One of the things that puzzles me in traffic is the large number of people that drive around with one or more broken lights on the car. You will not see any difference if you miss a rear light, but missing one of your head lights surely should be noticed by the reduced visibility of the road ahead. In both cases, a regular check of you lights will make you aware of the problem, IF you do a check. In the “IF” lays the problem, because we do not tend to check regularly.If you do not have a built in warning of malfunctioning electronic parts in you car, you will probably be warned by other participants in traffic if you pay attention to it.
What is the parallel with engineering? Well, it is the awareness that things can be improved, but we don’t know it. We are not going to ask for improvements until we know it can be better and we are not asking for solutions for problems we do not see.
This may sound very straight forward, but it is a challenge in itself. Very frequently I visit companies where I get into talks about efficiency. Of course there are always things that are mentioned as issues where a solution is desired. Problems in systems performance, data management, information flow are known in organisations. The risk is in the priority of the problems and in the savings of the solution. In several cases improvements could be proposed that the organisation is not aware of, but offered more savings against a much lesser effort.
What is required for this this a regular “self check” of your engineering organisation. Ask yourself some fundamental questions. What is the purpose of our activity? What is input and output? (and please verify what is the real required output, in some cases engineering departments create output that nobody is using). How do we measure the effectiveness? etc. Only after that, look at the methods and tasks at hand and dare to question every single one of them.
If you do this right, and if possible with some help from outside, you should be able to come up with a longer list of improvements. Now these improvements can be listed in order of merits, following the Pareto principle. It helps you to spend you time and budget on the improvement plans with the highest output.
In parallel to the car lights: it helps you to follow your path with a clearer view on the future…