Power Electronics

Team-Based Approach Leads Power Industry

While the power electronics industry is pushing to improve quality and productivity and pulling to do it quickly, at lower cost, and with fewer people, today's engineers require better education and training in technology management. While some aspects of being an engineer are somewhat different from other professions, this industry is often looking toward collaborative teams to increase worker involvement. Yet, design teams must have leaders to control and direct the efforts of the group.

Unfortunately, many engineers lack the personal qualifications to be an effective boss. Through education and training, engineers are taught to use the right equation at the right time to get answers to technical problems. However, that approach does not always work well when dealing with other technical people. Finding effective formulas is difficult when it comes to successfully managing people.

But what about the situation where the manager is not an engineer? “Bean counters” can manage design teams if they have some understanding of technical subjects. If they don't, look out; the design team is doomed.

If the boss has an MBA, does that make him an optimum boss? This may work well if the boss also has an engineering degree. The combination of an MBA and a BSEE could be very good. However, my guess is that such an individual will eventually migrate to other fields, such as marketing, which would probably be good for the company they work for — but, it usually means that their participation in a design team is relatively short-lived.

The best leaders in the power industry must have a wide range of skills, techniques, and strategies — ideally, with a technical background. They must understand how to motivate people to get the best results. They must be able to delegate responsibility for individual tasks, but also to let others take leadership of the team when necessary. Managers must also know how to capitalize on the strengths of the people in the team in a positive way and to be well-organized and disciplined enough to maintain work according to the schedule and budget. Team leaders must be good administrators and communicators, while being honest with the design team, keeping the group aware of all necessary information. As I see it, this type of leader is in the minority.

Sef interest can only have a futile effect on the quality and productivity of a design team's efforts. Keeping the team “in the dark” (much like the mushroom theory that says ‘keep them in the dark and feed them trash and then everything will be okay’) will, no doubt, bring a design team to failure. Giving each member credit for all accomplishments when it's due is always good practice.

Being a good team member is the first step to being a good leader. To improve quality and productivity, and to help flatten and downsize organizations, the industry is taking the team-based approach and so must our leaders.

We would like to hear from you on your feelings about managing engineers. Send your comments to [email protected].

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