The Benefits of a Unified Engineering Tool Chain in Interdisciplinary Engineering
“Everybody’s marriage is falling apart except ours. You see the problem is communication… too much communication.” The not-so-wise words of Homer Simpson ring as false in an engineering environment as they do in a relationship. Interdisciplinary engineering is made up of complex interdepartmental relationships with sometimes dozens of teams working in conjunction to complete a program under very tight timelines. In order for a project to be successful the lines of communication need to be crystal clear.
Organizations take different approaches to enable the unrestricted flow of information: from daily “stand-ups” with discipline leaders to formalized intercommunication documents. The one common thread throughout these different approaches is the engineering teams rely on tools to manage their work and be successful. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the tools your teams use, some examples are: change management tools (e.g. DOORS, ClearCase), design tools (e.g. PSPICE, MATLAB), issue management tools (e.g. ClearQuest, Jira), and revision control tools (e.g. SVN, PVCS). There are dozens of other tools which have been built to perform one or more of these functions. The sheer number of tools can be overwhelming: some are purpose built, and some are general tools. How does a manager determine what tool is right for what job?
Well, to go back to Homer’s misinformation: too much communication is never bad. When tools are selected without consideration for the interdisciplinary nature of a program communication issues begin to compound (the Telephone Game [Link: Info] comes to mind). By critically analyzing business processes and selecting toolsets which complement each other, managers can facilitate communication between groups. Having engineering groups communicate in the same manner (i.e. using the same tools) keeps everyone speaking the same language (“Wait, what’s a JT?”), limits the number of processes the teams need to learn (“How do I raise a TF?”), and aggregates all information into the same place (“Where was that e-mail that… oh, wait that wasn’t an e-mail it was in that database… where was that again?”). And while communication isn’t the only reason to unify a tool chain, I’m sure we all have horror stories of the marriages which were torn apart by more than just that poker shack in the swamp.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions presented in this blog post are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Aversan Inc.
About the Guest Author
Craig Bloch-Hansen has a Systems Engineering background with Aversan. He has been involved with several Defense and Aerospace programs, typically joining programs to provide technical insight and leadership during times of turmoil. When not assisting with NAPS or Buck The Scholarship, Craig can usually be found in his natural habitat, the Canadian wilderness, hiking, camping, and fishing.