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Slideshow: Messiest Engineering Desks

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K Field
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Messy Desks
K Field   10/26/2011 8:44:12 AM
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To the contrary, I get a little freaked out by people with exceedingly tidy work spaces. I once had a co-worker who I suspected must have used a straightedge to align perfectly a stack of papers on his desktop each night. A little OCD do ya think?

cwollmann
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Re: Messy Desks
cwollmann   10/27/2011 9:53:59 AM
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I always say that if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what does an empty desk signify???

williamlweaver
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Workbenches
williamlweaver   10/26/2011 9:37:33 AM
Sorry, Brian. I must disagree. Wikipedia describes a "desk" as "a furniture form and class of table often used in a work or office setting for reading or writing on or using a computer." Your slideshow is comprised of "Workbenches" - "[a] sturdy table at which manual work is done."

When I look at the "clutter", I see "work in progress" not a mess.  Unless, of course, you are using the Systems Thinking definition that describes a "mess" as a "Complex System of Systems".

If I have hired an engineer and their desk does NOT look like these pictures, then I've made a mistake and hired someone other than an engineer.


Staber Dearth
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Re: Workbenches
Staber Dearth   10/27/2011 9:25:05 AM
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I agree with you and can identify. My workbenches at home ALWAYS look like these!  Cleaning up mid project is such a royal waste of precious time and energy.  The best part about it is that I know where everything is, but when a family member comes looking to borrow something, they can rarely find it unless they ask me for permission first!

I call it "chaos order".

FLagstaffrich
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Iron
Re: Workbenches
FLagstaffrich   10/27/2011 10:54:23 AM
Chaos Order - YES!  But these guys are pikers.  I see desk!  If the desk/workbench is not piled with a minimum of ten inches over every bit of its horizontal extent, it doesn't belong here.  I will allow a couple of square inches of desktop around the mouse.  Also, most of these have realtively clear floors surrounding the subject desk.  If you don't have to take at least three acrobatic steps over the piles of junque filling the rest of the space to reach the alledged 'messy' desk, you just aren't trying.

Seriously, there are two kinds of people - those who A) find things where they PUT them, and those who B) find things where they LEFT them.  The latter group work more efficiently by skipping the step of taking everything they use back to its 'home' when they are done with it.  They just set it down and come back for it the next time they need it.  This ironically results in a work area that appears to be cluttered and disorganized to an outside observer, especially if he is a 'neat freak'.

There is just one problem with that; it does not work if you share the space with another engineer.  Communal work spaces must be operated in mode 'A'.  Even though it is less efficient for the individual engineer, it does improve overall efficiency.  The moral of that story is never let yourself get into a communal situation like that!

Next month let's discuss the advantages of stratigraphic filing.

cheers, Flagstaffrich

endsofinvention
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(Work == Mess) but (Mess != Work)
endsofinvention   10/27/2011 11:13:26 AM
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Engineering is inherintly messy. The issue is that in not putting stuff you are not using away your next task becomes more difficult to do, due to space constraints,tangled cables, occupied equipment etc  and so on recursively. It also allows someone like me with a short attention span to be too easily distracted from actually completing a task. Having to put the stuff away forces me to not procrastinate about the little polishes that bore the crud out of you but need to be done to turn a solution into a product. I try to force myself to be tidy as it makes me more efficient and it's also easier to notice when someone "Borrows" any of my kit...  Now where'd those side-cutters go.

Ralphy Boy
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Platinum
Re: Workbenches
Ralphy Boy   10/27/2011 5:13:14 PM
Yup… I totally agree with mid-project clean up.

My desk and workbench both approach some of these guys'... The key to deflecting criticism of this state of affairs is to explain that not tossing or misplacing something that I'll need to complete the job is very important... and since I never know what that thing is until I need it...

Then there are the projects that take years to complete… Oh yeah…

Jack Rupert, PE
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Platinum
Re: Workbenches
Jack Rupert, PE   10/28/2011 3:13:21 PM
I think we should split the article in two:  desks vs. workbenches.  One of which by nature might tend more toward messiness.

Brian Fuller
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Tidy or messy
Brian Fuller   10/26/2011 11:44:54 AM
I couldn't agree more. A messy desk is a sign of genius. I once was asked about this in a job interview, in which the publisher offered a "hypothetical" question about a reporter's messy desk. (His stuff was actually spilling out in the aisle). 

The publisher was a neat freak. I responded that if the piles of notes, press releases and reports didn't impede his ability to break stories, then I was good with it. If people started tripplng over his stuff and hurting themselves, he'd have to tidy up a bit. 

 

Tim
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Engineering Desks
Tim   10/26/2011 9:22:11 PM
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Sometimes a messy desk is truly not appreciated or understood.  I worked a place that had a serious 5 S mentality.  It was common to have disciplinary action taken if your desk was not up to the desired standards.  Sometimes people just don't understand.

BillG54
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Re: Engineering Desks
BillG54   9/5/2012 9:34:20 AM
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In my company, a defense contractor, there is a "clean desk" policy in the new areas.  The reasoning is that some employees have been in the habit of leaving part prints, test data, costing data and other sensitive or confidential information around for any passerby to see.  Of course they don't give us enough storage space to keep everything we need to do our jobs, so that's a constant struggle.

Staber Dearth
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Silver
Coming out of the closet (drawer?)
Staber Dearth   10/27/2011 9:18:39 AM
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I once had a boss whose desk and office was usually neat as a pin.  Then I wondered why he had an inordinate number of barrister cases, two credenzas, and a desk with an unusually high number of drawers.  He'd shovel any and all things off of his desk everyday and dump them anywhere that there was room in  one of these many drawers.  He'd even use file boxes, stacked neatly in the corner to take care of any overflow.   Being a clutter man myself, I think that it was an usually high amount of energy he expended to send the wrong message...

DMayEADS
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Iron
Messiest?
DMayEADS   10/27/2011 9:26:37 AM
I often get chided for the state of my office.  I’m a Test Supervisor/Test Engineer/Customer Support Engineer/Trainer.  Add the fact we are a low volume – high mix manufacturer, (we make something different daily) I have a new challenge (opportunity) every day. 

If I took the time to organize or clean my office daily, I’d be working 75 hours a week instead of 70.  As long as I can find what I need when I need it, I’m happy leaving things the way they are.  All I need is to keep the “anal clean freaks” (obviously with not enough to do) away from my area. 

I'll leave with this tought : If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?  Albert Einstein

 

Keith Dickens
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Iron
Organization is not optional.
Keith Dickens   10/27/2011 11:28:19 AM
 

There are tons of people out there willing to point out the obvious about a clean desk which include things like, cleanliness benefits the company as a whole, it makes the office more inviting, and it gives the appearance of organization, blah, blah, blah.  That stuff is all true but they are the tertiary benefits to an organized workspace.  I’ve headed my company’s 5S movement, I did so not understanding the concepts at the beginning, and I was in opposition to it in many ways. 

Until I went through it myself.  On the surface, all of those people that haven’t done 5S see are clean desk tops.  “Sterile” is often the word they use.  But that is about 5% of the total depth of the process.  In fact, I use a PowerPoint in day one of training, one slide is dedicated to the cleaning the process.  And by the end of the 3rd or 4th week, the term sterile is completely out of the picture as they have regrown their offices and workstations to be truly personalized spaces that reflect efficiency, communication, and personality.

I trained 200+ employees over the past year and continued to learn more and more. After spearheading this training with group after group of people that started day one with some of the worst negative attitudes I have ever seen in training (seriously, I was taking personal shots from fellow employees), the nearly unanimous opinion at the end of the week was that not only was this needed in our company but that it was one of the most positive experiences they had ever gone through with the company.  And the pictures in this article are very representative of many desks in our organization pre 5S, not just engineers.

And those desks don’t say genius.  People who think that they say genius are the people that don’t want to organize their desks.  Or they want to but don’t think they have the luxury of time to get it done anyway.   These desks are simply the signs of messy people that don’t like other people touching their stuff and they may even like to radiate and unwelcoming pulse in their areas.  They should put up signs that say “Here’s the guest chair, that’s where you go. Please keep your arms in at all times.”  No one in your company should be awarded this mindset.

True organization should welcome collaboration and openness in the work area, not a fear to touch anything or that you’re going to knock something important or expensive to the floor.  Cluster organization systems like the ones in these pictures are one strong gust of wind or one errant hand gesture away from being turned into another type of cluster that ends in a strong “F” word.  If you are the only one that knows how they are organized and something disorganizes them, like an open window or subtle earthquake, or angry colleague, then it sucks to be you. True organization also keeps in mind some very serious organization-wide concerns like the need to address succession planning. There are TONS of people leaving the workforce in the coming few years and an office like this says one of two things; 1) I’ll leave it for the next guy to figure out, or 2) I’ll spend the last few weeks/months of my employment handling it.  Neither should be acceptable.

But succession planning isn’t just about people retiring, it’s about anyone that needs a quick short or long term replacement. It’s great that you can find everything in your piles of work, but if someone else can’t come in and find it if you are hit by a bus then you are failing at a part of your job.  It’s also turned out that our 5S training uncovered the uncomfortable truth that all those people with organized piles couldn’t always find their own stuff as quickly as they had thought.  They were frequently telling people “I’ll have to get back to you on it” even though they were standing over their own desks scratching their heads.

Keep in mind that it may be the work area that you are assigned to but it is not your home.  You were hired for your unique talents in your field and after a time you have the right to feel irreplaceable based on those talents and skills.  You do not have the right to feel irreplaceable because you are the only who knows where the hell everything is at.  Companywide organization is no more optional than effective communication. 

In addition, there is difference between being messy and being filthy.  Those desk aren’t just messy, they are filthy.  People think they are clean because the desktop surface isn’t visible, but dust falls, boxes and engineering equipment be damned.  The dust went somewhere, and it went somewhere harder to clean like the seven-hundred plus horizontal surfaces you have created with all the piles of papers and equipment that never gets cleaned by either the cleaning crew or the workspace owner.  You will have problems with dust mites, spiders, and ants; maybe even cockroaches and mice.  And don’t think that just because you don’t eat or snack in your area that those things aren’t there because none of those things I listed above require human food remnants to thrive.  Cardboard boxes, PCB, and styrofoam are enough. 

Here are the top two things that people in my company have reported (based on survey results gathered using SurveyMonkey) post 5S training;

1.       1...Most people feel ownership of their areas for the first having gotten rid of decade’s worth of their predecessor’s (an often times their predecessor’s predecessor’s) files.  They feel that for first time since they moved into their stations that they control the workflow and storage of their workspace, not the other way around.  They aren’t simply using whatever scheme they inherited. In some cases, they inherited those schemes and organizational logic and habits from jobs in companies that they don’t even work at any more but brought them with them to a new company.  Sure, they didn’t bring the physical files, but they still brought the habit which might be worse.

2.      2... They have sense of freedom and control.  Organized and clean work areas have translated to an openness and welcoming nature to new work that is counter to the feeling of being buried every time you turn around in their workspace...there is a pile here, a pile there, and a new pile just showed up.  Most people that have offices like these will occasionally look around their areas at their “organized stacks” and think to themselves that someday they’ll “get to it”, not even know what “get to it” even means.  It means they recognize there is problem that needs addressing.  Look at those offices above; who feels more buried in work, the guys in those offices or the guy with a clean desk?  In either scenario they both may have huge amounts of work to do but the removal of the piles allows for the psyche to concentrate on the job at hand and put the stack of next actions, next tasks, and next work out sight and out of mind where they should be while concentrating on the job at hand.

I strongly urge all readers to invest in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen and seriously investigate the use of 5S/Lean concepts within their organizations.

 

bdcst
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Messy?
bdcst   10/27/2011 1:38:12 PM
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That first example of a messy desk, for heaven's sake, is quite neat and organized, much like mine looks after I've cleaned up!  The difference are the walls!  Mine are plastered with notes and printouts scotch taped to them.  The most pressing paperwork is taped to the front of storage cabinets above my desk/bench in plain view so my aging synapsis will stay refreshed.  And, yes there are piles of boxes and equipment chassis on the floor and under my desk.  Eventually I'll rotate stuff down to a cellar storage area to make room for more stuff.  That storage area is organized in great piles of equipment properly categorized so I can retrieve stuff quickly without much sifting.

microengineer
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I'm Amazed Sometimes...
microengineer   10/27/2011 1:58:44 PM
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It never ceases to amaze me that, most unfortunately, in several companies I've worked for the engineer doing extremely technical and difficult work would not be given sufficient space and/or what they need to be productive AND happy.

It got to the point where one time I was doing embedded firmware, PCB design, prototype assembly, and debugging all in one tiny area.

And yet seemingly a guy doing paperwork all day (non-management) gets a nice office instead of a cubicle, with sufficient room for additional shelves and cabinets.

It's my nature to be organized and neat, but people quite often I find myself asking, "Why"?  Ultimately, who really cares?

However at home on my own engineering workbench, where ironically I sometimes have better tools & instruments, it's always nice, neat and clean.  Generally more welcoming, too!

Food for thought.

TJ McDermott
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There is a pattern to these images
TJ McDermott   10/27/2011 2:56:57 PM
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It looked like 10 out of the 11 images shown were the desks of electrical engineers or people working with electronics.  One was covered completely with papers only.

I've noticed that electrical engineers tend to be much more chaotic with their workspace than mechanical engineers.  What does THAT say?

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: There is a pattern to these images
Alexander Wolfe   10/27/2011 3:27:59 PM
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Design News readers should send their messy desk pictures to me, so we can do a follow-up slide show focused on mechanical engineerings. Mail your pictures to: alex.wolfe@ubm.com

corte33
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Re: There is a pattern to these images
corte33   10/27/2011 4:04:33 PM
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It's hard to put a steam turbine on your desk.

failureindesign
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Re: There is a pattern to these images
failureindesign   10/29/2011 1:47:45 AM
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You're right. Electrical engineering is much more difficult than mechanical engineering. I have degrees in both and much prefer to tackle mechanical issues.

melllowfelllow
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Judging Messy Desks
melllowfelllow   10/27/2011 5:00:31 PM
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It is easy for us to post our personal opinions about 'messiness', but I tend to take a bit of a variable view towards it. Two parameters that I have used on folks that worked for me in the past. Have you 'used it' in the last 2 weeks OR can you perform direct access to anything in the pile. When things look out of hand, I have even given 'pop quizzes'. In cases where I was not familiar with the content, I would send the 'suspect' away and select [and not remove] 5 items. The quiz would be 'find these 5 things'. No formal 'grade' was given, but the process caused a few folks to clean up their act - there was always a few that could access them instantly. The long term result was not a drastic increase in 'things looking neater' [although there was an improvement], but an improvement [and consciousness of] 'relevant and accessible stuff'.

Abdullah Eyles
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small photos...
Abdullah Eyles   10/28/2011 7:22:38 AM
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Great article but why are the photos so small? is there a copyright problem (maybe we're not supposed to see what's happening on those desks!)

I missed my days of working among a pile of equipment, but can't claim to have qualified for this "competition".

William K.
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Messy desks
William K.   10/28/2011 8:13:24 PM
At first I thought that Keith must have been that new MBA manager at Methode Electronics Division in Southfield, but then I realized that was not the case.

The fact is that things can look a bit messy but still be quite organized, and the workflow is not slowed or misdirected. Fixating on neatness and having all ones pencils aligned is a sure sign of not understanding anything elase that is going on. 

As for there being materials from a previous cubes resident, at that place they would throw away everything left behind when an employee left, including expensive color cameras, assorted power supplies, and all paper, including information about items ordered but not yet received, and items received but not yet paid for.

The new manager did clean up the place, and most of the employees now work for other companies. It turns out that if you get rid of all the people who are not obsessed with neatness, your payroll expenses will drop a whole lot, plus, you won't have to spend nearly as much time with customers. 

 

Keith Dickens
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Re: Messy desks
Keith Dickens   11/11/2011 12:12:10 PM
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"The fact is that things can look a bit messy but still be quite organized, and the workflow is not slowed or misdirected. Fixating on neatness and having all ones pencils aligned is a sure sign of not understanding anything elase that is going on. " - William K.

If you think my post was about keeping pens and pencils in line then I contest that you didn't read a word of it.

I've heard similiar statements a thousand times from people that haven't gone through 5S.  Please reread my oringal post and comment on my true fixations, not you're own fixations about what you think my fixations are.  To clarify, my fixations are addressing and elminating the 7 wastes (transporation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, & defects), quickly observing when something is missing or broken, succession planning in the short and long term, and maintaining a clean (as is not offering a space for bugs and rodents to thrive) workspace.

It's amazing the pushback we get from adults regarding concepts we all try to instill in our children.  "Clean your room", "put it back where you got it", "trash goes in the bin", and "get rid of the toys you don't play with anymore" are all concepts I teach my 5 year old and he gets them all pretty well.  At what age do engineers get to be worse than my son, again?  I'm willing to bet that if you put that in the course catalogue as a professional benefit of being an engineer you'll get a hell of an upsurge in graduates with engineering degrees.  Just sayin'.

failureindesign
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engineering desks; chaos or string theory
failureindesign   10/29/2011 1:41:22 AM
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In my experience, 5S works very well in situations with a fixed number of work flows that can be described in detail, using a finite tool set, and documented in every detail. In other words, primarily the manufacturing floor. Purchasing, shipping and recieving may also fall under this category.

Any engineer finding himself in this type of situation will be bored to death at best, rendered useless at worst. Essentially, by definition, a normal engineer's work is the antithesis of the type of organization that 5S requires. Multiple work flows (poorly defined usually) from multiple sources (with conflicting priorities and authorities) utilizing an incredibly diverse set of tools, and nearly impossible to document except on a very generalized scale (ie, stuff into Inbox, hummmm, stuff into Outbox, not necessarily in that order).

The largest company I ever worked for ($4B+ annual sales) was very professional and very nice to work for. They ignored the condition of your desk as long as your work was timely and correct.

The smallest company I ever worked for ($1M annual sales) was similar when I started but as we got more "professional" became much more concerned over the visual appearance of one's cubical. Toward the end, the concern was nearly fanatical. They may recover some day but after 20+ years the jury is still out.

The middle company ($100M annual sales) was home grown but later acquired by a European concern. The emphasis went from getting work done to making everything neat and tidy; and 5S was used as a bludgeon to reduce the engineering departments to skelaton crews while they attempted to move engineering work to other sites. It didn't work but many fine engineers (and other professional staff) lost their careers in the process. They will recover but it will take a while.

In general, if the CEO / other top management is sitting around at clean desks, they are either dispensible or have moved the visible part of their work to a secretary somewhere; which IMHO is a good thing BTW ... nothing sadder than a $400/hour manager spending hours typing at a keyboard and trying to remember how to format paragraphs and create pretty pictures in Microsoft Office version-de-jour. I think managers should be thinking, not typing. The best VPs / managers I ever worked for had secretaries and knew how to use them. My engineering group even had one for a while; we kicked serious a** in those days.

In general, if an engineer has a messy desk, it's likely he evaluated the available project storage space vs. the number of active project storage requirements vs. the amount of time required to shoehorn one into the other (usually a negative value BTW) vs. the amount of time required to store and retrieve active projects; and came to the conclusion that more could be accomplished in a cost-effective, timely manner utilizing the messy desk. There's also something to be said for the chaotic mind but that concept is totally alien to marketing / sales / accounting types typically in charge now. The acceptance of the "messy desk" pretty much hinges on who is in charge and whether the company is leading edge or just assembling what others have created for the mass market.

Personally, I like a place for everything and everything in it's place. But the realities of "real estate" make it impossible to have that situation so one just gets used to using a hybrid of the two (messy and neat). And, perhaps therein lies the real strength ... that ability to compromise the appearance without compromising the work.

War Story: One manager had several government jobs that ran through the shop occasionally. One summer we 5S'd the daylights out of the shop (and made impressive gains in throughput BTW). But, the next time one of those government jobs hit the floor it died at step one. Turns out one of the tool sets in the bottom drawer was only used for those government jobs and when the "5S expert" we hired didn't find those tools on a routing anywhere, he discarded them. Oops. LoL

 

alpha60
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Iron
Science, people!
alpha60   10/29/2011 5:28:42 AM
I'm stunned that we're on page 3 of these comments, and so far I see nothing but religious convictions over a relatively trivial issue based on mere ad-hoc observations ....

No data.

No thought to whether anyone's 'sample size' is statistically significant.

No scatter charts of messiness (however that's defined) vs. productivity (however that's defined: patents-per-year, gates-per-week, lines-of-code-per-week, post-CDR-design-defects-per-opportunity), accompanied by a least-squares curve fit & correlation coefficients. I'm exaggerating that such a thing might ever be attempted in actuality, but it should occur to more than a few of us in the abstract (as a prerequisite to forming opinions that will be used in reflexive judgments).

No recognition of confounding variables.

.... and y'all think you're "engineers"?

As long as I can find what I need when I need it, I’m happy leaving things the way they are.

Keith Dickens: standing and applauding.

It's sad to see how many engineers still think of themselves as living in a Silo. What kind of money & opportunities will it cost the organization to form the Tiger Team that has to figure out Milton's (http://under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/office-space-06_full1.jpg) stuff when he gets sick or hit by a bus or eaten by a great white shark?


I've noticed that electrical engineers tend to be much more chaotic with their workspace than mechanical engineers.  What does THAT say?

I don't know if it says anything, but another trend ad-hoc observation that I've noticed (over 28 years) is that mechanical engineers tend to have social skills. Electrical Engineers? Mmm, not so much. (and, yes, I'm an EE) Those people skills make ME's better at management in general, project management in particular. Not saying that's good or bad (wanting to go into management), but it's a tough job herding cats, and that's why they get paid more.

 

William K.
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Messy engineering desks
William K.   11/11/2011 8:51:56 PM
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If you want a person with as much creativity as an industrial robot, then hire an industrial robot. It will keep a work area very clean. 

In America we are free, which includes those who choose to follow the 5S religion. They have that right.  Also, they have my pity.

It happens that some of us just plain do not follow the same lockstep thought processes, and we are indeed a bit less "efficient". BUT if you are seeking efficiency, then by all means purchase the industrial robot.

If you are looking for somebody who routinely comes up with creative ideas that work, you may find that the ideal candidate is not  a slave to the 5s mantra. The reality is that some of those who think differently, meaning creatively, also carry a bit of a different outlook in the rest of their existance. 

One more question, which is why is it so very vital for others to hold priorities identical to your own? IT is possible for a 5s slave to come up with a good design, but they certainly do not come up with the good design because they are so very neat and orderly.

OF course, when an engineer does keep everything in perfect order it is much simpler for their replacement to pick up the task, which goes right along with the assertion that all engineers are interchangeable. My observation has been that the more ridgidly managers persue neatness, the less capable they have been to do anything else. Possibly you may have seen an exception, but I doubt it.

Keith Dickens
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Re: Messy engineering desks
Keith Dickens   11/15/2011 9:35:11 PM
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"One more question, which is why is it so very vital for others to hold priorities identical to your own?" - William K.

Really?

"If you want a person with as much creativity as an industrial robot, then hire an industrial robot. It will keep a work area very clean." - William K.

Seriously?

"In America we are free, which includes those who choose to follow the 5S religion. They have that right.  Also, they have my pity. "William K.

 

Ok, the "I'm a free American" card has been played so this must be serious. Shameless, but serious.  

Please keep the American patriotism in your back pocket. Its a very transparent excuse to keep doing something with no intention of changing no matter how unpleasant or disrespectful it is...and Any Good American would respect that right.

Any business any of us work for in the USofA, if it has found any success at all, is not representation of the American ideal.  Its probably not even a democracy.  It's certainly not a republic or “free”, whatever that means. The most successfully business are dictatorships at best. Military States at the worst. So, am I correct in understanding then that an organization can't or shouldn't have standards, rules, or expectations for employees? And if there are any, they are an invasion of space and privacy and/or hamper creativity or are meant to create a workforce of mindless, identical automatons? Surely not. I continue to stand by the 5S principle as a way of fostering creativity and communication in a unified workforce that understands their organization's core values and mission statement and collectively work together, as individuals, to achieve excellence.  And not allowing people to work in filth as a standard for any environment is not requiring people to hold priorities identical to my own.  I do, however, feel sorry for the person that has to deal with the crap in these offices when something happens to the current resident.

As a business owner, if they allow every desk to look this way, and that is their acceptable standard, that's their business.  In my organization Lean, and therefore 5S, has been identified as a critical issue. After working within the system for over a year, I truly believe in what the system means to do. But when it comes to the critical issue bit, I look at it like House Rules.  If you don't like the house rules, go play cards somewhere else.  Maybe some people don't mind if guests come over to their houses and put their shoes up on the couch and stack their crap on their dinner table.  I hate to put it that way because it sounds so iron-fisted which is not how any of my 5S training is; it's open and collaborative and flexible and user driven. But the bottom line is that if an employee is so attached to their mess that their creativity is lost because their desk is cleaned off then I think they have issues that might need to be dealt with by a professional and if they simply refuse to identify with the organizations policies then, well...I wouldn't put up with my house rules being broken either. And I think that's very, very sad. Slop is not a requirement of creativity.  If it were, ALL engineers and creative types would be that way and that simply isn't so.  More than likely people with the "a messy desk is the sign of a genius" attitude have just let creative geniuses build messy habits because no on wanted to stir their crazy genius pot by making them consistently clean their crap up, because hey, their geniuses, right?

And please keep your pity.  It's worthless and insulting to us creative types that have our s**t together and are forced to clean up after creative slobs, too.

 

Alexander Wolfe
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Send us your pix
Alexander Wolfe   11/14/2011 6:40:51 PM
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Reiterating our call for design engineers so send us their own messy desk pictures, so we can do a follow up. Send them to me, content director Alex Wolfe, at Alex.Wolfe@ubm.com

Charles Murray
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What a messy desk means
Charles Murray   11/16/2011 9:16:59 PM
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Messy desks are definitely a sign of messiness. Beyond that, I don't believe you can link it to any level of intelligence or any personal characteristics.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: What a messy desk means
Rob Spiegel   12/1/2011 2:58:00 PM
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Good point Chuck. One might be tempted to equate messiness with creativity, but that's probably a romantic view. Messiness could also be construed as a matter of priorities (what are you going to spend your time doing, cleaning the desk or getting a job finished?). But you're probably right -- messiness is just messiness.

Island_Al
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Gold
Re: What a messy desk means
Island_Al   4/9/2012 11:48:40 AM
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In my life it is priorities.  I come to work early, usually by at least 15 minutes and usually leave late, by at least an hour.

Just in front of me right now:

1) Paperwork to get access to our post office box (my lead engineer, the kid, is retiring in 3 weeks).

2) A paper I need to submot today on RF radiation testing, patterns and propagation.

3) My spiral lab book showing GPS cooridinates, calculations, etc that I need to enter into my computer lab notes.

4) Drawings of a preamp I reverse engineered for our aircraft radio.

5) Drawings and BOM for a FM bandstop filter.

6) Application for a RFID badge for one of my employees so he can get in our building.

7) Spec measurements for a high power amplifier that I need to enter in my computer (gain, power, current, coupler loss, etc).

8) Results of measurements for an 8 port high power combiner to be entered in my computer.

9) Application for credit card for our petty cash account.

10) Cell phone usage report due to accounting.

11) Drawings for mod to a TV modulator to detect and kill RF on video sync loss.

12) Smith Charts for an antenna I am working on

13) Drawings for a mockup test unit that I hope to give to a tech today.

14) Instructions to another tech on adjustments I need made to a sat antenna mounted on a plane.

15) Coax crimpers, strippers wrenches etc to build some test cables later today.

16) Complete a testing flight plan that I started last Wednesday or Thursday that our pilot is waiting for.

All this on the left side of my desk!

And on my keyboard is my expired company "travel card".  I called for a new one to be delivered FedEx and a week later I still don't have it. The card is there to remind me to call, press 1 for English, enter the credit card number on the phone, then hear the "your call is important to us" recording for the next 20 minutes.

My workbench is covered in circuit cards that the techs tell me are impossible to fix. I usually spend a day per week getting these running (and humilating the "techs" in the process).

I am always behind the curve here.  Most of it is a matter of just putting out fires today and keeping unenthused employees producing.  The pile on my desk will be gone tomorrow with a fresh pile to replace it.

I should not even be spending the time to reply to your post Rob, but you are correct is deciding priorities. A clean desktop is not worth missing dinner after a long day.  Still I love my job.

 

 

jamal
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Re: What a messy desk means
jamal   8/9/2012 12:31:03 PM
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If you don't have window view, a window view poster can be the perfect way to bring the scenery you most love.

DAYLIGHT PLEASE.

William K.
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Platinum
Messy but somehow still creative.
William K.   11/17/2011 9:30:38 PM
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My Americam patriotism is a lot closer to my heart than being stuck in my back pocket. Our freedom is why it is OK for you to believe that you are right, whith your fixation. That same freedom allows me to be different from you, and not have to be punished for it. creating something new means coming up with something that is different from the string of identical widgets coming down the assembly line. BY all means, where product uniformity is the number one target, there is no room for deviation. If it is micro-controllers or wheel-chocks, perfect product uniformity is a virtue. A worthwhile and honorable target.

But if production line conformity is not what you are payed for, then perhaps being different, and having different priorities, and even possibly entirely different thought processes, may provide an advantage. 

You are perfectly free to hold your beliefs and march in lockstep with others of similar belief. That is your right, simply by virtue of being here. But understand that having the right to hold a belief DOES NOT: 1.assure that it is correct, and: 2. Does not mean that everybody else must hold and cherish that same belief. 

My thought processes are also not the same as those people who write much of the code for Mr. Gates, whom many believe must be right because he is so very wealthy. My frequent challenges with his products are a clear indication that not everybody always thinks in the same channels. I am certain that some other folks will agree with that. 

Just consider how boring this place would be if everybody always thought the same.

 

Alexander Wolfe
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Messy MEs
Alexander Wolfe   11/22/2011 1:03:30 PM
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I'd like to reprise our call for design engineers to please send us their own messy desk pictures, so we can do a follow up slideshow. Send them to me, content director Alex Wolfe, at Alex.Wolfe@ubm.com




Alexander Wolfe
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Send us your pix
Alexander Wolfe   12/13/2011 8:11:10 AM
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Please send us their own messy desk pictures, so we can do a follow up slideshow. Send them to me, content director Alex Wolfe, at Alex.Wolfe@ubm.com


gsmith120
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Platinum
Re: Send us your pix
gsmith120   4/9/2012 6:05:30 PM
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Oh!! How I wish this article had come out about 10 years ago, when I was working at Raytheon in MD.  We had a components engineer who had a big pile of organized desk, guest chair and floor folders full of paper. The guy was a great components engineer and could find anything in his many many piles of paper.  It was told that he had been written up because his area was a safety hazard. He would talk to himself (no crime I do too) a very hard worker and must have had a memory like an elephant.  Ask him about any part he could go directly to the correct pile and folder.  It was a sad day when he left the company.

bob from maine
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Platinum
Messy Desks
bob from maine   4/9/2012 11:28:33 AM
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Some messy desks show the historic record of the latest major invention; go down layer by layer and you'll find the spark of a hundred ideas that didn't pan out. Every idea started, went a while then branched out in another direction leaving the parts sitting there on the bench waiting for the time and energy to chase the original idea to it's conclusion. Some messy desks are there becuase there is no storage area and the stuff on the desk is too valuable to throw away. Then, there are those desks that are left a mess just to annoy the boss. The problem is telling the difference.

ChasChas
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Platinum
EE's only?
ChasChas   4/10/2012 9:50:49 AM
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All these desks are from electrical engineers. Are they the only "pigs" around?

 

kf2qd
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Platinum
Re: EE's only?
kf2qd   4/18/2012 11:32:13 AM
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Perhaps the reason that those in the Electircal branch of engineering tend to have more clutter is because the Mechanical Engineers/Technicians tend to have some place in the shop where they can keep their pieces.

While not an Engineer, (I am an Engineering Technician) I have had responsibility for electrical design and Interface layouts for several differnt kinds of industrial equipment and often I have been dealing with several versions of the machine. And then I was also working on some sort of replacement design because of components that were no longer available, as well as working with some special feature that a pending sale was wanting.

Unlike in the shop where we had 2 or 3 guys assembling products that were very similar mechanically (amazing how a software change can create a "new" product) and had time to organize and arrange, I was the only one working in the "Engineering" roll as well as being the guy that customers called when they had a problem. It is fun troubleshooting a problem on a 25 year old machine that you have never seen even a picture of.

And there were days when I got little productive work done because of all the non related interrupts that came during that day. New parts came in and the vendor changed a spec requiring new software to program. Customer trying to keep a machine going for which we can no longer find parts. Question on special feature that a potential customer wants. Part spec changes so how do we re-arrange the panel, and how will that effect the wiring? Operator interface is no langer available, what can we sub, and can we get it working in time to ship?

When I was working as a Mechanical Engineering technician things were much more linear. We had one project (made of sub projects) but it was a much more linear process and engineering had more control over the schedule.

jamal
User Rank
Iron
DAYLIGHT PLEASE
jamal   8/9/2012 12:38:37 PM
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If you don't have window view, a window view poster can be the perfect way to bring the scenery you most love. A work bench is not a desk.

 

 

almoore
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Iron
Some perspective...
almoore   9/14/2012 8:07:51 AM
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Einstein's Desk

EngineerPhil
User Rank
Iron
Disorder, and time
EngineerPhil   10/9/2012 12:06:08 PM
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Although I am an ME, I have both a messy desk and messy benches.

Time pressure and the volume of work frequently prevent perfect order.

Entropy always wins.

Several projects are always underway. Frequently with short deadlines.

Without assistants and adequate storage facilities, projects must sit

in job boxes waiting for machined parts, paperwork, and approvals.

The shop is cleaned once a week, with tools rounded up and replaced,

debris and scrap consigned to their appropriate barrels. 

Set-ups are left intact on machines, as only the machinists are allowed

to take them down. Further, you risk a ball pein hammer to the head

if you tear down something the tool maker spent all day setting up.

During the week, my desk and the shop look like your photos, plus metal chips!

Perfectly clean everything would indicate we have no more work.

 

 

RMenon
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Iron
Messy Desk
RMenon   10/9/2012 3:24:16 PM
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After seeing all these posted pictures, I feel normal.  Its business as usual :-)

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