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The Unwritten Laws of Engineering: With Revisions and Additions

Description | Details

This fully revised and updated edition of the 1944 classic, serves as a crucial compilation of “house rules,” or a professional code. It addresses three areas: what the beginner needs to learn at once; “laws” relating chiefly to engineering executives; and purely personal considerations for engineers. Packed with contemporary examples, this timeless volume is a must for those entering the engineering field or those interested in improving their professional effectiveness.

  • Copyright:
    All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. ©  2001  ASME
  • ISBN:
    0791801624
  • No. of Pages:
    60
  • Order No.:
    801624
Front Matter PUBLIC ACCESS
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  • What The Beginner Needs To Learn At Once

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      However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.Many young engineers feel that the minor chores of a technical project are beneath their dignity and unworthy of their college training. They expect to prove their true worth in some major, vital enterprise. Actually, the spirit and effectiveness with which you tackle your first humble tasks will very likely be carefully watched and may affect your entire career.Occasionally you may worry unduly about where your job is going to get you — whether it is sufficiently strategic or significant. Of course these are pertinent considerations and you would do well to take some stock of them. But by and large, it is fundamentally true that if you take care of your present job well, the future will take care of itself. This is particularly so within large corporations, which constantly search for competent people to move into more responsible positions. Success depends so largely upon personality, native ability, and vigorous, intelligent prosecution of any job that it is no exaggeration to say that your ultimate chances are much better if you do a good job on some minor detail than if you do a mediocre job as a project leader. Furthermore, it is also true that if you do not first make a good showing on your present job you are not likely to be given the opportunity to try something else more to your liking.
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      Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain.This principle is so elementary and fundamental as to be axiomatic. It follows very obviously that a manager cannot possibly manage a department successfully without knowing what's going on in it. This applies as well to project managers with specific responsibilities but without direct subordinates as it does to department heads. No sensible person will deny the soundness of this principle and yet it is commonly violated or overlooked. It is cited here because several of the rules that follow are concerned with specific violations of this cardinal requirement.
  • Relating Chiefly To Engineering Managers

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      Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain.This is repeated here for emphasis, and because it belongs at the head of the list for this section. Just remember that it works both ways, as regards what you owe your associates and subordinates as well as yourself.Obviously this applies primarily to major or significant developments and does not mean that you should attempt to keep up with all the minor details of functions assigned to subordinates. It becomes a vice when carried to the extent of impeding operations. Nevertheless, the basic fact remains that the more information managers have, the more effectively they can manage their business.
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      Learn project management skills and techniques, then apply them to the activities that you manage.Your organization probably has, or certainly should have, standard procedures for its major engineering efforts such as developing new products or processes. You will also need to apply techniques commonly used for managing projects. Some of these are, for example, resource planning, calendar scheduling, and progress tracking. Simply stated, to manage projects properly you must plan your work, then work your plan.
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      Make sure that everyone has been assigned definite positions and responsibilities within the organization.It is extremely detrimental to morale and efficiency when employees do not know just what their jobs are or what they are responsible for. If assignments are not made clear there is apt to be interminable bickering, confusion, and bad feeling. Do not keep tentative organization changes hanging over people; effect them as soon as they become reasonably clear. Changing them again later is better than leaving people in poorly or improperly defined positions.All employees, engineers included, can be organizationally linked to one another based on their project (e.g., new product development team, program implementation team), their functional discipline (e.g., stress analysis, analog circuit design, R&D), or both. The last, also called a matrix organization, gives to each person (at least) two managers: one for a project and one for a discipline. The functional discipline supervisor usually has administrative authority — performance appraisals, promotions, compensation — over the employee. This type of organization affords the great advantage to everyone of having two supervisors from which to obtain help; but it suggests the possible disadvantage of competition for allegiance. Well-managed organizations will not suffer; conflicts will be easily resolved by considering the grander goals, preferably, or by the next level of management.
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      Never misrepresent a subordinate's performance during performance appraisals.The most serious responsibility of managers is to review the performance of their subordinates. As a manager, you have the distinct obligation to do this as accurately as possible. Not only would misrepresentation be unfair to your subordinates, it would not be the least bit helpful to anyone involved.Along the same line, it is your inalienable responsibility to talk things over with employees if — and as soon as — you become sincerely dissatisfied with their work, or you recognize deficiencies that are working against them. To be sure, this is not always easy, and it will require much tact to avoid discouraging or offending them, but you owe it to them. Bear this in mind: If you ultimately must fire a subordinate, you may have two pointed questions to answer: “Why has it taken you five years to discover my incompetence?” and “Why haven't you given me a fair chance to correct these shortcomings?” Remember that when you fire someone for incompetence, it means not only that the employee has failed, but also that you have failed.
  • Professional And Personal Considerations

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      A number of empirical studies of on-the-job excellence have clearly and repeatedly established that emotional competencies — communication, interpersonal skills, self-control, and so on — “play a far larger role in superior job performance than do cognitive abilities and technical expertise” (Goleman, p. 320). Yet most of the emphasis in the education and training of engineers is placed upon purely technical education.Notwithstanding some brilliant exceptions, intelligence, academic training, technical knowledge, and circumstantial expertise alone are not major determinants in the success or failure of engineers in the workplace. For the most part, engineers are or can quickly become adequately capable in these areas. If technically incapable, they almost certainly would have been discharged from the system, either by themselves or by others, long before they became employed engineers. Generally, such skills and traits as communication, confidence, group and interpersonal effectiveness, motivation, pride in accomplishments, adaptability, leadership potential, inquisitiveness, integrity, and emotional control are exhibited by the most successful employees, just as with the most successful among engineers.It should be obvious enough that a highly trained technical expert with a good character and personality is necessarily a better engineer and a great deal more valuable as an employee than a sociological freak or misfit with the same technical training. This is largely a consequence of the elementary observation that in a normal organization one cannot get very far in accomplishing anything worthwhile without the voluntary cooperation of one's associates; and the quantity and quality of such cooperation is determined by the “personality factor” as much as anything else. Added to this need for one-on-one cooperation are all sorts of “soft” characteristics from understanding contemporary society to following ethical behavior — all of which can add up to benefits for yourself and your employer far beyond ordinary technical contributions.
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      Be aware of the effect that your personal appearance has on others and, in turn, on you.Permissiveness and dress codes aside, your appearance probably has a far greater influence on how you are viewed by those around you than you could ever imagine. Bear this in mind when you define and present your workplace image. Three rules of thumb will serve you well in this regard.1. Look at how those in the positions to which you aspire are dressed and groomed, then follow their lead.2. Dress appropriately for the occasion, whatever it is, including everyday work. When in doubt, slightly overdressing is prudent; being noticeably underdressed, at least for most people most of the time, is unbearably uncomfortable.3. Conservative styles and colors in clothing as well as conservative grooming will never be wrong, at least in most engineering circles.
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      Maintain your employability as well as that of your subordinates.It is the rare engineer who has a single employer for a whole career, and employers understand this. So it follows that it is unreasonable to expect engineers to accept becoming useless to other potential employers, however invaluable they may have become to their current employer. If your skills and knowledge are valuable only to your current employer, you are in trouble. Sooner or later, for one reason or another, your employer will no longer be interested in buying those skills, and you will have no place else to sell them.Obsolescence is bad business for employers as well as employees. It is costly for employers to disposition the obsolete, and to hire or develop employees with the skills that the departed should have been developing all along. Therefore, for the benefit of your employer, you should also make this situation unequivocally clear to your subordinates, then you should do all you can to counsel and support them in this regard.
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