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Engineering Design and goal setting practices

Engineering Design and goal setting practices

Engineering Design and goal setting practices

I suspect everyone has at some point been challenged to generate goals for themselves that are measurable and indisputably clear in definition.

Our HR dept is shifting away from qualitative assessments by managers and leaning much more heavily on these goals and therefore making employee performance (bonuses, salary increases, etc) based on them. In principle of course I support this. But reality does not follow principle.

An Engineering department in a small company is expected to perform a myriad of support tasks. Many of our most important functions are inherently immeasurable. So "answering technical questions" may rate very highly in terms of supporting customers, but when it happens for less than 2 hours per week, we're not going to have a system in place to measure it. Likewise, "being a team player" or "having a consistently positive outlook" are of high value, but how do we measure that? "Engineer customer orders more quickly" is fine except that the scope of a customer order varies widely and fair time forecasts don't exist.

My concern is that our goals will center on the things that are easily measurable. The other behaviors that aren't directly measurable will eventually be ignored. Over time this will pervert the support the organization really needs. Or we attempt to measure everything and find that many of the measurements are easily fooled.

Does anyone who's walked this road care to share their thoughts?

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

This is an area where setting goals can be bastardized by HR for the wrong reasons.
An example, a company decided to improve production by implementing statistical process control, here the normal idea is to measure whether the part being processed is oversized / undersized, how many and what to do about it, and what corrective should be taken. HR got involved in this, so the first data point taken was, how fast are the parts being produced, with prizes given for the greatest output. Needless to say the quality actually went down.

Your fears that things that are easily measured will be first are well founded. Defining how many parts an hour can be produced, is a lot easier than defining and designing an innovative product that will keep the company in business for the next 10 years.
Because of this clerk type mentality of most HR types, they cannot see this simple fact, so they will simply grab the low hanging fruit, to the detrement of those around them.

You are judged not by what you know, but by what you can do.

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

Thanks. I've noticed our HR rep has been a bit surprised by the level of detail we engineers have put into this type of thinking. And HR has been disappointed that this is so hard to do.

I guess the way I describe it is, engineering is the hard part that happens before you make a drawing. It's hard to measure, hard to appreciate, and hard to understand until you've done it.

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

If you select the measurable goals from 'long term' tasks that are not part of your normal workflow, but are things you think you should be working on, the incentive program provides an excuse to actually work on that stuff a little.

I got a couple thousand dollars for achieving two out of three stated goals one year.

The check came a few months after I had been laid off.

I had to call the A/P office to find out what the money was for; I had forgotten all about it.

Note that the company was, and still is, in a death spiral, and I'd accept existence of a monetary incentive program as an indicator thereof.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

I've always found these types of professional development programmes to be more suited/appealing to the bottom end of the scale in terms of employee competency. Those that effectively need some degree of external driving to continually steer them in the right direction.

I've worked for companies that promised all sorts of greatness for achieving set goals, but in reality it didn't matter, there was no magical reward at the end of it. I got to the point where I refused to do it because it was just a giant waste of my time.

When you are so busy you don't have 2 minutes to spare, a goal that was set for the purposes of having something to write down basically to tick off some HR requirements isn't something that improves your day to day work or workload when you are neck deep in the crap, so it goes by the wayside.

Early in my career I wanted to learn autocad as a goal, I was told no... Because it didn't align with the business plan. I went on to teach myself and it's been far more beneficial to me and my work than the likes of some flowery HR goals (it's been so long I cannot even remember them).

I once noted to my manager at the time to put $1000 against each item, and I would achieve all of them, otherwise I wasn't interested in playing the game.

If you are the self driven type, then I believe these types of programmes are less useful to you. You will get more personally out of just doing your own thing.

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

I've done this for over 20 years at three different companies and every year without fail I write "although relevant at the time of writing, the changing needs of the business have made this goal impractical to achieve. Engineer X has, however, contributed to project Y on a scale equal to or greater than the original goal"

I've worked with engineers that have also done nothing else except focus on achieving the assigned goals at the expense of 'doing the right thing'

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

IMHO another great theoretical idea that turns into a train wreck with dead bodies all over the place.

Again IMHO the reality of most US employers is that the management ranks are utterly unqualified to be managers and the work is too dynamic for long term planning. It takes a lot of effort to construct those goal statements that don't force you into a bad corner come review time. In my last wonderful corporate experience I set, and re-set, and mostly achieved (documented 90+% achievement rate), my goals NINE TIMES in 6 months based on Boss' direction. I got murdered on my performance evaluation: "does not meet expectations." So disgusted with the process I pursued a career change. You can't win in a game like this, and it takes so much effort to protect yourself against morons in Mgt & HR that one can't be effective in their job assignments.

Blue Technik LLC
Virtuoso Robotics Engineering

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

That brings up another important point about task/goal selection; achievement of the goal should NOT require any resources that you don't already have, and it should NOT require assistance of any kind from any other person.

... else Murphy, or your bureaucracy, will screw it all up.

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

So, as my managers would really like to know, has this ever worked for engineers? I must admit my latest balls aching horrible job of driving somebody else's passworded complex spreadsheet just typifies the sort of task that absorbs time and yet produces no useful output. So should I turn around to the team and say, nah, debugging excel vba isn't my job, or do I plug glumly onward?


Greg Locock

New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

Sorry Greg, I don't follow where you're going with that.

Each of us must absorb tasks that are wasteful and make no sense. If we're fortunate, they don't come from our own organization (which means they come from customers who have more money than understanding). But when the silliness affects my team of engineers, you can damn well bet I'm going to bat for them. For me it's about determining the strategy that minimizes harm and maximizes good to the team. This over-reliance on goal-setting has the capacity to do serious damage.

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

We do things that way. A couple of points.
We each only have 3 or 4 quantifiable goals, and in some years it has only been 2.
You need to break down the underlying thoughts behind questions. So the point isn't to deliver in 'x' days, but rather to meet the agreed upon deadlines. And set a tolerance.
I am working on a system to predict properties, I will have the prototype working by 30 June, and it will be accurate within 15%. I will then gather feedback from users and have a final version in place by 30 Aug that is accurate within 10%.
Pick a few things that can be measured, and make sure that they are things that you do well. They are asking you how you want to be graded so make it as easy on you as possible.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
P.E. Metallurgy, Plymouth Tube

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

In my current and former company, we had to set goals like this. In both cases I agreed with my boss that trying to describe my everyday job in terms of goals is a lost cause. I also had the problem of shifting business needs making goals moot. The workaroundwas and is to set goals in support stuff (learn to do X) or forget the SAMRt formula and have goals like Improve in skill Y (as judged subjectivly by boss).
Luckily, so far all my bosses where engineers who understood my job and didnt try to shoehorn it into SMART goals. In some cases writing the goals was less about what would be sensible and more about 'let's produce a statement that looks good to upper management/HR.'

I disagree with the advice to go looking for a new job. The new system will suck at first, then everyone will learn to game it or ignore it or work around it. As happens with every management system*. That someone in HR decided on more mangement by numbers happens and does not indicate the whole workplace will take a turn for the worse (unless there are signs we don't know about).

* Rule of the thumb: Some 'clever' management schemes are actually useful, many are not but the work gets done regardless because everyone learns how to cheat or work around them, the only one clueless is the manager who implemented them.

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

We used to have a little flexibility in setting goals, now we pretty much get told what they'll be and how they fit in with managements goals and it flows down. This saves time when setting the goals, but takes a bunch extra time at annual review when you have to try and explain how you didn't hit a single goal because the 'goal posts' got moved repeatedly through they year and variations there on. (See, creativity in engineering once again.)

We're also meant to have only a few goals, but this year mine would have been around 10 if I'd listed all the things I already knew about that management had forgotten and all the new stuff they'd come up with. Pared it down by merging a bunch of the stuff I knew about with their fluff.

So, the simple fact management is willing to spend significant time on this implies they are already making bad decisions and more will probably come. I read an article on LI a few weeks ago about how all these little tasks, processes, procedures... that 'only take a little time' and so everyone just works around them or fits them in eventually build up and snowball to the point productivity tanks. Generally I don't think much of these types of article but as this one coincided with my already held beliefs and experience I of course thought it was great.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices

Quote (geesamand)

engineering is the hard part that happens before you make a drawing

Wow! I'd print it and hang above my desk smile

"For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert"
Arthur C. Clarke Profiles of the future

RE: Engineering Design and goal setting practices


Quote (CheckerHater)

Quote (geesamand)

engineering is the hard part that happens before you make a drawing

Wow! I'd print it and hang above my desk smile

My ears must steam every time someone in the company says "I need a drawing ..." with no concept of a) whether we can design it or b) whether a design exists. Yes, you need a drawing. In order to make a drawing, we need a design, let's not forget that.

Back to the main topic, I learned today that our individual hard "goals" will comprise 40% of the annual review. The other 60% remains subjective. This balance is much better than what I was told verbally. For me, the fire alarms are off. But I will be monitoring it closely.


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