Infusing New Methods To Increase Your Work Output
How would you like to make your work more fun and increase your work output?
I am a designer and engineer and I fall into the problems of getting small projects, huge projects, conflicting due dates on multiple projects and not enough information on my projects. This used to be very frustrating for me, but I changed the way I work, and I have efficiently increased my quality and quantity.
There is the big question, quality or quantity. My philosophy is not quality or quantity but quality AND quantity.
I know that sounds impossible but it is possible, with diligent introduction of new methods to increase your quality and quantity.
To begin with…
I am an engineer with a company that makes retail fixtures, cosmetic displays and electronic displays for clients like Kohl’s, Sephora and Sprint.
To quickly explain what I do…
If you go into Sephora think about the people who make the bases that hold the makeup, I engineer the base.
If you go into sprint store and see the display that holds the new phone, I make the display.
If you go into kohl’s and see the rack that holds the shirts, I engineer the rack.
The reason I explain this is, so you understand that when I get small projects, they can be like this for example, I get a project to change the color for a display or create a box for a client to hold some product. It can get really tiring when it comes to these little projects.
The way I used to work went something like this
1. I received a project
2. Asked relevant question I needed to finish the project
3. Compiled the information
4. Started engineering
5. Made the drawings
6. Sent to stakeholders
7. Moved on to the next project
Now this wasn’t the worst way to do my job. I had a better success rate than most people because I asked the relevant questions and I did my job correctly. My success rate was about 60%. Success rate to me depends on how many of my projects got to prototyping.
So when I say 60% that’s how many of my projects got to prototyping.
Which means I engineered something that the client liked, something that the client was envisioning and something that might make the company money if it goes to production.
This sounds really good however with my new methods I have increased my success rate to 80%.
What my pitfalls were before:
1. Missed due dates
2. Missed information client side or my side
3. Didn’t ask enough information
4. Conflicting information
5. Didn’t keep up with the dates that needed to be
6. Project was too big, and the execution wasn’t up to par
All of these things are part of my job and we should always keep all of this information in mind when engineering. However, we all have that pitfall of being overwhelmed and stressed. When we get stressed, overwhelmed and frazzled we miss things, make mistakes and can lose out on the job.
The changes I made weren’t all done overnight. No change can be overnight. Have to introduce each change properly so you are infusing your workflow with the change. There were multiple steps I took and introduced many different things to my workflow.
New method to fix missing due dates:
We have multiple due dates in each project; engineering, customer drawings, prototype drawings, estimating drawings, revision engineer, revision drawings and more. As you can see keeping up with all these due dates with multiple projects is incredibly tough.
I wanted to find a way to keep all my due dates in one location. Not a sticky note, but something that I can see how long each step of a singular project takes. How much time in between each date I have and when I need to start it so I can get it done on time. Due dates are usually dictated to us by sales, but we have internal due dates we need to make to get to that sales milestone.
So I came across project management tools. Of course, my company has a tool but its not given to us engineers, they give to sales that need to manage due dates with clients. So I found one on my own. I used many different project management tools before finding Asana. Asana has helped me track my projects to the level that I need.
I used Asana to keep all my due dates in order. I placed all sales driven due dates for each project and all internal due dates I needed to meet to finish the project in time. This led to help me understand how busy I am with my projects. This also helped me renegotiate due dates with my manager to help me not be as overwhelmed. With Asana I can show my boss with actual data why I wont be able to meet the due date. Data that he cannot refute. Not to do less work but to show how much time each task will take. Which in turn to increase my success rate with projects being complete on time and being correct as well.
New method to keep all reference material in one place
There are times when there are stakeholders that have conflicting information. The sales head, sales associate, project manager, engineering manager everyone in the kickoff meeting has a different version of the information hat was divulged in the meeting. They are thinking in the aspects of their role in the company and may have interpreted the information differently. However for the worker, engineer, in my case that is a nightmare because you don’t know who to ask. There are so many people to speak to.
So my goal was to create a spot with all the information that I can refer back to in every meeting.
The first thing I did was search for a program that I can take notes for my self from any input device. Whether I have my phone, tablet or computer I can refer back to it.
There are a lot of note taking software’s I ended up with Microsoft One Note. Two reasons, one because the company gave Microsoft One Note with the Microsoft Office Suite and two because Microsoft One Drive was also given to us by the company. Using both One Dive and One Note anyone the company can access the notebook if needed.
So, with One Note I created a notebook for myself that I can add every single project I am working on. Add in all the pertinent data for that project. All the due dates I need and all the documentation links that I need so I can access the information faster.
On top of that since we get files and files of information with one note you can add those files to the project section you are working on. Now you can access that file from any device that you have that One Note Notebook on.
When I am in a meeting, I can bring up the relevant information on my phone or tablet or laptop which ever one I have.
This made me invaluable to the company because whichever project I was working on I had all the information in one area, and I can add and change the information I received.
New products I used
There a lot of mechanical and design problem solving I need to do on my projects. I am a visual thinker. I often need to sketch something up to discover a solution or to vet out the solution.
I used to carry papers to draw on in any meeting I went to quickly illustrate my idea. The problem with paper… other than the environmental impacts… is that paper can be lost and then forgotten.
Often we have our phones so I learned to draw using my stylus in One Note. As previously explained I can draw on One Note on my phone and it will come up on all my other devices. This helped keep everything documented.
Same thing happened when I got my Microsoft Surface. I sketch on my laptop whenever I have a solution I need to visualize. That way I can take my laptop to a meeting and show them the sketch and get it approved right away. Before even engineering anything.
I use Solidworks every single day at my job. Solidworks uses your mouse and keyboard heavily however there are so many commands and not enough hot keys. Using mouse and keyboard also can give you carpel tunnel really easily.
I researched how to help efficiently use Solidworks. I came across 3Dconnexion. They sell cad mice that help in aiding the use of Solidworks. They have added all the most needed hotkeys to the mice and they can be adjusted to your specific needs.
I have since realized the best I can be is if I know and can access the most important commands the quickest without moving the mouse. I have learned that each time I have to move the mouse to select the command is time away from actually using Solidworks.
The 3D mouse lets you customize each key to exactly the key you need. It has so much customization that I can fly through my projects and select each command faster and faster. Eventually the hotkeys become second nature that you don’t even think about it. These have helped me be the most efficient engineer I can be.
With all of these my workflow has changed significantly.
1. Receive project.
2. Open Asana and input all due dates.
3. Ask all relevant information.
4. Understand due dates and renegotiate if needed
5. Add a section in One Note and add all relevant details of the project
6. Start engineering
7. Send to stake holders
8. Move on to next project
9. Keep up with the project by seeing the due dates that you have previously entered in Asana
As you can see there are more steps here, but more steps don’t mean longer time. It means that you have understand your project fuller and better. Makes you a better employee and a more reliable person for the company.
As I previously said that my success has increased to about 80%. Why is it only 80% still?
Sometimes its outside influence. Sometimes it out of my control. The project fell through. Sometimes no matter how much time and due diligence you take the project is just mismanaged. But you have now documentation to show that you did your part correctly.
Because of my changes to my work the engineering manager has taken notice. I have gotten more attention as a good and upcoming engineer. I get bigger projects and more interesting projects.
In addition to it all, they are thinking about providing tablets to all the engineers since it has helped me be a better engineer.
Which in the long term is the goal, to not use your own personal devices and have the company see the gains and have them provide them.
My goal here isn’t to provide you with the steps but to explain that there are ways. Find your own path take my experience and find what will work for you. Because the better employee you can be the more you will get out of your job. You will grow and maybe even go to a better place with more experience and hit the ground running.