The Unwritten Laws of Engineering

This book covers the administrative and organizational dynamics of engineering that you aren’t taught in school. When I read it, I was finishing up 3 years of work at Murphy Co/M360 and looking into the future. Reading this book gave me something to reflect upon the last 3 years’ experiences and also something to strive towards in future jobs/walks of life. It seems like a good gift for recent grads or new hires.

* Asterisk means when I read it I thought I could use some improvement

What beginners need to learn at once:

  • Give menial/trivial tasks your best effort
  • Show the knack to get things done using:
    • Initiative – get things started and keep them moving
    • Resourcefulness
    • Persistence in spite of difficulties
  • Do not wait passively for anyone, always keep after them (learned the hard way!)
  • *When traveling to job sites, always follow up when you get home
  • Refrain from stating an opinion until you have had a reasonable opportunity to study the facts
  • “The quiet, timid individual that says nothing is usually credited with having nothing to say” – seen this in action
  • Strive for conciseness and clarity
    • When the possibility of drawing something out is in the air, try saying your main point first and then expanding or providing more detail after
  • Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements

On Supervisors:

  • Every manager must know what goes on in his/her domain
  • Keep your manager informed of all significant developments – this can be a fine line
  • When problems arise, think about possible solutions before bringing them up to the manager
  • Whenever you are asked to do something and agree, you have two options:
    1. Do exactly as requested
    2. Talk about it more or ask questions
  • Don’t be too anxious to defer to managers instructions – again this is a fine line but it’s better to take the initiative and mess up. The manager has delegated a task he just needs it done.

On Outsiders:

  • Cultivate the habit of seeking the recommendations of others – this has proven to be very helpful. You can cut to the chase a lot faster and learn something in the process. Always ask questions.
  • Estimates and schedules are part of business
  • Make complaints directly to the person responsible

On Managing

  • Know your domain
  • Delegate
    • “Load them up with all they can carry without danger of serious embarrassment.”
    • Put the important things first and delegate the rest. Especially in large organizations with lots of experts, don’t try to excel in more than a few talents.
  • Cultivate the habit of simplifying matters – integrate, condense, summarize, simplify
    • This habit can be especially effective in meetings: “well, it all boils down to this…” or “Can’t we all agree that the basic point is this…”
  • Keep your feet on the ground in “emergencies”

On Meetings:

  • Count any meeting a failure that does not end up with a definite understanding of:
    • What’s going to be done
    • Who’s going to do it
    • When are they going to do it by

On Making Mistakes

  • Anyone can make decisions with all facts at hand – good managers make judgment calls with inadequate facts and end up with the same result
  • Judgment can be facilitated by living by principles/code such as this book
  • You don’t always have to be right all the time
  • You can’t keep everyone happy.

On Managing Yourself

  • Learn project management skills
    • Define objectives
    • Plan it out
      • Concrete steps
      • Resources needed
      • Definite schedule
    • Execute
    • Monitor progress
    • Finish on time
  • Don’t be afraid to sell/use the minimum viable product
  • An engineering project is not really finished until it has been summarized, recorded, and filed

What all managers owe

  • Never misrepresent performance
  • Make it unquestionably clear what is expected of subordinates
  • Promote employees personal and professional interests
  • Always keep them properly informed
  • Don’t criticize in front of others
  • Never miss a chance to commend someone
  • Always accept full responsibility
  • Pay raises are earned by
    • Outstanding work
    • Greater responsibility
    • Increased value

Professional and Personal Considerations

  • Technical capabilities are nothing without emotional capabilities
  • Cultivate the ability to get along with all kinds of people
  • Appreciate good qualities in people
  • “do not give vent to annoyance on slight provocation”
  • No grudges – “one of the most time consuming things is to have an enemy” E.B. White
  • Consider everyone’s FEELINGS
  • *Don’t become too preoccupied with your own selfish interests
  • *Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • *Be genuinely cordial in greeting
  • *give the benefit of the doubt
  • “regard your personal integrity as one of your most important assets.”
  • “If a man hasn’t discovered what he will die for then he isn’t fit to live” – MLK Jr. , but “A thing is not necessarily true if a man dies for it” – Oscar Wilde
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