Reverse Engineer Your Risks

Jeff Cloutier and Steve Noth, both experienced engineers and product managers at IHS Markit, share insights into risks impacting engineers.

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Editors Note: The following article is brought to you by IHS Markit in partnership with the Supply Chain Network.

Risk is ever-present. In the world of an engineer and new product development, risk takes on new meaning. With multiple stakeholders, tight project budgets, aggressive timelines and complex designs, the risk portfolio in the engineering environment is extensive. Once in the wild, a product’s risk profile transcends the corporate world into the customer base with millions of potential touch points. Consider Samsung’s exploding Galaxy Note 7 smartphone and Takata’s faulty airbag inflators that affected millions of customers.

And risk isn’t confined to just products. An engineer designing an oil and gas pipeline must meet performance and safety requirements while balancing costs. Regardless of industry, risk avoidance and mitigation must be engineered into products, processes and procedures.

How is this achieved? And what are the strategies to implement solutions? Jeff Cloutier and Steve Noth, both experienced engineers and product managers at IHS Markit, share insights into risks impacting engineers.

Q: What are some of the things that put innovative thinking at risk?

Driving innovation requires the time and resources to devote to the pursuit. Whether it is new product design or tactical problem solving, innovation requires the time to discover, brainstorm, discuss, experiment and test. There is a creative component that needs to be unleashed. This can sometimes be lost in the day-to-day pursuit of tactical objectives. Innovation takes different forms. While we all search for the next market disrupter, incremental innovation is a more reachable goal for most people. Looking for ways to incrementally improve existing products and processes through benchmarking and empowered discovery can bring amazing results.

Innovation, continuous improvement, and kaizen all require exposure to new inputs of information. Diverse, collaborative ideas coming together with external information and research to create new concepts and approaches are often needed for innovative breakthroughs. While extraordinary innovations can sometimes fall out of the sky, innovating consistently requires taking the time to understand problems and seek answers from new and unexpected sources. 

Q: How has design complexity impacted engineers’ approach?

The biggest impact of ongoing design complexity is the need for great collaboration among different subject experts. Complexity makes it increasingly difficult for any one individual to have deep expertise in all aspects of a design. Integration among software, hardware, electrical and mechanical through a systems approach is critical to a successful design. Interface, packaging and the regulatory environment further widen the requirements and the contributors. A technical team must have the ability to work individually and then quickly come together and exchange critical concepts and information. A team must have the people, the organization and the tools to work together toward common objectives. Such collaboration comes in many forms—live communication, remote meetings, documentation and coordinated activities. All are critical to the team successfully navigating the complexity.

Q: Describe strategies to successfully transition a project from development to sustainment.

As above, this speaks to the need for proper information transfer and effective collaboration. Technical teams are no longer self-contained units. To recruit the right expertise for success, teams often extend across the globe to include external supplier and contractor partners. This creates additional organizational and communication complexities across teams. Thus, it requires establishing clear team objectives at the beginning through sunsetting/decommissioning. Clearly documented and understood roles and responsibilities mitigate risk of confusion. The best results derive from every team member contributing their unique perspective and expertise.

Q: Describe strategies to overcome change management risk and ensure project success.

Change is inevitable; leading organizations embrace change as a continuous improvement tool. When changes are necessary, the best strategy is to quickly determine the desired end-state, assess the downstream impacts and intently plan. Document this information and put it in stakeholders’ hands so they can make necessary adaptations. The cost of change is always lowest when its implementation is well planned and organizational effects are well understood. Ongoing checks to identify requirements and gaps in the plan enable the team to foresee changes and implement course corrections.

Q: How can improved knowledge discovery reduce business risk?

The ability to access relevant information easily and fluidly across the technical organization separates the leaders from the laggards. But finding relevant and credible information in the ever-expanding data universe is a daunting challenge. Resources for such data must be comprehensive in scope, but also efficient and powerful in discovery and access. Because work teams are distributed across an organization, it’s unknown where the engineering challenges will occur and what resources will be needed. Enabling effective tools and processes across the entire team allow the right questions to get asked, timely data to be collected and the optimal solution developed.

Q: What are strategies for preventing overall project risk? 

Scope, schedule and cost risks continually challenge project teams. As the project builds, so does the risk impact. The best approach includes early knowledge discovery to promote risk avoidance and early risk realization. In many cases, related, critical information is available to those capable of navigating the quagmire of internal and external data repositories. Resolution often exists within previous challenges of a similar nature and their documented solutions. These answers can come from both inside the organization and from published solutions of other corporations. Companies that successfully tap into the vast reservoirs of internal and external information to quickly find answers often see a significant reduction in project risk.

Q: How does the “people factor” influence project schedule, quality, compliance and budget risk?

Project success and risk avoidance results from empowered people making timely and well-developed solutions. Teams that struggle with access to information or the bandwidth to appropriately collect data will see technical decisions with higher-than-expected risk. Frequently, engineers require more than 13 unique data sources to find answers to engineering challenges. And engineers often make technical decisions with incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate information due to the extensive nature of the process. Comprehensive knowledge discovery tools form a cornerstone to enable successful project execution.

Q: How can an engineering intelligence platform help?

Engineers need to access many different data sources to get information and then quickly share the information across an often-decentralized project team. In every situation discussed previously, an enabled knowledge discovery platform would help the technical workers expedite design goals and reduce project risk. An engineering intelligence platform, such as the Engineering Workbench from IHS Markit, mitigates organizational risk by exposing all potential answers to an engineering problem within a single platform, whether they reside inside or outside an organization’s firewall. Such engineering intelligence tools save time by concurrently querying multiple disparate sources, but also prevents missing a solution that has already been developed, and identifies any patents or regulations that may impact a design or solution.