Concurrent Engineering/Communication Systems
Modes of Communication
Communication may be defined as the imparting or exchanging of information or news. There are many different ways that people can communicate with one another, these may be called modes of communication. Communication in general may be broken down into at least two lists: one being the means or mechanics of the exchange, the other being a classification of the scope of the exchange.
Means of Communication
- Body Language
Classifications in Communication
- Formality (importance, permanence)
- Depth (engagement, thought)
- Range (scope of coverage)
- Group size
- Time (for author and/or audience)
Just about every exchange between people can be classified by the lists above. For example, a meeting combines the means of verbal communication and body language with a sense of formality, covers specific material in moderate depth, and small group of people for a short amount of time. It is interesting to think about these different classification when you have something to say, and consider what the best way for you to express yourself in a given situation really is.
Technology puts a unique spin on the situation. For example, where you could write a letter, you could also send an email, text message, IM, or post to a web page. The technological tools available to us today give us the potential to communicate much more efficiently and effectively, but can also morph or impede your message, say by moving too fast or accumulating too much information. We should consider how the tools we employ really help and hinder what we are trying to do.
One of the primary ideas behind concurrent engineering is that of co-location. Co-locations simply means that everyone involved should be located in the same place. For example, NASA's Team-X designed a special room in which each person or discipline has a terminal. Each terminal contains the tools and resources necessary for performing their role. In this orientation, engineers from one field or station are always "in the know" about what those at the other stations are doing. This encourages communication of ideas and important details as soon as they are relevant, and helps discourage designers from taking the wrong path for too long.
The following is a list of questions that managers and engineers implementing a concurrent engineering system might want to consider:
Questions for one who wants to implement Concurrent Engineering (Management)
- Who needs to be co-located? Should this be physical or electronic? If electronic, what medium will be used?
- When do they need to be co-located? For how long? (is this permanent or will there be sessions?)
- Where will they be co-located? How will they be laid out?
- What tools will they need?
- What must be known before delving into the concurrent environment?
- What will be the result of the endeavor?
Questions for an engineer in the concurrent setting
- Who can I talk to who knows more about this?
- Who can I talk to who might refer me to who I need to talk to?
- In what way can I /should I contact this person? Should I make any particular preparations?
- Who should know about what I am doing / have done? How can I make this information readily available to them?
- How much time should I spend preparing (for) these communications?
- Am I responsible for this? If not, who is? Verify this with them.
Meetings v.s. Co-location
A good source of information on meetings is at Effective Meetings. This site offers quick advice on why, when, and how meetings should be held. A summary of some of the main points is as follows:
Meetings are for
- Making decisions relevant to a group
- Sharing information
Elements of a good meeting
- It must be necessary - make sure it is the best communication mode for the goal
- An agenda should be circulated to all participants before hand
- Participants should prepare - this can be preparing or reviewing material
- The goals of the meeting should be stated up front
- Meetings should be held during business hours
- The time schedule must be adhered to (this is respect for others' time)
- Attacks and blaming have no place
Co-location Instead of Meetings
One effect of co-location is that it should reduce the number of meetings that need to be held. Information is exchanged between the people who need it in real time, as they work. There is no need to specially prepare what you want to say, and you don't have to hear so many things you don't need to know.
Notes on Practical Application
Implementing co-location and concurrent engineering in general is very application specific. The system someone comes up with will ultimately be their own - I can't dictate what they will do and what will work for them. Instead, I present a list of relevant questions to stimulate the thoughts of the practitioner. Hopefully, these questions can act as a guide to keep one's mind concentrated on the areas that will help make their engineering venture a success. It should go without saying that for any given person, many or most of the questions may be trivial. Depending on the application there may only be a couple of resonating points. It should still be instructive for one to clearly define for themselves what these points are and make sure that they have not missed any.
- Define group dynamics
-Brief discussion of the field -Basic elemental model
- Personality Management in Engineering
-Leadership and Management- defined and discussed -Understanding personality -Tools such as MBTI and the real value they can possess -‘Command presence’
-Ability to anticipate
- Influences (Remember, leaders are made, not born)
-Where to get experience where it doesn’t count -Sports and other activities -‘War’ stories -Public speaking
Another powerful tool in the arsenal of concurrent engineering is the pooling of resources. This means making tools and information available to everyone involved, and giving them the authority to add to it.
This section outlines some basic tools that can greatly assist in the engineering design process. They will be divided into several categories; open source, small business, and enterprise. This is meant to distinguish between the how accessible the particular tool is from a financial standpoint.
Wikipedia has a great article at Collaborative Software
- Google Apps Suite
- Microsoft Office Suite
- PLM (Product Lifecycle Management)
- PDM (Product Data Management)