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This Time…or All the Time? September 28, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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When giving or receiving instructions, it’s important to distinguish “rules” from special circumstances.  Engineering is loaded with rules-of-thumb, shortcuts, assumptions, and yes, a few guesses.  “Safety Factor” is just a fancy euphemism for “fudge factor”.  Throughout the design process, especially when training or mentoring younger engineers, it is critical to fully explain when a task is to be done all the time or whether it is being applied for this special case (and other special cases like it).

This scenario arises whenever different clients may require different approaches to the same system, different regulatory agencies calculate thresholds differently, or even when a particular design is undertaken by more than one engineer.  It is easy for a PM to ask, “Who taught you to do it this way,” when in reality, personal preference may be overriding the real design criteria.

The other side of the coin is that when learning a new procedure or design process, make sure you understand whether this is something that will be expected every time, some of the time, or only when specifically instructed again.  Know what assumptions went into the final decision and expect that there will be limitations to any “universal” rule-of-thumb.  There are always special cases.

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