It is based on my experiences working in engineering
| Ethic's and Philosophy in Engineering
Jeanne J. Johnson
What does ethics have to do with Engineering? It is a philosophy that is needed to run a company efficiently and also keep the employees, share holders and customers happy. To strive for a better product that is cost effective and quality that continually improves.
The approach to relentlessly improving the value of a product for the customers and investors profits are elusive because of customer changes and investor preferences and by competition, new technology and many other economic, social, political and environmental factors. Therefore, the strive for competitive excellence is endless. Having a solid ethical and philosophical approach to a companies infrastructure is a strategy that a company can use to improve the products, focusing on the company processes and the people who run them. This involves all employees, leaders and associates, engineering, manufacturing, business and supporting processes that create and deliver the better products to the customer and therefore creates better profits for the investors.
The first thing that is noticed when working for a company that has a sound value system is that everything is in order, clean and efficient. First impressions are important when the company has visitors and a company wants to be impressive. When everything is clean, well marked, well light, organized and documented, you can then tell that people have a general sense of purpose and are friendly not only to guests but to each other.
That is a dream for those like myself that have worked for companies that are not well kept, dirty, not well documented and training is either not available, must be self paid for or learned from self through experience. People seem to be distracted, unhappy and and generally gloomy when working for a company that may say they have ethical values and value system, but they do not teach or actually implement the value system itself. Also trying to get information when trying to do your job was like pulling teeth at a place like this. No one seemed to want to help train or give up information on how to do the job when you first start. I suppose they did this because of job security, but to me is wasn't right ethically.
How can you work efficiently and at your best when you feel you have to hide everything? Or not being able to find any information about your job? It makes people nervous. Also many places do not promote education. They may hire people with the degree they are needing but they like to keep people in the place they feel is best for them. Not necessarily the best interest of the individual. One would wonder why a company would want to keep their business as is rather than look for new approaches to the way things are run.
Why not improve the manufacturing process and the quality of the product with engineering procedures that help to eliminate the problems before it comes to the customer? There are some engineering departments that are run by the seat of the pants rather than procedure and documentation. The places have files, but the procedures are vague and therefore it is impossible for someone to hire in and assume positions without years of self training and making mistakes. We used to call them shop calls. You learn by correcting problems after the fact. This causes animosity between engineering and the shop. The same problems are caused between sales and marketing and engineering. Engineering and the lab were affected and the most important thing that is affected is the customer because of delayed or incorrect product. This causes stress in the work environment. It also causes loss of business due to internal problem within the companies manufacturing process that causes problems with the product, therefore the customer looks elsewhere for what they are needing.
Why would engineers keep information secret? Why didn't they share their ideas and data that they collected with others in the department? Why didn't all the departments work together and try to solve these issues? I just didn't understand that. Working together to find solutions to keep a smooth flow of the manufacturing process could have stopped a lot of the shop calls and provided on time deliveries rather than late. Problems occurred and then product stopped in mid stream but there were no procedures or documented resources to refer to when trying to solve the problems. The same problems occurred over and over because everyone in the department had no way of knowing about what the other engineer had encountered, The only documentation was the number of shop calls you got every month and we were reprimanded for it. There was no teamwork to solve the issues. The basic ethical and moral fabric in the company was at fault not necessarily the individual.
Why not eliminate the unnecessary stresses so that the department is more productive and more efficient? Not only does that improve the engineering department, but affects what the shop is doing and therefore improves the product shipping out to the customers. That is why having a sound ethical value system at a company made sense to me. Using a structured value system and process guidelines that provide a more effective process that starts from the customer order and ends when the product is delivered. This made sense to me and I tried to voice my opinions. But on top of not listening I knew that they were ignoring me because I was a woman. Another problem that I have encountered at other companies. They say equal opportunities for minorities, like women, but they don't respect that. One of the managers did and he would listen and many times would allow me to speak when I was told to shut up by no other than my boss. He knew I was intelligent and I had legitimate solutions to issues within my department. I had many good ideas and they fell on deaf ears for the most part.
Moving on from discrimination which is a whole different situation that I don't want to elaborate on right now. Many engineering problems I have seen started with marketing and sales. Requiring many change orders to correct the order itself. Which included orders that were impossible to provide because sales sold something that was out of the engineering range of the product. Therefore a dissatisfied customer. This comes from the lack of communication between marketing, sales and the product specialists. I believe that training and education would have helped in this instance. They did have marketing sit in our department and watch us do our jobs, but you cannot make things work better without actually training them. There was no leadership and many times they would sit with people that just started working in the department. Not really knowing how to do the job yet so it didn't help them to learn or understand what we were doing. They hired people with history degrees to do marketing. That didn't make sense either. They should have had some engineering or technical skills. At least the company should have sent the new employees to school to help them train.
The problems within a companies system effects the whole organization. Once an order is made incorrect, the engineering is incorrect, the shop has problems with it, deadlines are missed and the customer is upset. The small problem grows like a snowball rolling down a mountain side. If a company adopts a good ethical and moral philosophy, incorporates that into providing a good work environment. Then adding a well organized manufacturing process the customer is happy, employees are happy, profits are made the the investors are happy. We spend a lot of of lives working and constructive happy work environments flow into peoples home life which is a key ideal for everyone.
Utilizing and supporting a good sound value system does have a lot of benefits because the employees are not as stressed, friendly and education is a factor in the way that the company is run. This gives a person a sense of value and a person who feels good about themselves preforms at a better level and at their potential. Having many training online programs and weekly live meetings to update employees about business and the philosophical and ethical strategies and performances are essential. It helps each department to relate to each other better which makes the manufacturing process run more smoothly. It also gives the employee a feeling of belonging to something bigger then the small cubicle that one may work in every day. Health of the workers, including mental health is important in performance of each individual. To have counselors really does help employees and we all have problems. If we look at it as something that has a crack in it like a pipe in the cooling system, its better to fix the problem before something breaks and it will make the system run that much better. A broken pipe means down time which is something we all want to avoid.
A company web site should include not only tools to do the job, procedures to follow but also access to online training and certifications, health sites including counseling, ads to promote volunteering in the community and stress education. What I found is ethical philosophies, once you start to utilize them at work, it becomes part of who you are at home and the outside world. I just don't understand why everyone that has a business has not adopted philosophies in their business and work ethics.
Having a sound philosophy and documented rules of conduct and job descriptions help provide the engineers with many well documented resources to help them in improving and finding problems and solutions within the system and the particular product that they are working on. It provides tools to trouble shoot, teams to help find problem areas and procedures to follow to implement corrective actions within the departments. It helps in understanding what you are suppose to do for your department. If you don't understand something that you are working on there will be information handy in helping you figure out what you need to do. Procedures that are well documented and lesson learned saved and utilized is very useful. Having the tools for implementing the procedures and having everything continually updated as new information is acquired is very important in keeping a process running smoothly.
For the shop some of the key start points are the visual status of the workplace. Using visual markings, controls and alerts extensively and appropriately. Keeping all shared item areas and tools well organized, labeled and easily available. Having tools that are necessary for each assembly area that are within reach and labeled as well as the components that are being assembled makes for a much more efficient and organized process. Keeping the workplace clean and well light helps not only the employee to do their job, but when visitors take tours it is much more impressive to see when things are neat and organized. This makes for a much better impression than a place that doesn't organize each working cell in the manufacturing areas. Keeping a daily, weekly and monthly checklists helps in maintaining the areas and helps in determining problem areas that can be worked on and improved. Many times employee input is important. Asking someone how they do their job and what would improve their abilities to perform, not only helps to determine problem areas, it makes the employee feel they are part of the process and their opinion counts. Very important because I have felt bad about management not listening to me.
There are steps that can be taken to improve and manage any operation or business process. These steps will increase customer satisfaction, control processes, minimize variation and meet customer requirements and value. The first thing is to form teams. The teams are used for each area that needs to be defined. An example would be forming a team to define problems in warranty and returned product area. Using many different types of employees is essential. This helps in the interaction between departments and gives them a common goal. This helps in the internal flow of the manufacturing plant in the long run. Anyway they would find the top three problem areas to work on first using warranty forms, customer and employee questionnaires and create charts such as Russo charts, Marciano, and Elephant charts. These charts are not only used to find the problem areas but to continually update data until the process or problem area is substantially reduced. After finding each problem area three more teams would be initiated to follow up and find the solution to the problem.
Brainstorming the causes of a problem often results in finding symptoms rather that the causes. Using the Fishbone diagram (cause-effect) graphically identifies and organizes many possible causes of a problem. Using this in the brainstorming session finds possible causes and symptoms, priorities them and by repeating asking why this is causing the problem at least five times helps in determining the actual cause. This way of determining what is causing a problem assumes that the problem is caused by a process and not by human error. Which is a better approach than pointing fingers. Which I have seen.
These type of processes help in the engineering group. Having clean, well marked and light areas to work in promotes a healthy environment. Having the employees work as a team to help in creating, maintaining and troubleshooting preliminary and current designs of the products. Having records and documents handy and organized and maintained also help in the design of products and help in finding new and better ways to produce a better product for the customer.
When a company makes data based decisions during the product, component, platform and system development are more likely to be defect free and meet market or customer requirements. Reviewing throughout the life cycle of a developing product ensures the quality and promotes customer satisfaction. Keeping documents and procedures on planning, how to handle sales orders, engineering deviations/ECO's helps in the engineering department to flow better in keeping things updated and correct. This not only helps when a product is ordered that is basically standard, but helps when designing the more special orders. Having engineering work as a team helps not only in the performance of the department it creates a healthy work environment that each individual feels a part of the whole. Less stress in a stressful job helps promote moral and when people are happy in what they do they are better able to think clearly and with guidelines to help solve issues gives them the tools they need to correct any problems that do occur. Shared documentation helps stop reoccurring shop calls with the use of lessons learned. A sound ethical value system that promotes employees to work together for a common goal essentially makes the customers happy and I have to include the share holders.
I hope that when I find a company to work that it also provides me with the feeling of accomplishment and that does not discriminate against me for being a woman and that will listen because sometimes there are good things that people can contribute if only someone will stop to listen.