The dangers of external pressures

Engineers must resist the pressure to cut corners in the race to market writes our anonymous blogger

Here at Sleepy Hollow Electronics things are, generally, pretty laid back. As with most places though, sometimes the boss gets a bit twitchy about something in particular and puts the pressure on to get it out of the door quickly. Thankfully its never to the point of releasing something that really isn’t ready but even so, at times, it requires heels to be dug firmly in.

I cannot help but wonder then what sort of conversations went on behind closed doors for certain European hatchbacks to be released

Likewise when it comes to trying to meet difficult specifications, sometimes you have to be very creative. Having said that, I cannot recall any occasion from my whole career where I have been part of a project released under false claims, or that has randomly burst into flames once out in the wider world.

I cannot help but wonder then what sort of conversations went on behind closed doors for certain European hatchbacks to be released, having been deliberately designed to disguise a failure to reach a spec. Or those that have resulted in having whizz-bang mobile telephones that have too little “whizz” and too much “bang.” Does it come from a culture that sets impossibly high requirements and punishes a failure to meet them? Is there an air of desperation coupled to a lack of innate responsibility, a case of “I’ll suggest something, tell them it doesn’t really work and leave it up to others to make the decision?” Perhaps there is even, at some level, an element of “everyone else does it so I will.” Have the chancers and spivs taken over industry without my having noticed? Whatever the reason it cannot be healthy.

My assumption is that consumer pressure lies at the heart of it, either through a higher expectation held by the end user or a corporate belief that in order to gain sales the specification for a new product has to verge on the ludicrous. As engineers though, surely we should be empowered to be able to point out the follies of this system where it is apparent? Certainly where such pressures lead to danger or illegal activities.

I know it’s very easy to sit at a keyboard and type this but difficult to stand by such principles when your livelihood may be at stake – but then these are not small things. I hope that, with the high profile cases alluded to, there will be a sea change underway with regard to the way that the larger manufacturing companies view their product strategy. The cost of so public a failure once out in the market would surely pay for an awful lot more design and development?

I personally am a great believer in the written word with regard to matters where decisions are made against my advice. The e-mail in particular is a great tool for this and many a time I’ve sent something along the lines of “Further to our conversation I would like to confirm….” The point isn’t so much that my objections are in writing if it all goes wrong but rather that the recipient then has to make a conscious decision whether to proceed with their original plan. Glib statements and bringing pressure to bear during an animated conversation is one thing, reading and then choosing to ignore concerns another.