Friday, January 29, 2010


Managers of engineers are forever vigilant to prevent engineers from spending too much time on "science projects" in which more analysis and more than adequate tools are used than the need justifies. Problem is, they only have themselves to check themselves and they are men (though a different sort, many times) like their engineers. The result is, they go berserk with more tools and analysis than the problem justifies.

In some offices, engineers are spending all their time assessing and documenting their own poor performance on the job they didn't do because they were busy assessing and documenting their poor performance. When not assessing and documenting, they are documenting and seeking signatures of approval of a plan for their project that they cannot start on until all signatures are obtained. They are compelled to do it by management, who claim to believe it should make the project go faster and seamlessly, while any idiot knows that true inspiration for what to do comes only after one gets started. So the planning intended to prevent screw-ups takes longer to accomplish than the project (including screw-ups) itself. This mostly occurs when there are more managers than are needed, so they institute programs that can show on paper that they accomplished something. Otherwise, they get demoted. So inefficiency grows and professionals spend more and more time at the office. Can you say "Six-Sigma"?

Like a powerful finite element program, Six-Sigma has its place but can be overkill. Managers have been "playing around" with their tools too much in some offices and at the same time admonishing their engineers to "just make it bigger - never mind all those equations."

The reason engineers tend to overkill is that it is fun to get fancy and use the knowledge that they worked so hard to obtain. Managers are no different. Of course, not all engineers nor all managers are like that. But there are enough who are to make a problem in management where there is no one to rein them in. Normally, the Customer serves as the management check, but things are not always normal, especially when the Customer is the government, or indirectly, the taxpayer.


One popular self-image in America is that of World Protector. "Our role in the world is to sacrifice the lives of our young men to defend all from tyranny in the world." Some seem to relish that role, even when their own sons have not been lost. I see the moral sense in it, but find it ironic that while we "freed the Iraqis," the French, etc., and passionately decry Hitler to this day, we put on blinders to the atrocities in North Korea that exceed those committed by Hitler & Co. We are no different than Hitler's German general public that "didn't seem to know what was going on with the Jews."

There is a reason for this, I'm sure. I don't know what it is, so I don't know whether it is a good reason. Anyway, there it is. You don't need to know the reason to see the irony.


Do I need to go into detail on how many Americans these days think black is white and other times it is black and if the compass says your train is traveling West it is actually traveling East when it comes to Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion? If so, I'll edit this as time goes on.