Here are more examples of how you may be wasting technical expertise.

Perry Parendo

March 14, 2024

4 Min Read
engineers and technical writers
Technical writers working alongside engineers could free engineers up to do what they do best: innovate, design, and build.Luis Alvarez/Stone via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • Good assignment of engineering tasks can increase motivation
  • Match people with what each person does well

This is Part 2 of this article series begun in January 2024, which discusses more areas where we waste our technical talents. If you have not read Part 1, be sure to check it out.

Technical Writing

Engineers often choose their path because they like math and science. It should come as no surprise they often are less interested in English classes. Writing reports is not part of their natural wiring.

When I started my career, we had a group of technical writers who were amazing at creating reports, technical manuals, and user manuals. I would review the drafts to ensure they communicated my intent, but they did the heavy lifting. It was an efficient process. It allowed our technical writers to ask clarifying questions during creation and gave me time to focus my thinking.

With the creation of word processing software, engineers were able to do this work themselves. But it is work they don’t like to do. It is work they don’t want to do. This means the reports are left to the last minute, and we take what we get. The level of documentation is lacking compared with what is possible. I talked with Kim Gullion about this situation.

“This is the point when we typically receive the call asking for technical writing help,” explains Gullion, who serves as CEO of Writer Resource. “Technical writers are trained writing professionals who capitalize on their industry experience (e.g., in manufacturing, IT/IS, medtech, industrial, etc). They work seamlessly with engineering experts to extract their knowledge quickly and efficiently. This competence allows your talented engineers to continue doing what they do best: innovate, design, and build. Investing in a temp or perm technical writer results in cohesive documentation that is easy to read, upload, and disseminate to your staff, upper management, or customers.”

Related:Catch These Great Quotes from Engineers

Using technical writers can get the best from each resource, in less time.

Administrative Tasks

Early in my career, we had a group secretary who would type memos, meeting notices, and other documents. For example, scheduling a meeting needed an invite on paper. They would not mail it without an agenda, which is essential for productive meetings. Scheduling a meeting at the last minute was not common.

Today, we have everyone’s calendar at our fingertips. Anyone can schedule a meeting at any time. Are agendas required? It depends. The meetings are set last minute, disrupting the flow of work. Adding another person is easy—just click a button. This has led to many useless meetings. Without an agenda, it is hard to know whether we need to be there. So, we attend just in case.

Related:Could Digital Twins Help Engineers Communicate Better?

Further, who takes notes during these meetings? It is often a technical lead, who does not like writing. Plus, they are deeply involved in the conversation. Stopping for note taking either destroys the flow, or limits the lead participation. A secretary could record the minutes and publish them after the meeting. The technical lead could immediately take action on key activities after the meeting.

Task Assignment

Random task assignment creates issues. Two mechanical engineers are trained to do the same things, but have different interests. Alignment of tasks and interests makes things smoother. Similarly, we do not want a designer to create brackets. A typical drafter could do this task and enjoy it. But a creative designer? This activity would drive them crazy.

During different phases of engineering activities, we have opportunities for two thinking styles. For example, during Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) activities, there are open-ended “define our potential failure modes” tasks. During closed-end stages, we are defining the probability of occurrence. Is everyone equally capable of both activities? Obviously, no. This FMEA task allows both thinking styles to participate at different times, so we should base our assignments on this.

Related:3 Reasons Why Engineers Should Embrace Digital Product Passports

I was in charge of a group once who was struggling to be productive. Using this concept, we made adjustments to our assignments. We reduced handoffs and were more motivated on the tasks assigned. We became less stressed, more productive, and more satisfied with our job. It was refreshing after a long period of frustration and barely keeping up.

Conclusion

By aligning people with interesting tasks, we gain efficiency and quality of work. Additionally, we tap into intrinsic motivation, which is vital to success. I’d love to see things move toward better leveraging of our natural talents. Could this help your design team? Do you agree with these areas of waste? What other areas do you see?

About the Author(s)

Perry Parendo

Parendo began developing and seeing results from his Design Of Experiments (DOE) techniques at the General Motors Research Labs in 1986. His unique insight into DOE has saved time and money while solving complex problems during product and process development. This paved the way for him to lead multi-million dollar New Product Development (NPD) projects with international teams.

Parendo founded Perry’s Solutions LLC in 2006 to help organizations with critical product development activities. He has consulted in a wide range of industries such as consumer products, biomedical products, and heavy equipment. He is currently a regular columnist for Design News. He received his Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Minnesota.

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