Last year we conducted a survey of you, our readers, asking many questions about how you work, how you obtain technical information and what challenges you face in your jobs. One question in particular addressed the challenge aspect of your engineering work. We asked you, “What is your single most pressing work-related issue?”
Some readers answered by citing specific design challenges. For instance, there were responses referring to the difficulty of taming EMI, the need to reduce power consumption or the rigors of power filter design. One respondent noted the burden of solving software-related problems.
Component sourcing was another concern. For some this meant the difficulty of finding the right parts, for others it was about dealing with obsolescence. Compliance and regulatory issues were top of mind for some readers, while reliability was key for others. Not surprisingly, many cited cost as their biggest issue, while the need for technical information — or the difficulty in finding it — was probably the second-most-cited issue.
Yet, by far, the single issue that was cited more often than all others was time, or the lack thereof.
Readers expressed this need in a variety of ways. They noted the difficulty of finding the time for product development, or meeting with customers and design engineers, or studying. They also wished for more time to obtain and apply the latest technology, products or services. One reader lamented the “lack of hours to do the best job because management is in a rush.”
Others who took the survey were less specific about why they needed more time. They simply used phrases like “time management,” “time to market” or simply “time”. (This one-word response got 18 mentions!)
What does it mean when engineers cite time as the most pressing issue in their work? Is it simply that engineers, like professionals in many other walks of life, are being asked to be more productive and do more in less time? Yes, but there may be more to it than that.
Although our reader survey didn't delve deeply into the question of why our readers are so time deprived, it still provides a few clues. For example, it contains some background on the group that filled out the survey.
The average age of the respondents was 51 years. More than three-fourths of the respondents had at least a bachelor's degree and more than one-third had an advanced degree. These facts tend to suggest that all these time-challenged engineers have the education and experience they need to do their jobs.
One possibility is that engineers are simply doing too many tasks, some of which are not engineering related. Readers indicated they were spending 16% of their time on some form of project management and 11% on company management. Thankfully, readers did say they were spending large chunks of their time on activities related to design, development and research.
However, there were many components to these activities. Respondents indicated they were splitting their time between circuit design (11%), system design and integration (11%), R&D (12%), product/system design research (6%) and component/vendor selection (6%). Testing and troubleshooting accounted for much of the remaining time: circuit design test (5%), system test (6%) and troubleshooting (9%). The final 7% was attributed to miscellaneous activities.
None of this information tells us conclusively why engineers are so short on time. However, if you're someone who's developing technology aimed at power-system designers, there's an obvious takeaway here: Don't assume that the superior capabilities of your technology will be sufficient reason for engineers to adopt it. If the learning curve is too long or there's a perceived risk your technology could throw a project off schedule, few may be willing to risk it.
These ideas are hardly new, but given the readers' feedback to our survey, they certainly bear repeating. If you face this reality head on when developing new technologies, you're not only likely to win your customers' business, but their respect as well.