Discussion Thread

  • 1.  When to Know how to Send Projects out the Door

    Posted 08-27-2019 10:39 AM
    I recently received an interesting article in my email and I thought it was really relevant to our profession. The article is called  "15 Ways to Silence Your Inner Perfectionist So You Can Finally Get Things Done". Personally, I have been in this situation many times where I am trying to finish a project but I can seem to get it done because it is not "Perfect". We, engineers, tend to be very analytical and always trying to make rational decisions which sometimes is detrimental to our work in the sense that we get caught in the details. 

    Some actions I have taken to try to minimize this effect is to have a Google Sheet with my tasks and an estimated time it should take me. Keeping track of the time I spent on each task helps me create a "deadline" for myself where I  need to get it done. I created a simple formula to calculate the time between two-time stamps that I can share with you if interested. 

    The article goes through some interesting ways to get things done, but I want to hear what techniques do you use to fight your inner perfectionist and send the project out the door?

    Luis Duque EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 2.  RE: When to Know how to Send Projects out the Door

    Posted 08-29-2019 02:25 PM
    Hi Luis.
    I really appreciate your honesty in reaching out with new and yet untried ideas.
    For the article you provide, it does have a general flavor of thoughts to consider, but . . . .

    Ain't it the truth, someone ALWAYS comes up with the "but. . . ."

    For projects, and other related work, my "Gold Standard" follows:

    Quality is conformance to requirements.
    Most clients have unclear requirements at the start but generally they believe they have clear expectations.

    Until you have helped your client unbundle their expectations into requirements*,  you are foolish to take your
    project work beyond the 5% mark of the project budget.

    I almost can't wait to see if this gets play.

    * These tell your tech people what to do and how to do it.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 3.  RE: When to Know how to Send Projects out the Door

    Posted 08-29-2019 03:28 PM
    Thank you, @Luis Duque for starting this thread. This is a really important issue that is often not discussed.

    It's extremely important to avoid confusing perfectionism with the pursuit of excellence. They are two different things.

    Early in my career (I'm in my  30's now), I thought they were the same. I wore perfectionism as a badge of honor. I remember staying late in the office, re-running calculations to get a revised answer to the decimal degree because a typical interior beam moved 6" for a floor opening. Experience now tells me that is completely unnecessary in the vast majority of designs. In retrospect, my perfectionism was the result of a combination of: 1) lack of experience 2) lack of communication on what constituted "done" , and 3) lack of consistent execution of a QA/QC process prior to deadlines, which means projects MUST BE DONE before the deadline is looming. 

    In my opinion, #2 is the most critical, especially for young professionals learning from their first managers. In school, getting the exact answer to the decimal degree is usually the only way you get an A. We start internalizing that all answers must be 100% exact and perfect in elementary school. Perfectionism is rewarded. The consideration for 100% accuracy nearly always overrules more practical concerns in school. There isn't a consideration for things like "Is revising this design in our scope?" or "How do we balance fee with providing an appropriate design?" 

    Students are taught to be exact. That's great,  and I don't want to underscore the fact that in some cases, being exactly correct really is a life and death situation in a design. However,  in most common design scenarios, this isn't the case. I've seen way too excellent students fall flat when they start working.  The perfectionism habits that served them so well in school can be somewhat detrimental to their career path (at least until they are tempered with pragmatic reality, assuming a willingness to unlearn old habits). If we don't teach both ourselves and other engineers to value striving for excellence and "good enough" over perfectionism, the result is burn-out and retention issues.

    To answer the original question, here's a couple of things that can be done on an individual basis:
    1. For deadlines, have a "drop dead" date for when QA/QC is submitted to an internal senior engineer for review.  This prevents much "second guessing" of designs because you are certain someone else is reviewing it. Communicate that clearly to the client as part of your process, so you don't have one calling the night before a deadline and asking if you can "just make one little change." 
    2. If you are a young professional, ask your manager what "done" means to them. In my experience, different managers, companies, and in some cases even clients have different requirements. Ask for specific examples of where and when your manager would apply "rules of thumb" to different situations, learn where those rules of thumb come from, and make sure you are aware of any company policies that take some of the "assumptions" out of your analysis so you aren't doing unnecessary work. 
    3. If you are a manager, recognize that you MUST overcommunicate expectations of what "done" means, especially for new graduates and engineers that have had poor managers in the past. Harping on someone for working a bunch of overtime the week of a deadline because it wasn't in your budget, while at the same time not clearly communicating expectations of what "complete" looks like, is in my opinion bullying. Same goes for criticizing someone for "not meeting a deadline" if communication was not clear as to what "done" looks like (preferably with a specific example of drawings, calcs, etc.).  
    4. Set interim deadlines on everything (as @Luis Duque has suggested), and hold yourself to them. Have check in points with your manager or another engineer for large tasks if they seem like they are taking longer than expected. If you have no idea how long something might take, talk to your manager to help you set those deadlines, being sure to include some extra time for learning/reviewing resources.
    5. Understand where your design fits into the bigger picture. Often, many design options can be immediately eliminated when the geometry constraints are known. Don't make more work for yourself by jumping ahead with too much missing information.
    6. Recognize that perfectionism isn't good, and it's holding you back from being a more effective engineer. Learn about the 80/20 rule and apply it. (Click HERE to hear a podcast episode by fellow civil engineer @Anthony Fasano for help on this). Check out this very short article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/perfectionism for some truths about what perfectionism really is. One of the scariest parts of perfectionism is that it can manifest by causing an engineer to have unrealistic expectations of others. Probably many of us have had a manager exactly like that, further perpetuating the myth that "perfectionism is good."


    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 4.  RE: When to Know how to Send Projects out the Door

    Posted 08-30-2019 10:10 AM
    As always, excellent follow-on advice from Stephanie.

    But what faces you, I, Stephanie, in a real-world project, is this:
    How do  we put all of that great advice into a
    visible, well-communicated, visible, manageable framework to our project folks, and perhaps
    even our external client, and an regulatory agency rep?

    Here is where I found some years ago pmi.org came to the rescue, i.e.
    the Project Management Institute. As a member you have 24/7 access worldwide. . . including to members in Spain...
    to project management knowledge, access to member chapters locally that usually meet monthly, open use access to
    tools, templates that can guide your own thinking for situations such as the one you started your post with, and more.
    Risk Management Planning Assessment, Work Breakdown Structure, Project Quality Assurance Checklist, etc, etc., etc.

    Enjoy the journey.

    BTW, I believe that for students, including Masters level, they still offer a discounted one years member fee.


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880