What works: team participation

The team

My first job out of university was with a small product development and manufacturing company. The company developed their own embedded products for sale all over the world.  I do not know how this collection of technicians and engineers ended up as a tight or as close when it came to work.  The group was a collection of characters. The other electrical engineer, we will call Flicky (we had secret names for each of the team members). There was one technician we referred to occasionally as IR because of the unfortunate anagram is name made.  There was a mechanical designer we referred to as BWI, I will explain that later.  There was another assembler / technician we referred to as Wal.

Games with the Team

When it came to the electrical or embedded product idea generation and development, I can recall a game we played.  We would read the specifications together, asking questions where we could of the sales and marketing people.  We would then go to our respective work areas and work the design as a challenge.  It was not a cut throat competition but a friendly one.

This part was largely but not exclusively between Flicky (still friends with him today actually) and me.  The first one with the core design sketched out what they thought would work, would go find the other to see if the design withstood critique as a good start.  It was not just not to be the first, the design had to withstand a review substantiated by mathematical and logical scrutiny.

The person presenting the concept would walk through the proposed or potential design solution with the other team members or at least the other engineer.  This was sort of like an early design review and accept alteration to improve the design.  If the proposed solution stood up to this scrutiny it would be further elaborated, tested and critique.  If this did not bear productive fruit, the learning from the design would be carried forward and a return to the drawing board.

There were plenty of other such  impromptu exchanges as the product materialized, a continuous review of the design and the design objectives.  The top-level requirements and design expectation were all foremost in the work.

These reviews and design proposals were subject to review and critique, an earnest and vigorous critique across the discipline.  This is a good place to introduce you to BWI, or in the long hand “better way incorporated”.  This mechanical guy would review our work and invariable he had was to improve the design, even if this way of introducing this fact to us seemed a bit abrasive.  This would have been annoying if he in fact did not have a better way.

IR was a patient and persistent technician. When we were at our wits end building prototypes or first production parts, he would delicately perform the last steps in the assembly process, taking the early part from me just before I was ready to the throw the product across the room.  He would custom size the interconnecting wires, deliberately and delicately tucking the wires out of the way so the product could be closed for our testing in the lab.  At this point the product had been tested in development environment but not at all in the real environment simulating the interaction with the operator or even in the setting the product will be subjected, the scenarios in which the product can and will be used and that is where Luke came into the picture.

Wal would take the product into the product lab which was configurable to a small scale of the customer’s manufacturing line. The range of equipment available was comparable to that of the various customer equipment, but not at the volume of the customer’s production line.  Without fail, he would come back to the engineering area, with some odd scenario that could happen in the field that would evoke a strange and unacceptable or unpredictable outcome. He would bring this to the engineering office and we would seek out why this happened and adjust either the hardware or software.

Layout of Facility

Layout of Facility

Team Proximity

Note the layout of the facility, the engineering office was connected to the manufacturing floor, the prototype area is really part of the manufacturing floor, there was no wall around this area, but a small area reserved largely for the prototype part assembly. The manufacturing floor could be noisy.  However, the benefits of being in so close to the manufacturing line ensured the design and even prototype development could be (and was) influenced by the manufacturing of the product. Similarly, the test lab was in similar proximity to the engineering office, when failures or non-conformance were discovered, it was quickly brought to the engineers, and we would walk to the lab with the test personnel (Wal).

There were few functional areas, that manufacturing and engineering, but neither of these held these functional areas tightly, that is the lines were blurred between these two areas where communications and work was easily and readily apportioned as the development demands or manufacturing dictated.

This group of strong personalities with respective areas of competence, nothing was taken personally, and we considered input from each person, even when that feedback or information was delivered in less than an optimum way.  We worked hard, and we played hard, that unique names for each other was part of that playing, along with the friendly competition aspects of the development work.

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