Read “Good Communication is Essential to the Success of Engineering Projects.” Is this effective, clear writing? What makes it effective, or what would the writer need to do to make it effective? Please offer examples.
It is a 200 Words Discussion.
200 Words Discussion
28 IEEE POTENTIALS T his question is posed to experi- enced engineers: Do you recall during your days as an engineering student when you discounted the importance of English and other com- munication courses and instead gave all of your attention to your technical courses (e.g., electric circuits, program- ming, or thermodynamics)? But all of us would realize as we graduated from engineering school and started working in the real world that communication is absolutely critical to making sure that our engineering projects are a success since we depend on many different members of our organization (e.g., bud- get personnel to get required funding or seek guidance from field support people on how sys- tem will be used by customers) and outside our group (e.g., cus- tomers who tell us what features are important to them). Without clear lines of communication, our ideas would stay within our own small development teams instead of becoming mature products. While this is obvious to those of us who have become experienced engineers, the real question is: Why is it lost to us when we are in engineering students? Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a tremendous new emphasis on enhancing communi- cations at the engineering school level. A quick Google search on communications programs in engi- neering colleges yields some inter – esting results: • North Carolina State Uni – versity—two professors from the Industrial Engineering and English De – partments have formed a partnership to cross-train their classes to bring the importance of communications in tech – nical projects to the students. • State University at Oswego—in creating a new electrical/computer en – gineering program, the college is using the opportunity to set up new commu- nications requirements. • University of Southern Califor – nia—the college has set up a new writ – ing program that has been integrated to all programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. These new initia – tives are a vast improvement from the “good old days” when technical profes – sors stressed almost exclusively the im – portance of solving difficult engineering problems while the liberal arts faculty would be almost apologetic on the im – portance of their own communication- intensive classes. Clearly, what was needed was a clear assertion from the entire school that engineering students need to be “well rounded” and have the ability to not only solve technical prob – lems but to be able communicate about it as well. Taking the first step My purpose in writing this article was not to criticize my professors (I believe that they did an excellent job in educating my generation of engineers and the need for robust instruction in communication had not been fully realized when I was in school) but to encourage my fellow sea- soned engineers to help the next genera- tion of engineers communicate more effectively. One simple first step would be to serve as mentors to recently graduating engineers in transitioning from communi- cating from the college experience to the manner expected in the real world. My own experience in mentoring young engineers has been very rewarding as I Date of publication: 30 April 2014 Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPOT.2013.2261371 © c AN STOck PhOTO/mIchAELdb Good communication is essential to the success of engineering projects AkbAr khAn © cAN STOck PhOTO/mIchAELdb 0278-6648/14/$31.0 2014IEEE mAY/JUNE 2014 29 challenged their college-driven notions of effective communications (writing long treatises to justify their meticulous analy- ses) to develop writing and oral presenta- tions favored by managers (being con- cise, giving actionable recommendations, and having a result-oriented outlook). I recall one engineering intern that I mentored who was particularly challeng- ing because of his early rejection of all my efforts to improve his writing of required weekly summaries. It took many months of collaboration to change this young man’s perspective that the ability to communicate is essential in getting one’s ideas across to peers and to receive credit for work well done from one’s superiors. Almost six years later, he attributes his quick rise to the position of project manager of an important program to his robust ability to communi- cate. Today, I remain friends with this young man in spite of my having acted as his communica- tions “drill sergeant” earlier in his career. He even invited me to his wedding as a result of our relationship. Let me reiterate the central point of this article: communications paves the road to success for any project, and this is amply supported in the appli- cable business literature. For example, in checking an excellent reference, What Every Engineer Should Know About Business Communication by John X. Wang, the author states that “Engineers must possess a range of business communication skills that enable them to effectively communi- cate the relevance of their idea, pro- cess, or technical design…[in order to] market ideas, write proposals, generate enthusiasm for [their proposed] research, deliver presentations [to varied audiences], explain a design [to technical and nontechnical audiences], organize a project team, coordinate meetings, and create technical reports and specifications.” Along these lines, the American Soci- ety of Mechanical Engineers references a course called “Technical Negotiation” that goes a step further in teaching young engineers not only to communi- cate effectively but also empowers them to negotiate effectively with decision makers in corporate America. My pur – pose in referencing these venerable sources is to confirm that the theme of this article—that effective communica- tions is essential to surviving in the real world of business—is a worthy goal and is being recognized not only in academia but in industry as well. Therefore, the net result is that young engineers need to learn to com- municate in flexible and differing ways that depend entirely on the business forum in which they are engaged: con- sider the need to “sell oneself” during job interviews, the criticality to speak in understandable terms during business meetings to nontechnical clients, or the urgency to focus clearly and to speak with relevant data to skeptical col- leagues during technical presentations. All in all, the key to effective communi- cations remains having clarity, maintain- ing brevity, staying relevant, having good supporting evidence, and remem- bering to speak/write with the audi- ence’s/reader’s point of view in mind. In the end, who would have known that my old English professor would have had the last laugh as I learned through hard experience the importance of speak- ing and writing clearly in the real world? Read more about it • P. Cheimets . (2009 , Aug. 30 , 2013 , Apr. 30 ). Business communica – tion in engineering . ASME Mech. Eng. Ma g. [Online ]. Available: www.asme.org/ engineering-topics/articles/business- communication/negotiation-for-engineers • E. Kristen . (2013 , Apr. ). AC 2 010 – 218: Infusing communication skills in an engineering . SUNY Oswego Amer. Soc. E ng. Educ. Web . [Online ]. Ava i l – able: search.asee.org/search/fetch;jsess ionid=1gopui4abbvql?url=file%3A%2F% 2Flocalhost%2FE%3A%2Fsearch%2Fcon ference%2F32%2FAC%25202010Full218. pdf&index=conference_papers&space=1 2 9 74 67 9 7 2 0 3 6 0 5 7 91716 67617 8 & t y p e = ap p l ication%2Fpdf&charset= • P. Edward. (2 013, Apr. 29 ). ISE improving communication skills . Fitts Dept. Ind. Syst. Eng. , North Carolina State Univ . Raleigh , NC . [Online ]. Ava i l – able: h ttp://w w w.ise.ncsu.edu/news/ improving-communication.php • C. M. Vest. (2009, Apr. 29). “Educating Engineers for 2020 a n d Beyond—Engineering Challenges.” Grand Challenges for Engineering. N.p., n.d. [Online]. Available: http://w w w. engineeringchallenges.org /cms • X. J. Wa ng , What Every Engineer Should Know About Business Communica – tion . Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press , 2008 . About the author Akbar Khan ([email protected] com) is a software systems engineer with 25 years of experience and is licensed as a professional engineer in the states of New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. He received his B.S. degree in industrial/ systems engineering from the Polytech- nic Institute of New York University and his M.E. degree in systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in infor – mation technology at Towson University. Fortunately, in recent years, there has been a tremendous new emphasis on enhancing communications at the engineering school level.