Monday, April 18, 2011

Test and Fix

The model most Engineering companies follow is a simple one:
Design-Test-Redesign-Get extension-Run over budget.

This Engineering Model does not prove profitable for our government that has hired these engineering firms.  A better model would be to Design with all stake-holders having input.  Include all disciplines (Engineers, Training, Human-Factors (someone with wholelistic perception skills), schedulers, CFOs, etc., in the design team and reviews.  This will make the Preliminary Design Phase inversely proportional to the build and test phase.  Creating a wonderful phenomenon called "Meeting the Schedule"

"The power of diversity in groups" grows exponential with each person.   Granted there is a sub-team ceiling that can paralyze the project.  The Project Manager must understand the dynamics of each sub team and the overall Project team.  

A better Engineering Model would be the "T" communication model.  Each subteam is the bottom of the :T" and communicates up to the Stakehoders Design Team.  The top of the "T"  or the Communication Level.
There can be many legs to this model and most projects will have several.   Design and test are not completed until all inputs from stakeholders.  Then most issues will have been resolved.  If your Project Manager has successfully organized and kept abreast of all issues the "kinks" should be picked up by someone without an engineering degree. :)  That is because they will ask different questions.  (Because they don't think they know it all already and the hideous practice of playing the "devil's advocate", which is really just squashing collaboration and stifling free thinking could be avoided.) 

Don't you think someone should be talking about this?

Monday, March 17, 2008


By definition a technical discipline is one that uses technology in a specific or precise way, One that follows certain patterns of behavior to produce an outcome.

It can be agreed upon by engineering firms that math, science, engineering, and computer science degrees are technical degrees. The perceived bias is that those with BS degrees in another field are not technical degrees.

Certainly I would agree that Bachelor of Arts degrees are not in the technical family. However a Bachelor of Science with emphasis on socio behaviors such and Psychology or Sociology is a different matter. These are the sciences of human behavior that focuses on the development and organization, interactions and environment of the complex socio system.

Systems Engineering definition--An interdisciplinary field that focuses on the development and organization of complex artificial systems. (Wikipedia)

BS Psychology definition--An interdisciplinary field that focuses on the development and organization of complex human systems and their environment. The social science field offers a broader scope to the definition of the word system.

If you examine the core classes required to obtain a BS you will find they are identical to the core classes for all engineering, math, and pure science degrees.

That is because Technical disciplines have BS degrees. A BS in Psychology still has calculus classes, pure science classes with labs, Statistical Analysis, Applied Research projects and life cycle application studies. Sounds like some engineering courses to me.

Engineering companies that take on System Engineering projects are responsible to ensure that customer and stakeholder needs are satisfied. This needs to be done in cost effective yet high quality manner.

The current system model includes seven task: (Wikapedia)
1. State the problem
2. Investigate alternatives
3. Model the System
4. Integrate
5. Launch
6. Assess performance
7. Re-evaluate (which then leads to a repeat of steps 1-7 an infinite number of times until you get it right)

This model is not fiscally responsible nor does it produce quality within schedules. This model produces over-run accounting and schedule delays. Both of which are current common practices.

If we could have a paradigm shift and realize a BS in social sciences is a technical discipline then these could be added to the current interdisciplinary fields. Their contribution would be Human factors (variables), environmental factors (variables) and sensitivity issues.

Currently mechanical systems are commonly designed by engineers and mathematicians. Computer systems and their displays designed by computer science, and electrical Engineers.
Science Payloads consist of Engineers and pure science degreed designers. Engineers are taught to follow the above model with lessons learned at the end. That is why there is more than an 80% failure rate due to sensativities. (NASA Lessons Learned Training Course)

Can you see what is missing? There isn’t an interdisciplinary approach to design when you leave out a key players. If engineering firms would take the lead of the U.S. Air Force then all their projects would have some sort of Social science degreed person working to address the interaction and sensitivity issues that bring about most of the failures. “Shrink Engineering”

Wake up Engineers. I love you, but there is something you’re missing. Go after it. Ask for such a team member (and respect that they have four years of college just like you and a few insightss you might be missing.) Work on one project like this and the difference will be measurable. In time, cost, and quality

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shrink Engineering: and the Connection to High Integrity

Ever heard of a Business Shrink. Someone who applies Psychology principals to business methods. Shrink Engineering is of a similar nature. Someone or a business that includes psychology/ human factors principals in the engineering process. Thus, producing performance and design above the usual standard creating a High Integrity Company.

“Why would anyone hire Psychology majors?” you ask. Bottom line of all business; it saves money. It produces a cheaper, and more reliable product. Having someone with a BS in Psychology creates operational flexibility and gives any company the boost up to a High Integrity level.

To achieve a High Integrity Company status there are three things any company have. (Interdependence, Involvement, and Operational Excellence) It is our opinion that any company will find it difficult to achieve high reliability and high performance without the combination of a socio-technical system. The socio-technical system consist a triad team of design, maintenance and operation. Think Air Force, NASA, both use Shrink Engineering. High Integrity Companies?

Is your company/corporation a High Integrity company? Take this simple test and find out.

Is your management style applied consistently throughout the company? (Each management level has to have a clear definition of its role and the same style is applied to each level. All organizations within the company are interdependent)

Does your company embrace information transparency? (Everyone in the organization can see the information they need to, when they want too, in the format that suits them)

Does your company allow for job enlargement? (All levels participate in problem solving teams)

Does your company have at least one BS Psychology degreed person on the project team?

Does your engineering company consistently produce designs that need few changes?

If you answered no to any of the above questions then you need to look at the benefits of Shrink Engineering.

Comparison: Company A and B are building a payload for NASA.



Only hires 5Engineers and 2 office support

Hires 3 Engineers, 1 BS Psychology major, 2 office support (Cheaper bid or more profit)

Requirements document written by team of Engineers

Requirements document written by team of engineers/ Psychology/office support

Design drawn up by engineers. They label everything by part number.

Design drawn by Engineers/ Psychology. Label drawing with functional names. (ie: Hot water hose) Water droplets will float away. Develop encasement for payload. No leverage in Space (add a handle to brace against)

Preliminary design review held with Engineers. Catch an electrical break.

Preliminary design review held with Engineer/ Psychology. Catch an electrical break and the fact the buttons are not labeled and the sticky label substance will not work in the cold plant freezer on board Space Station.

Change drawing for Electrical break

Change drawing for electrical break, button labels and product list.

Design review by engineers. Now know labels should be applied for payload. s

Design review by Engineer/Psychology. Re work toggle switch from three position to two position for safety. Test noise level.

Change drawings and make part labels

Change drawing

Nasa Preliminary review

NASA Preliminary review

Change all labels to operational names because humans are using these. Develop encasement. Change all drawings, regulation, agreements, every documentation with these part numbers/ labels.

NASA Satisfied-- two minor changes. Fix and take photo to send to NASA. For fix verification.

Nasa Review. This type label won’t work in freezer.

Reschedule proto type delivery date

Move on to prototype.

Research new material change drawings and all documentation.

Nasa Review. Using liquid must have encasement. What is noise level? Where is our leverage? Review requirements document redesign to noise control and create leverage handle. Change all drawings/documents accordingly.

Design encasement. Review encasement change all drawings and documentation and Payload integration Agreement. .

Reschedule proto type delivery date.

Why did company B meet their schedule, save money, and satisfy the customer? Non physiological metrics were applied with physiological metrics. All decisions were made on the best technical information available to each company. Company B simply had a broader information base.

Software design teams complete all testing phases yet only 75% are functional enough to get put into operation. Most of these are compromised and difficult for the end user. Few are intuitive. (Gibbs 1994) The Hubble telescope failed because of a poor interface design. (Caspars and Lipton. 1991)

The best training manuals are written by asking interactive questions from an out sourced provider. Engineers know there systems so well it may seem intuitive or they may assume some prior knowledge while they write. New perspectives at the beginning stages of the design team. Will bring out the issues early.

Those with some type of socio-degree may not know how to build the “system” or run the stress test it, but they are trained to include environment into the system equation. An emphasis on planning using a variety of resources is an indicator of a High Integrity Company.

When your business includes a BS Psychology major they are getting someone trained in scientific research. They are getting a solution based thinker. A socio degree brings new thought and perspective to the design while addressing the sensitivity issues..

All airplanes are designed this way. Think cock-pit. All engineering projects need someone to bring a new angle to the team at the very beginning. To many changes will have to occur if you wait until the end.

The missile that worked fine in the states would not fire in Iraq. Why?. Environment. It was too hot for the guts. (Personal knowledge) The Inventory management software took years to become proficient. Why? Not intuitive nor reviewed by someone asking the correct interface questions.

Leading indicators show performance is increased when companies move toward value based strategies. Shrink Engineering is more bang for the buck and should be insisted upon by our government before spending our money.

Can an engineering company be a High Integrity company without Psychology on their staff? I don’t think so. The company that waits until the product reaches market before considering all the issues will not be using all available resources and may not be successful.

Say amen if you agree.

Add to Technorati Favorites