On Time, On Budget, Works Right: Pick Two

There is a old engineering adage that is posted somewhere in most labs on the planet, typically somewhere that management rarely looks.  Many variants on the theme but in general it is:

On Time, On Budget, Works Right: Pick Two

Meaning of course, that the view from the engineering bench is that management is nuts to want it all.  There are of course two sides to this: while the engineers view is management is disconnected with reality, management knows what needs to happen to market, to sell product and to bring in revenue and eventually profits so they can pay the engineers.

Me, I’ve seen both sides.  I’ve told customers, recently in fact, On Time, On Budget, Works Right, Meets Production Cost Goals (always the productization guy): Pick One, and I’ve also told my engineers “No excuses, get cracking,” again rather recently.  If I look at this dispassionately I tend to believe that the core issue here is not management stupidity nor engineering over caution, its basically poor planning.  That said, the number one culprit for poor planning is unfortunately (guess I am an engineer at heart) tops down pressure from those disconnected with what it takes. The number two culprit is poor communication up the chain from the engineering world, and closely related to both is poor understanding about what the real macro level tradeoffs are.  By this I mean the real cost model for being late, making mistakes, etc as compared to budgets, profit margins etc.

Oddly enough this whole issue does in fact tend to materialize itself more often then not during the productization phase, since that is an area that is often underbudgeted, and also being at the end it’s when one tends to tally up timing / budget / functionality (the whole “blame the test engineers when a product fails” issue, but that is, as Zeb says, a whole ‘nother can of worms). 

So what can we as productization engineers do?

1. Get involved early on in the planning stage, making sure there is adequate budget / schedule or if not resources to make it up or at least awareness of the risk

2. Force a dialog of tradeoffs, but don’t neglect the need to Make It So, by working smarter or sometimes literally burning the midnight oil (another favorite Zeb saying).  We don’t want to be the Profession of No either

3. Put good processes in place, and the right resources as well.  And sometimes a seasoned engineer who costs 20% more can bring a project in on time when a junior engineer cannot.

4. Don;t be a cynic–it does nothing but hurt the engineering-management relationship for a bunch of us to “I told you so” management too often.  We gotta be on the team, and we need to also try harder to understand the big picture

Another day I’ll tackle the related engineering adage, which is Multiply Everything by Pi (someone told me recently that this has changed, that now due to continuous improvement we can merely Multiply by Root Two…)

Chuck

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