rather than use the hammer or chisel I really needed, because I didnít want to take the time to go and get the proper tool, or drive to the hardware store to buy the tool I really needed but didnít have.   The result is generally a botched job and/or an injured hand or finger, and a trip to the basement or to the store to get the right tool to do the job right.  Trying to make do with what youíve got on hand is often a foolís errand.  The same is true in the workplace.  

You can create a simple spreadsheet using paper and pencil rather than using a spreadsheet program, but it takes more time, canít be readily changed, and will often contain computational errors because you must calculate each cell by hand.  It becomes virtually impossible if you are creating a complex spreadsheet or multi-page model.  Spreadsheet programs are simple to use and increasingly more powerful and capable.  You can do things today with a ďsimpleĒ spreadsheet program that would have required extensive programming efforts only a few years ago.

You can write a paper such as this one using pen and paper rather than a word processing program, but it canít be readily changed, edited, reformatted and reprinted, and itís more difficult to efficiently communicate it to others.  It is very difficult today to even find a typewriter in an office, where they were ubiquitous not so many years ago.  These days, any kind of written communications, from document preparation to email, would be almost unthinkable without using office automation tools.

You can design complex mechanical parts using pencil and paper at a drafting table rather than using a CAD/CAM program, but it is much more difficult to visualize that part in 3-D or to make adjustments.  Further, with CAD/CAM software you can analyze your design in ways that were unthinkable only years ago.  You can do deformation analysis, stress analysis, mold flow analysis, and much more.  You can merge parts together in virtual space, and see how they interact in normal operation and under stress.  Highly complex designs can be created, analyzed, and perfected before any of the real parts are even prototyped.  

You can, conceptually, design integrated circuits without using the wide variety of computer-aided design tools, but with todayís extremely complex designs, itís simply not realistic.  Today, complex integrated circuits can be designed, modeled, analyzed, and studied in ways that were simply impossible years ago.  Libraries of designs can be reused to streamline the time to design new custom chips and put more and more functionality on a piece of silicon.  We simply could not design todayís complex chips without these tools.  

You can write software using paper and pencil, but you canít run it with out a compiler, and you canít use all of the development tools that help you do the job the right way.  There have been incredible advances to help specify software designs, code, analyze, check for errors, build, place under change control, test, and so much more.  Not using these tools would be foolish in the extreme, and would likely lead to disaster.

These are only a few examples.  Across virtually every venue there are now tools that make peopleís jobs easier or even possible.  The capabilities and varieties of these tools are constantly growing, and it is often difficult to simply keep up with their progress.  But it is critical to stay on top of these tools, or you can watch yourself fall behind you peers and your competitors.

While todayís tools are often not cheap, you must evaluate the cost of the tools versus the costs that would be incurred by not using the tools.  A capital investment today that will save time and development costs for years to come is often a no-brainer, and some simple Return-on-Investment (ROI) calculations will generally be sufficient to convince management that such a capital purchase would be a worthwhile investment.  Such an exercise also ensures that you have properly done your homework in searching the variety of tools that may be out there, their pros and cons, their costs and benefits, and their relative values.  It is important that you use the right tools to do the job right.  It can often make the difference between success and failure.


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