You don’t know what you don’t know until you ask
This week marks the start of a new monthly feature known as “Engineering Speak,” a look at words, phrases and concepts from the world of engineering that often puzzle the average layperson until explained. As in every industry, engineering has its jargon, but in the end it’s all about finding words to communicate as clearly and accurately as possible.
One of the biggest opportunities for Device Solutions is identifying and clarifying the scope of projects customers bring to the table. According to CEO Bob Witter, there are several reasons for this. Clients often have an idea for a device they’d like to create, but they have a vague notion about specific details. The flip side of this situation are those customers who have a problem they hope to address, but don’t have a specific idea what kind of device they need to be able to address the problem(s). Additionally, there are those who have a very good idea of both their problem and the device that will fix it, but have not considered the business side of the equation. Finally, there are clients whose initial problem is just the tip of a larger iceberg that needs to be understood before work can start on a device.
For all these reasons, Device Solutions has implemented a “Requirements Generation,” process that allows teams to get a complete understanding not only of what they’re being asked to create, but of the company’s overall needs, the industry it operates in, and the impact the solution will have on its business as well. “In my experience, many customers need help understanding what they really want from us,” says Witter. “They often come with a single problem to be solved, but we soon discover that the one problem connects to and affects many others. That’s why the feasibility phase of Requirements Generation is so important.”
Although many customers are loath to spend time and money on feasibility studies, they soon discover that these are dollars well spent. “In the feasibility phase, we are acquiring information about the problem(s) we’re trying to solve as opposed to the solutions themselves,” says Witter. Collecting and defining requirements is what he calls a “higher level process,” designed to give the Device Solutions team both a bigger picture of the challenge and an opportunity to hear what the client has to say about their business. “Often we don’t begin to get the whole picture until a client starts talking. Understanding how a device will impact a business is just as important as the solution itself,” Witter says. Doing the feasibility study usually happens in “starts and stops” as clients educate themselves about their options, get clearer about what they want, what they can afford, and what the business implications will be.
After the feasibility phase is complete, Device Solutions generates a list of options for its clients to choose from. Once a choice has been made, Device Solutions engineers sit down to produce a detailed project plan that includes traceability tests designed to insure the device is both accurate and reliable. “Requirements Generation is all about making sure everyone is absolutely clear about the problem we’re addressing, what we’ll build to solve that problem, and how we’ll test the device to insure it does its job,” says Witter. “That’s how we avoid disappointment and build a reputation for delivering the best device solutions possible.”
– Jena Ball