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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.


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

User Rank
engineering desks; chaos or string theory
failureindesign   10/29/2011 1:41:22 AM
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


William K.
User Rank
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. 


Jack Rupert, PE
User Rank
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.

Abdullah Eyles
User Rank
small photos...
Abdullah Eyles   10/28/2011 7:22:38 AM
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".

Ralphy Boy
User Rank
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…

User Rank
Judging Messy Desks
melllowfelllow   10/27/2011 5:00:31 PM
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'.

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

Alexander Wolfe
User Rank
Re: There is a pattern to these images
Alexander Wolfe   10/27/2011 3:27:59 PM
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

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