During my studies, a friend of my family asked what I was studying. They were quite surprised when I told them about mechanical engineering – because they replied, “But you’re so good with people!”
I was proud of my math and science skills and had to laugh at an engineering stereotype that didn’t require communication skills. When I think back, I remember all the different types of my career in which I have benefited from strong working relationships. And I can say that with confidence: Engineering and product development certainly have a human side.
Successful, satisfied product developers often interact with others
If we adopted the model of being secluded in the back of a cubic farm maze without human interaction, we would not find success in our design activities and provide effective solutions for customers. We would also deny the sense of accomplishment that comes from team effort and victories, and the growth that comes from tackling challenges together.
Design challenges often go beyond typically meeting schedules and matching widgets, including the complexity of technological constraints, struggling with software or hardware tools, and experiencing the joys of business travel and managing international suppliers and partners.
My engineering career was far from the stereotypical isolation of a technical introvert. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m passionate about mechanical pencils, calculators, spreadsheets, and dual monitors, but I don’t have a slide rule or pocket protector.
However, in a company like SGW Designworks, the product development process begins with leaders who deliver visions and prioritize efforts. They can form a team that includes qualified designers who can not only apply technical expertise, but also coordinate and collaborate on their efforts. An engineer can get a sense of accomplishment not only by solving challenging problems, but also by interacting with team members.
Similar to a sports team or a group of performers, the participants have strengths, weaknesses and individual methods, but through communication and building trust and awareness, teams compensate and deliver solutions that go far beyond what isolated individuals could achieve.
The importance of empathy and trust
One of my favorite aspects as a product developer is customer interaction. The ability to project is key to delivering solutions as we strive to understand the results we want and find solutions that a customer can look forward to and which in some cases may not even have been expected. It is important to have empathy for the customer so that we can analyze their situation and jointly define requirements to inspire the end user of the possible solution. (These are just a few examples of how we can improve human existence here at SGW Designworks.) I’m a gadget type and I really love finding creative ways to address the essential elements of a design. All the years playing with Legos, Tinker Toys and in the wood shop were really worth it!
As an engineer, I had the opportunity to represent my employer in working with partners, suppliers and contract manufacturers in the United States and several countries in Europe and Asia. I have been able to observe the nuances of human collaboration and explore best practices in building meaningful relationships to achieve great business results. I think it’s a big force to look for win-win opportunities in the business. Good partners can become an extension of the designer and take the initiative to fight battles before designers have to get involved. Building strong trust relationships with people can make a procurer or a contract manufacturer an ally in the company.
In one of my projects in China, a tool procurement specialist was brought in to support the program. He was relatively new and inexperienced, but ready and eager to learn. Over the years, he not only built his own technical expertise, but as we refined our working relationship, he got to know my priorities and preferences. He was able to answer or filter out many questions from the toolmaker without having to wait for time-consuming emails. His skills enabled him to drive solutions efficiently, to later share what he had said, and to ask me for confirmation of any additional information required.
Building deeper relationships
When we explore the human side of engineering and product development while interacting with others, we build relationships with people who are willing to speed things up when obstacles arise and occasionally endure discomfort because they know you are taking care of each other. My friend not only helped me drive technical matters, but was also my translator and travel guide. He took care of me and gave me the opportunity to experience and appreciate the local culture.
From a business perspective, I was blessed by his translating interactions on the assembly line. When employees are asked about the process – what they find challenging, what they like, what might make their work easier, the feedback helps the designer optimize the design, construction process, and assembly equipment.
Personally, my wife and I were happy to give his family a homemade baby blanket after the birth of their second son. I appreciate his friendship and I owe it to my career as an engineer.
Often, employees can develop a sense of loyalty – and even personal responsibility – when they realize that they are part of the solution and want to produce a product of consistently high quality. It is always a good idea for designers to create prototypes themselves so that they understand the advantages and disadvantages of a process. This leads to a much more relevant conversation with the production line. All of these benefits are enhanced by building strength in our personal interactions.
It is interesting to note that in addition to the manufacturer of the technical solutions and the end users, there are many customers of a product. There are designer employees from various disciplines who both deliver their results and receive our contributions. There are close interactions with business people who find that market needs need to be shared with designers and who also communicate the benefits of the ultimate solution. By providing well-designed components and processes to manufacturers, they become more efficient and productive in meeting your needs. Isolated design limits the ability to meet the needs of different customers. After all, it’s really just about people.
While we take precautions to maintain health during the current virus outbreak By refraining from gathering people for the common good, I appreciate the valuable relationships and strengths that come from these interactions, all the more. I look forward to overcoming this health crisis and the challenges it brings.
When I start a new position at SGW Designworks, I look forward to learning more about the strengths, skills, experiences and personalities of my new colleagues as we face new challenges to develop excellent solutions for our customers. It’s a great opportunity to expand the pool of valuable personal relationships I’ve built and nurtured over the years. I have already enjoyed what I have learned and shared, and it gives me the opportunity to celebrate the human side of technology and product development.
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