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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 6/7/2007

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Shield Your Troops!

  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

You are an engineering manager (or above) with a number of critical projects underway, and your people are all carrying heavy workloads with many aggressive and critical milestones.  They need to direct all of their attention to their work if you all are to achieve your committed promises, and you need to do everything you can to help them accomplish their (and your) goals.  At the same time, you are getting pressure – to modify your operations, or to pull people off a current assignment and onto a “pet project” of someone higher up the management chain, or to implement the latest management fad, or put together a “critical demo” for a customer coming in soon, or something of the like.  Do you satisfy your bosses (winning brownie points) and get your people involved in a wide variety of unrelated activities while trying to keep the projects on track, or do you shield your “troops” from the unrelated activities and unnecessary diversions so they can keep doing their jobs?  In my opinion, you should opt to shield your troops unless you have no choice.  Why is this so?

Life in any organization abounds with distractions and diversions.  At any point in time there will be calls for specific people to get involved in any number of activities that are “critical” or “essential” to someone in the company.  Sometimes these activities are indeed “critical” or “essential” and it becomes necessary to pull one or more people off of their current critical work to handle these activities, and you will be tasked with finding ways to cover the work these people would otherwise be doing.  But more often than not these “critical” or “essential” activities are far less critical or essential to you than the work those people are currently engaged in, and it is more important that you push back on these external demands than give in to unnecessary diversions.

What are some of the pressures that you may face that can divert your resources from their critical jobs, and how do you handle them?

There may be project related diversions, where, for example, someone on the same or a different project is having problems and needs help from a key person.  If the help needed is quick (like a few hours) and enables the person seeking help to proceed more independently going forward, it may make sense to let your key person get involved.  If not, then it may make more sense to get someone else involved, who is not involved in as critical a role.  In any event, the diversion should be closely monitored and not allowed to linger on.

There may be other-organization related diversions, where, for example, someone in Tech Support has a customer specific problem that is beyond their knowledge or capabilities, and some of your people really need to get involved.  Customer problems are important to the company’s success, and need to be addressed, but it is up to you to determine who should get involved.  If more than one person can help, assign the person not currently involved in critical path activities, and briefly consult the person who is involved in critical path activities only if really required and for as short a duration as possible.

There may be outside-the-company related diversions, where, for example, problems at your contract manufacturing facility need technical help that only one person in your group can provide.  You need to determine whether this problem is more critical than what this one person is currently doing.  If so, then get this person involved for as short an interval as possible, or have him/her inform a co-worker who is not involved in a critical path activity how to work with the contract manufacturing facility to resolve the problem.  If not, then schedule some time when this person can address this contract manufacturing problem.

There may be (often unending) meeting diversions caused by the meeting organizer who feels your people simply must attend.  You need to review the meeting agendas and determine whether your key people really need to attend.  If so, then limit their attendance to only that portion that is relevant to them.  If not, then remove them from the attendee list.  If necessary, others (or you) can attend.

There may be “critical demo” diversions, where, for example, a critical customer or a coming trade show simply must have a demo to demonstrate the progress being made.  Such efforts to “show progress” most often come at the expense of “making progress”, and should be resisted if at all possible.  When they can’t, then the “cost“ of such efforts (money and time – hourly rate times the number of  hours plus material costs, and the time delay to the schedule) must be clearly laid out, in writing, and agreed to by all so there is no confusion.  This will either head off the diversion or ensure that all involved agree the “cost” is worth the “benefit”. [See also eN-070405 – Showing Progress vs. Making Progress Syndrome]

There may be pressure-from-above diversions (or from the side), where, for example, your boss, or your boss’ boss, or your CEO, or your peer in Product Management, Marketing, Finance, Manufacturing, etc., initiates an activity that simply must include one of your most critical and key people.  As with the “critical demo” diversions, you need to make it crystal clear what the impact to the project will be if this person is pulled off of his/her current activity to get involved in this new activity.  It is often these same people who insist on timely project/product delivery, and they need to fully understand the impact of their new demands.

There may be political diversions.  Politics is always an abundant element in any organization with different players lobbying to increase their influence and minimize someone else’s.  You want to do your utmost to shield your troops from company politics in whatever ways you can.  While there may be winners and losers in political battles, if you get your troops involved, you and they will generally end up losers.  Your projects are not political, and you should steer clear of the politics if at all possible.  If you can’t, then involve yourself, but shield your troops.

Shielding your troops does not mean shielding them from the truth or what’s going on in the company.  They should be fully aware of what is going on around them.  But it does mean shielding them from having to get involved in unneeded distractions, from unnecessary meetings, or from political turmoil that need not involve them.  Their success and yours comes from doing their jobs as free as possible from unnecessary diversions.  If you can shield your troops, you will help them to accomplish their and your goals.

Copyright © 2007 Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved

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