Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The curse of the 'Engineering Project Manager'

I heard this very moving report on the radio this morning - it concerns a fatal Nimrod crash in Afghanistan in 2006 and lays the blame at the engineering procedures for maintaining the aircraft.
I can see exactly how this happens - engineering managers who describe themselves as 'facilitators' - to whom everything is a hand-off to someone else and who won't be doing any of the design/build/test work themselves nor will they have any responsibility for the system once it's in and working. I always felt when I ran engineering in facilities that there was immense worth in the people who would be operating and looking after a system having a say (or complete involvement in) it's design and build. In effect me and my engineers owned the systems we devised.
I quite like LinkedIn - it's a Facebook for the over-40s! Anyway on your profile you can solicit recommendations from people who you've worked with in the past and these get displayed as part of your resume.
Now then, a few years ago I was sitting on two job offers - root6 (the one I took) and chief engineer at a rather large facility that was pioneering a tapeless workflow for their major client (a big international broadcaster). A ex-colleague was the caretaker engineer and a couple of days after what I thought was an excellent interview (secured me an offer) he called and warned me about what was essentially a poisoned-chalice. Their 'systems architect' had lumbered them with a build that missed one tape in six and took many times longer than realtime to transfer clips from the backup system to the editing SAN. Those two facts alone killed their workflow and for a year they were the biggest hirers of VTRs (on trestle tables!) in London. He hadn't seen all the pieces working together in demonstration and had taken the manufacturers' words for it - suffice to say they were all pointing at each other! Over the next two years they made it all work but it wasn't a happy ride for the facility or the client.
Anyway - I found a recommendation for this chap on LinkedIn - about what a bang-up engineering architect he was and delivered ahead of time/below budget etc etc. I just goes to show - don't believe anything you read on the internet and don't trust engineers who don't own the system they are delivering.

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