The HFS blog #2: Balancing Act

When you’re younger, you always have some kind of an idea of what being an engineer will be like. You imagine the creativity, the trial and error, the sheer joy of seeing a real life production of what you’ve designed.

I’ve realised that an engineer, particularly in a project like this, has to be a complete one-man band. I mean this in two ways:

  • Understanding the Product
  • Personal Organisation

1) Understanding the Product

In order to maximise the efficacy of your time spent on developing the product, you have to be constantly aware of all the variables. The more important the component or job, the more variables you have to control.

What strikes me about engineering compared to other, more one-dimensional professions is not possibility, but the necessity that you have a good understanding of a wide range of skills, in order to do your job to the highest level:

  • You need a grasp of finances, to gain a visual of how your decisions/time/budget factor into the entire project, and the changes you therefore have to make.
  • You need to understand how your product will be/should be marketed and presented to it’s given audience, and make adjustments based on your knowledge and research.
  • You need communication and management skills, no matter what your job description, otherwise nothing of use gets done in the needed time. Simple as.
  • You need (of course) a wealth of technical knowledge, including a lot of fundamentals which may not be in your given field or specialisation. Having that broad base is absolutely essential. As the industry evolves, more and more systems have to be developed much more in parallel, and intertwined with one another.

Being a one-trick pony is, simply, not an option. Given our team is only around 30 people, we simply don’t have the infrastructure to delegate very specific challenges to individuals, which is part of the challenge.

2) Personal Organisation

I’ve always personally had issues with organisation when it comes to work. Formula Student is the perfect situation to solve that, because I’m essentially doubling down, giving myself high expectations and tight deadlines. This is forcing me to adopt a four step “LPCE” process I’ll be repeating every day until the car is done.

  • List: Having a complete written To-Do list (TDL) of everything that needs to doing is something often overlooked. You won’t always remember all your tasks immediately. In an intense project like this one, you need to minimise the amount of extra legwork your brain has to do, and focus on the actual doing (see Execute). So make lists, no matter how small or specific, take the weight off.
  • Prioritise: If your mind tends to wonder like mine, you’ll have your TDL, but you’ll end up bouncing between the things you want to do, rather than what you should do. I just number my list in order of priority once it’s fully written out, then your focus is set for the immediate action.
  • Communicate: This is a team project. Tell people what you’re doing. Sure it might be cool to be the lone wolf, who mysteriously cracks through loads of work, but if you make any mistakes or implement unnecessary work, it’s a waste of everyone’s time, and likely to cause conflict. Update your colleagues & management on what you’re doing. It also gives them peace of mind that you’re on it.
  • Execute: This is the hardest one for me. You can have all the plans and cool flowcharts you want, but you’ve got to get on with it. The first four hours of working are more than twice as productive as any other time frame, so make full use of it.

A lot of this stuff is the kind of thing you never used to pay much attention to, but now that we’re part of a project this complex, the necessity of its implementation is there for all to see.

It’s a steep learning curve, and any issues have to be resolved at this stage rather than 6 months down the line.

Of course, another massive factor in productivity is motivation, I think I’ll talk about that next week, feel free to ask questions in the meantime, I’ve got another TDL to write……

J.L.

Obligatory Disclaimer: All opinions are my own.

 

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