Engineering Thinking

Dec 26, 2017

A good friend of mine got married recently in Nottingham, the city of my university education. While in the area I decided I would extend my stay and see if I could summon any memories of those years of my life. I could not. Undeterred I dropped into my University building to see who was still about and what the Engineering faculty now looked like.

It was to my disbelief that I found the Engineering department a tiny fraction of what it once was when I attended in the 90’s. After talking to the guys there I was told that there was not sufficient value in running those courses, that the uptake in each discipline was not sufficient.

This was terribly disappointing news for all of the obvious socioeconomic reasons and I won’t go down the political route with this one, but it did make me wonder if we had marginalised this critical subject by catagorising into disciplines too early.

At the heart of every Engineering discipline – Manufacturing, Mechanical, Electronic and so on, there lies the same fundamental knowledge type – logical, process minded, thinking. So it may well be possible that if we unpack the various types of Engineering and re-assembed the pertinent parts of its philosophies in a slightly different arrangement we could rebrand this to something that has a much wider appeal. It would be great to see this subject provide the foundation for whatever type of application that you would like to layer on top, be that based in Engineering, Marketing, Healthcare, Teaching, Entertainment or just about anything else that you can think of.

We could call this subject Engineering Thinking, it would provide the ability to peel complexity back to a base level of simplicity that can readily be understood and manipulated to provide a desired condition.

It struck me when thinking about this, that we already have this subject and we call it Lean thinking. At the heart of any Lean transformation there is the requirement to apply logic and understand where we currently are, define where we would like to be and to plot and undertake a course of action to get there; we need to solve the problem of why we are not where we want to be.

The paradigm that Lean is about cars, or just about manufacture engineering is long gone, it is a way of thinking about processes, people and their environments. The 5 fundamental steps of Lean are the core of the discipline. The multitude of tools, terms and teachings are all just apps that sit on top of that. Things that provide specific help to solve specific problems wherever they may be found.

Lean thinking is not black magic (unlike six sigma which most certainly is) it is a way of thinking about things in a manner that starts with understating precisely what it is that we want to achieve, analysing what we currently have against this requirement and then working hard to achieve what we want in the least wasteful way.

It provides a framework on which to form our thinking It is the environment in which we are working that shapes the specifics and final outcome. If applied with rigor in the correct manner, Lean’s application is boundless and so are its possibilities for solutions.