Where Design Engineers Spend/Waste Their Time

R. A. Crabtree, N. K. Baid and M. S. Fox

The design and engineering of large, complex electro-mechanical artifacts for use in space requires the integration of many engineering groups, spread across the components of the artifact and across the customer and suppliers. Within each engineering group there is a need to integrate the many diverse skills required, such as electrical, mechanical, thermal, materials, etc. This paper describes the results of a study conducted in the summer and winter of 1992 at a medium sized aerospace company. The study had two goals. The first was to identify the activities which occupy engineers at the company and to rank the activities by the level of frustration and wasted effort encountered in them. The second goal was to identify project delays that were due to poor coordination/integration. The first goal was accomplished with a survey in which 30 questionnaires were circulated to engineers in 5 different departments, and the time spent in 7 activities was tracked by the participants over an actual week, and estimated over a typical week on a percentage basis: Information Gathering (13.9% - actual; 12.4% - typical), Problem Solving/Thinking (28.4% - actual; 31.6% - typical), Documentation (23.1% - actual; 18.2% - typical), Planning (7.6% - actual; 8.6% - typical), Negotiating (7.5% - actual; 9.2% typical), Support and Consulting (17.4% - actual; 18.3% - typical) and Others (2.1% - actual; 1.8% typical). Based on the survey results, the activities were scored from 1 (most frustrating) to 7 (least frustrating). The overall scores were: 4.0 - Information Gathering, 4.4 - Documentation, 4.5 - Planning, 4.6 - Negotiation, 4.8 - Support and Consulting, 5.3 - Problem Solving/Thinking and 6.6 - Other. The second goal was accomplished by studying 25 cases of coorindation problems, compiled and classified into six problem categories: Information Acqusition (24%), Information Access (32%), Knowledge Access (4%), Decision Interdependence (8%), Activity Management (12%), and Agent (16%).The delay associated with information acqusition, information access and knowledge access problems range between 1 day to a year, and between 1 day to a week for the remaining categories.

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