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AV Design Balance.jpg

Let's touch bases with Alan Mulally's quip about visibility again.  "You can't manage a secret."  Well, there is a close corollary in the challenge of engineering integration.  And this brings us to another way of looking at the nature of the aerospace engineering.  


In this view it is a process of complex systems integration.  That's what we do.

In order to integrate systems, everything that is known about them has to be on the table and visible to one and all.  This poses a fundamental challenge and question right at the outset for every discipline involved.  Is the way we have been building our thing and delivering our functionality to the final product going to work this time around, or do we need to go green field?

When all is said and done, the finished air vehicle has to perform the mission needs of the customer.  The number one adversary that will fight against completing the design and getting it built such that the customer is more than a little satisfied is not to be found in the details of the technology.  Rather, it is within each member of the team.  It is the enemy within.


Pride, hubris, self certainty, and a lack of humility are among the primary challenges which must be overcome.  It's a tricky balance. Even the most experienced will tell you that it is a constant challenge.  Engage and participate with all of your energy.  Share all that you think you know, and yet be open to the possibility that it just might not work this time around.  As the Marines would say, one has to improvise, adapt and overcome, and do so as a part of the team.  For the team to be able to do that, everyone has to know what we are thinking.  This is hard, especially for the typical engineering personality.

Engineers tend to be a cautious lot, and often a bit introverted.  A study of electrical and computing engineering students at Tufts University using a form of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test found that 41% of the students mapped into the ISTJ category and another 17% mapped into some variation that included "I" which is short for introverted.  Full disclosure, I'm an odd duck in this lot.  I've taken the MBTI at least three times spread over many years and consistently been rated as  ENTX.  X is the rare occurrence when one's score in one of the four test sections is evenly spit between the two categories.  ENTJ accounted for 12.50% of the results in the Tufts study, and ENTP another 1.56%.  Thus, membership in the overall group of technically inclined people is consistent for me, just not in a very common version of the 12 out of 16 represented types. 


But back on point, which is that engineers and technical people need to help each other to constantly share with their teams what it is many of us see and know.  This thing within many of us that the MBTI labels "introverted" is, as you will see, a label which I think is a bit off the mark.  But, regardless of the label, there is clearly a personality or behavioral challenge that presents at least a small obstacle to our level of engagement that is required of us to do our work and meet our scheduled delivery commitments.  However we describe these common attributes, for those of us who are drawn to spend working lives in technical fields, our teaming culture must include a good level of support and empathy.

An additional observation which can be made regarding this aspect of the cultural challenges is that for many of us, our natural tendency toward what others like to describe as being introverted is frequently paired with what the MTBI language describes as judging (J) versus perceiving (P).  I really do not like this choice of terms.  At best, they are misleading.  One is tempted to think that Isabel Briggs Myers must have been an ENFP, with no real understanding of the technically inclined at all.


Logic and disciplined mathematical and scientific reasoning lead to equations and conclusions.  Of course, they are subject to change when new data appears, but the comfort zone is to always have a framework that is active.  As any engineer would put it: maintaining some sense of structure just makes sense.  I would call this something like structured thinking or R for Rational as opposed to J for Judgmental.  Whatever.  It is what it is and we are not going to get the psych folks to change their terminology.  Whatever we call it, there are some behaviors that we need to work on in technical meetings. 


The thing that is important for us, is what we do together.  What tends to happen in any complex systems integration meeting activity, is that most of the people in the room will be quietly trying to figure out how their thing fits into the whole.  This is fine.  Everyone needs to do this, but we also need to share our thought processes.  And the more efficiently we do this, the more quickly the team is going to figure out whatever it is that needs to get done.

So, just as Alan Mulally described the challenge in the management and visibility process with the words "you can't manage a secret;" in the process of a team performing a complex systems integration task, we cannot integrate things that are not known to the rest of the team.  Sharing early and sharing often is a critical part of the process.

Fluid, and highly communicative engagement is hard work.  It can be very stressful for all involved.  The phrase I like to use to describe it is blunt honesty, but it is obviously much more than that.  However we describe it, it is a critical necessity.  It is ok that occasionally tempers flare.  But, we must not take these stress releases personally.  It is a natural part of the process.  Just one thing though.  If you need to vent, try to be kind while doing it.  Then let it go and get on with the task at hand, which is to come up with something that will support the customer's mission, and do it well.  This kind of work requires a whole lot of empathy, and at times a thick skin.  This is true for everyone on the team.  And I still need to get better at following my own advice.

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