Friday, August 23, 2013

The Winning System

I love being a designer. I have loved creating things since I was a boy. When I was 10 years old, I designed my first gravity powered go-cart. Technically, the power plant works by changing the potential energy to kinetic energy by starting at the top of a tall hill. Some called these soap box racers. But my "machine" had nothing to do with a soap box. It was a completely open air vehicle. It was a sweet wooden framed structure  with center pivoted foot steering and super smooth, super fast wheels. It was the envy of all my friends and became the base line design for all others. Was it the steering? Maybe the wheels? Perhaps the simplicity? Ah, the questions of youth.

For a 10 year old, it was a great design. There were many great features. But, even with the best wheels, no one would have paid attention to it without good steering. Without a robust frame, the roadster would never have survived the abuse of a wild child. It was the entire system that made the difference. Solid frame, comfortable seat, accurate steering, and robust wheels made the "car". All needed to be considered in the design. It was the system that made it great.

If you want a winning design, you have to start with a winning system. It's the system design that makes the other parts relevant. A winning systems design starts with solid and well defined requirements.

Back to the "hot rod of my youth". Yes, it was a great design for a 10 year old. But, it was not a complete system. Now for the rest of the story.

The initial run was down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Experience would later teach that one should always start small when beginning the functional test program. The machine was fast and steered perfectly. But, as I reached the bottom of this hill, it was time to "turn off the kinetic energy". But, I failed to design a braking system! This was corrected on the first revision. But, not without a significant personal cost ( lots of scrapes and bruises).

Winning systems. That's where winning designs begin.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Politics and Engineering

What up with that? Seems like a strange mix, engineering and politics. Indulge me for a few lines and I think you will see.

I've been intrigued by the lack of ability for the US congress to work together. Democrats and republicans, each blaming the other. Neither side seems to be able to appreciate the position or value of the other's ideas. Both are emphatic that their ideas and platform are best for the country. If we set aside the emotional, political, and pride issues, I think we would find that both parties have ideas that could yield a positive result. But, each party's positions are so end of the spectrum polar opposite, and each side is so bull headed it's hard to see how this can ever be resolved.

I have to admit that I am extremely frustrated with Washington DC. As a tax payer, this stalemate is expensive and unacceptable. Some have suggested that if we eliminated one of the parties, the deadlock would end and we could move forward. We have seen what happens when one party is in complete control. Honestly, this isn't the answer. We need the diversity, differing points of view in order to create legislation that makes sense for everyone. Through good leadership, all parties can and must work together. So, what does this have to do with engineering?

To develop the best engineering solutions, we need a balance of competing ideas, differing experiences, diversity of knowledge, background, and personality. So, why do many engineering companies hire people that are just like all the others? For example, why do aircraft companies avoid hiring automotive engineers? Why do company recruiters frequent that same universities for their college hires? Don't hiring managers usually look to hire people who are like them? Sadly, in my experience, I've seen all these behaviors all to often.

Although it can seem painful at times, we need sparks to fly and our ideas challenged to create something truly amazing. This means we need to foster an environment where this "sharpening" can happen. Through good leadership, engineering companies can create an experience diverse environment where sparks can fly and game changing solutions are possible.

Arguably, even though our government isn't perfect, it is the best design out there! It's because past leadership allowed conflict to drive excellence, working toward a common goal. Our engineering groups should be perform the same way. KTM Solutions offers a low risk way to experience this blend!

As always, comments are welcome.