General Engineering Introduction/Communication
Communication is critical within a team. When someone sends initiates communication with you, reward them with a reply. If they send a text, text back. If they send you an email, email back. If they leave a message, phone them. Not doing so is bad.
The role of the instructor is that of project manager. The role of the student is engineer. In addition there could be clients (people asking for the project to be done) and customers (people who will be using the results of the project). Communication with clients and customers must involve the project manager (instructor).
- 1 Project Management
- 2 Project Weekly Cycle
- 3 Weekly communication Cycle
- 4 Initial Communication
- 5 Peer Review
- 6 Problem Statement
- 7 Tasking
- 8 Team Dynamics
- 9 BrainStorming
An engineer (student) communicates primarily with teammates. The team communicates with the project manager (instructor) about:
- latest problem description/tasking
Project Weekly Cycle
The typical weekly cycle of a project consists of splitting up and doing different things, or splitting up and doing the same thing independently. Over the weekend, everyone should work on the project alone, then edit their own wiki pages. At the beginning of the week, then the team summaries the previous weeks work in the narriative and summary of the team page. Then the team decides what to do next and presents their plan.
Weekly communication Cycle
This the weekly communication cycle of a project team:
- Peer Review
- Problem Statement Revision (team with instructor)
- Tasking (team with instructor)
- Writing in notebook (individual)
- Electronic documentation (individual)
- Working on CDIO pages
The instructor will typically choose email to initially communicate with you. The goal is to use email accounts that are going to last well into the future. Learn to use the reply to all, learn to use the CC and BCC fields of email to send one message to multiple people.
The instructor will also choose another form of communication to do project work within. This could be the college's LMS, it could be FaceBook, it could be google+ circle, it could be a wiki discussion. See the instructor's syllabus for details on the technology and frequency of communication expected.
Individual work should be formally reviewed by team mates. Learn to be positive, criticize constructively, and turn disasters into success. If a student doesn't do any work, communicate with them. Express your concern. Ask what you can do for them. Then communicate with your instructor if nothing happens and you are concerned.
Most schools have a system of support services that kick in when students stop participating. Most of these services are ineffective if team mates don't worry about each other. The person with problems most often seeks help too late. It is up to team mates to trigger these services. Team mates that disappear or don't do any work can be kicked off the team. Without peer review, without communication with your instructor, problems increase.
The problem statement is a contract between the team and client (instructor). When it looks like the project can not be completed as originally envisioned, then the problem statement needs to be revised. The revision needs the approval of the instructor.
The most difficult part of this course is choosing a task. Each student must have a specific task unique and different from teammates each week. This task must be doable. The task can consume 15 minutes or 40 hours of time. The assessment process can track these differences.
The task can result in massive amount of notebook writing and minor updates of wiki page tutorials. The task can result in lots of wiki page creation and no notebook writing. Or the task could result in a blend of both. The assessment process can track these differences and reward both activities.
It is important for individuals and the instructor to know what the problem statement revision and the tasks are for each week.
It is dangerous to ask the instructor to tell you want to do. It is dangerous to ask the instructor to list off 15 things to do that you can pick from. Engineering starts when the team proposes tasks and lists of things to be done to the instructor. Asking the instructor to make this list will result in a loss of engineering respect.
Working together is a bad idea in most cases. Face to face time is for negotiation, for rapid back and forth communication, for compromising, for recording disagreements, and for consensus. Class time should be used for this. Getting together outside of scheduled class time is almost always a disaster. Someone doesn't show up and hard feelings start growing.
Only when it is dangerous to work alone, only when more than two hands are needed is working together necessary.
Check each other's Work
Checking someone's work is not peering over someone's shoulder while they are working at watching. Checking someone's work is correcting english, shrinking the text of a CDIO document, after a team mate is done with it.
Checking each other's work is not:
- peering over someone's shoulder while they are physically doing something and watching
- comparing opinions, watching youtube videos together or sending random clips to each other
Talking to each other to early harmonizes opinions, reduces creativity, and enables bullies. Concentrate on questions, collect opinions non-verbally, organize them and then discuss each. Don't make conversations a contest of will, loudest, "best" opinions.
The easiest way during a presentation to loose respect is to show a single solution or design. Someone will ask, “Did you consider any others?” You answer “No” and try to go with the presentation. They ask “Why did you pick this one?” You answer “It seemed the best.” You They ask “Why is it the best?” You've lost respect. You say "There wasn't time." They ask "What was more important?" Be prepared to talk about priority decisions. Show that the decision "There wasn't time" was debated and that spending more time here was considered .. or loose respect.
Compare top 10 lists
Engineering is putting together top 10 lists independently and then comparing. Or Engineering is one person putting together a random list and then everyone on the team voting. There has to be some process that for better or worse can be described. The decision making process can be criticized without loosing respect. It is only when there is no decision making process that respect is lost.
Tell the Atoms What to do
Wandering around a junk pile together searching for different pieces of wood that might work is not engineering. Drawing what piece of wood is wanted, comparing drawings, picking one as a team and then sending one person in search of the piece of wood is engineering.
Drawing a picture of the cardboard boat is engineering. Letting the existing seams and dimensions of the cardboard determine the boats structure is pure art, not engineering. Imposing a design upon the card board is engineering.
Focus on the Problem Statement
The problem statement is the raw material from which the tasks spring. Most of the time team members split up the obvious tasks. Any engineer can tell you that multiple people can easily cripple a project. This is why many like to work alone. But this leads to crafting, not engineering. The modern world requires people to work together more and more.
Team Cohesion is very important. Expect tension. Working through this tension is the single most important objective of this course. Do not record emotions in your engineering notebook. Record facts. Read the sections below. If none of these speak to your issues, read or scan this wikibook called Managing Groups and Teams. Start a discussion with it's ideas and language.
Praise is something that needs to be served like food in a restaurant. It takes planning, forethought and humility. There is an art to praise. For example you watch somebody perform. Afterwards you meet the person and say politely "I really liked what you did." This is not praise. It implies judgement. You were measuring against some standard. The performer is not inspired, but suffers through the violence civility often requires. But suppose you said instead, "Your performance reminding me of how my wife looked at me just before she gave birth to our second child." Or you say "When you hit the fast loud section, I could feel my fingers trying to play the cello again. You have inspired me to go back and play it in a different way. Thanks." Tell a story that reveals a little about yourself and how what they did moved you.
Always negotiate something for yourself to do personally each week with your instructor. Give the person who disappeared tasks in the project's wiki pages. Reflect the disappearance immediately on their weekly report, on wikiversity, in discuss page, in their user space. If they don't respond, then assume they have dropped out and reorganize the tasks of the project. Let the student support services of your college do their job. Don't for a moment think that you did something to upset them that caused them to run away from class, waste money and potentially ruin their opportunity to become an engineer. Most of the time, some part of their own life has fallen apart. Don't assume it has something to do with you.
Establish some ground rules that everyone can live with.
Slackers were identified as the number one problem by the NSF in the US when introduction to engineering courses were created between 1995 and 2000. But cave dwellers can be just as difficult. Don't start bad habits in this course.
The first real decision of a team is the most difficult. Brainstorming can result in upset people. Read this first.
The first state of team development is forming. In this stage, typical dialogue may consist of the following: "Nice to meet you. Yeah, I'm not sure why we are here either. I'm afraid this might be a lot of work." In the formation stage, team members get acquainted with one another, and choose a leader. Team members begin to learn of one another's personalities, abilities, and talents, but also of one another's weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. Individual team members are typically shy, reserved, self-conscious, and uncertain. A key role of the leader in this stage is to lead team ice-breaker activities, facilitate discussion, and encourage everyone to speak while quieting some who might tend to dominate the conversation. Another role of the leader is to help the team begin to focus on the task at hand.
Try this first: Generate as many ideas as possible. Record all the ideas. Continue gathering ideas until the group is exhausted. Discuss and clarify each idea on the list until you identify the most promising idea or strategy.
Try this for more serious projects. Each person writes down quietly, in rapid succession as many ideas or solutions as possible. Do not worry if ideas are too trivial, ridiculous, pie in the sky, radical, impossible. Then everyone takes a break, talks about something not related to the project. After this time out, the process is repeated.
Then the leader calls upon all members of the group to read his or her ideas. Others write down "trigger ideas" in separate place on their piece of paper as they listen to the ideas presented.
After the trigger phase, then the leader organizes all the ideas into categories with the class participating.
In this stage, typical dialogue (for private thoughts) may consist of the following: "Do I have to work with this team? What did I do to deserve this? There clearly aren't any super-hero's on this team, including that dizzy leader. How are we supposed to solve this messy problem?" During the brainstorming stage, the enormity and complexity of the task begins to sink in, possibly sobering and discouraging the participants. "We are suppose to do what? By when?" Teams are rarely formed to solve easy problems, only very difficult and complex ones. Typically, time schedules are unrealistically short, and budgets are inadequate. Further complicating the issue, teammates have learned enough about their fellow team members to know that there are no super-heroes, no saviors they can count on to do it all. (One person doing all the work is a team failure.) Some team members may not initially "hit it off" well with the others. Cliques or factions may emerge within the team, pitted against other. Since the leader's weakness (all leaders have weaknesses) are by now apparent, some individuals or factions may vie for leadership of the team. Though possibly under siege, the leader's role is critical during the storming stage. The leader must help the team to focus on its collective strengths, not its weaknesses, and to direct their energies toward the task. To be a successful team, it is not necessary for team members to like one another or to be friends. Tension can be very productive. A professional knows how to work productively with individuals with widely differing backgrounds and personalities. Everyone must learn the art of constructive dialogue and compromise.
The third stage of team development is norming. In this stage, typical dialogue (for private thoughts) may consist of the following: "You know, I think we can do it. True there are no super-heroes, not by a long shot, but once we stopped fighting and started listening to one another, we discovered that these folks have some good ideas. Now if we can just pull these together ..." "Norms" are shared expectations or rules of conduct. All groups have some kinds of norms, though many times unstated. Do you recall a time you joined a group or team and felt subtle influence to act, dress, look, speak, or work in a particular way? The more a team works together, the more they tend to converge toward some common perspectives and behaviors. During the norming stage, team members begin to accept one another instead of complaining and competing. Rather than focusing on weaknesses and personality differences, they acknowledge and utilize one another's strengths. Individual team members find their place in the group and do their part. instead of directing energies toward fighting itself, the team directs its collective energy toward the task. The key to this shift of focus is a collective decision to behave in a professional way, to agree upon and adhere to norms. Possible norms include working cooperatively as a team rather than individually, agreeing on the level of effort expected of everyone, conducting effective discussions and meetings, making effective decisions, and learning to criticize one another's ideas without attacking the person. One commanded norm is that all team members are expected to be at all meetings, or communicate clearly in the event that they can't attend. During the norming stage, feelings of closeness, interdependence, unity, and cooperation develop among the team. The primary role of the leader during the norming phase is to facilitate the cohesion process. Some team members will lag behind the team core in embracing norms. The leader and others on the team (at this stage leadership is beginning to emerge from others on the team as well) must artfully nudge individuals along toward group accountability and a task focus.
The fourth stage of team development is performing. In this stage, typical dialogue (or private thoughts) may consist of the following: "This is a fun team. We still have a long way to go, but we have a great plan. Everyone is pulling together and working hard. No super-heroes, but we're a super team." In this stage, teams accomplish a great deal. They have a clear shared vision. Responsibilities are distributed. Individual team members accept and execute their specific tasks in accordance to the planned schedule. They are individually committed, and hold one another accountable. On the other hand, there is also a blurring of roles. Team members "pitch in" to help one another, doing whatever it takes for the team to be successful. In a performing team, so many team members have taken such significant responsibility for the team's success that the spotlight is rarely on a single leader anymore. Typically, whoever initially led the team is almost indistinguishable from the rest of the team.
The fifth and final stage of team development is adjourning. Because teams are typically assembled for a specific purpose or project, there is a definite time when the team is disbanded -- when that goal is accomplished. If the team was successful, there is a definite feeling of accomplishment, a buzz, even euphoria, by the team members. On the other hand, an under-performing team will typically feel anger or disappointment upon adjournment.