The Importance of an Engineering Work Ethic (.PDF Download)

July 27, 2017
The Importance of an Engineering Work Ethic (.PDF Download)

Monitoring and measuring how engineers spent their work day was considered normal and to be expected during the 20th century. Time studies were numerous. In the 1990s, the relationship between corporations and workers began to change. Cell phones had become widespread, email replaced faxing, internet availability was accelerating, and the growth of globalization necessitated work in multiple time zones—from home as required. Reciprocally, employees had become empowered with personal systems and no longer needed to be hesitant to use company systems for personal items during the work day. If an employer was asking for time “after hours,” then it was only fair for the employee to have more flexibility during “work hours.” And, here we are.

Historical Engineering Productivity: Booz-Allen, A. T. Kearney, and Arthur D. Little were famous among Methods Time Measurement (MTM) and time studies companies (see figure below). Their industrial engineers would invade a company and several months later a fairly exact time analysis report gave management X-ray vision into what was happening in individual departments and in aggregate. Knowing their department would be measured at some point helped “employee hygiene” to stay focused on the activities companies expected of them. The specificity also enabled good two-way capacity management. Employees used management’s own figures to successfully push back on overloading and resource availability.

Report after report showed that engineers’ “actual productive time spent” to invent, innovate, improve, or produce the outputs expected of them or their department was 35% to 40% of the work day. At street level, if an engineer was juggling three projects, each project received 10% to12% of an engineer’s time each day to create for the project.

Changing Engineering Productivity: In the 1990s the penetration of automated engineering tools went from 10% for 3D Solids Modeling and EDA to near 90%. Just about all of an engineer’s productive work was now on computers. It was much harder for management and time specialists to measure and track an engineer’s time. Analysts would look at the mainframe and server logs to assess time allocation and activity levels (see figure below). For a few years, the MTM analysts tried peering over the shoulder of engineers to get more detail. After a number of complaints, management realized it had to find another way. The choices were few, however.

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