Thursday, 02 October 2014
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Unreasonable expectations?

Amalgamated Products Limited, where I reside as “design engineer of this parish” has been undergoing a gradual change over the past 4 years or so. That there was need for change is undeniable. A long established and noble company, it has to be said that “staid” and “unadventurous” could have possibly been applied to a sizeable percentage of the staff. Our Widgets and Superwidgets, of which we have long been justifiably proud, were still peerless but were we to move forwards then it was obvious that “something had to be done.”

Therefore the Grand Poobah of APL decreed that we would remould ourselves as a bright and shiny company staffed by bright and shiny people all the better to produce bright and shiny Widgets. To be fair, not only do I think this was entirely the right approach but also that on the whole it has been rather successful.

However there is, I feel, something of a negative side that is starting to tarnish the whole experience. We all acknowledge the need to work hard to maintain our place in the world. Long gone are boozy lunches down the pub and playing cricket in the corridor, although I freely admit these may only have existed as stereotyped fables of years gone by.

Just how sustainable is the level of work being asked of us though and is there a detrimental aspect? Our customers won’t see any problems, we shall make sure of that, but the extra stress is affecting us and how we work. Fuses are becoming short and camaraderie strained. If the super-tight timescale project were a “one off” then you would battle through and re-energise yourself afterwards but it is becoming increasingly clear that this has now been accepted by those higher up the food chain as the new “norm.”

I would suggest that the key questions are: “are the new expectations reasonable” and “are they advantageous?” I suspect there’s a 10,000+ word essay in arguing about it from a “hippy quality of life” versus “hard nosed capitalist” point of view but I shall just limit myself to the following observation - working hard and showing commitment are a given in today’s world but should we temper that with our specific national areas of expertise as well? Other countries have the cheap-yet-skilled-work-until-you-drop workforce market sewn up.

Surely our advantage lies within the novel and ingenious, activities that require time and experimentation? Rather than looking to play other people’s games should we not pursue our own instead?


Readers' comments (3)

  • It took 9 years to go from an announcement of an intent to put a man on the moon, to actually achieving it.


    Today, the engineers at NASA couldn't do it. Despite all the technological advances in the last 50 years, they probably couldn't do it in 20.

    Things take a long time now. We need to do things quicker. Like in the old days.

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  • A massive budget inflated by Cold War rivalry probably helped.

  • I used to work with a company for whom long-range planning was 'what shall we do after lunch!' Like so many, they got themselves in such a mess by failing to plan anything that they had to do all development instantaneously -with the inevitable problems that such an approach invites. Selling (I did not say marketing!) the first-off to a customer on the other side of the world (not one round the corner) was another problem.

    I was interested in the comment about the Apollo project as one of my neighbours in Philadelphia in the late 60s worked for Boeing on parts for that 'rocket' and jokingly opined that had all the paper generated by the project (in aerospace to move a nut and bolt from one side of a hanger to the other requires a paper trail) been stacked-up the astronauts could have walked to the moon! But that project, as the editor said -an unlimited budget and deep concern that 'they' [those Commie bas**rds] had shown that they were well ahead technically with the 1957 launch of Sputnik- did enhance the status of Engineers (home-educated and imported) in the USA. I look forward to the next such impetus helping my grandsons to gain proper recognition for being Engineers.
    best
    Mike B

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  • I can’t agree less with the idea that being novel and ingenious means that everything should take a long time, and that short timescales are simply driven by demanding and unfeeling bosses.
    Tight timescales are usually driven by competition with other manufacturers, who will take the best market position if they get there first. In the space race it was competition between the Americans and the Russians and in wartime it is competition with the enemy, but the principle is exactly the same.
    It is unreasonable to expect people to work extraordinary hours on a regular basis, but talk of ‘boozy lunches and cricket in the corridor’ smacks of wanting a very cushy life indeed. The reality of the modern world is that you either compete or you go under. The industries in the UK who are successful today have, in many cases, learned that the hard way that time to market is often the key to survival.

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