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How to Build a World-Class Product Engineering Design Team

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Rapid technological advances mean that engineering new products is more essential than ever. An EASi expert shares how the right product engineering design team will refine your processes and grow your business.

To grow your business — onsite, offsite or offshore — you need a high-quality design center facilitated by the most qualified people. Creating a world-class product engineering design team will maximize value, attract top talent, and ultimately, yield more success with your customers.

Whether you work in manufacturing or in the mechanical, hardware or software engineering space, establishing a design team that will build your brand on trust and achieve your long-term objectives can also help create sustainable growth.

Find the right people for your team
When developing a product engineering design team, the most critical component is finding the right person to build it.

Strong team leaders have extensive industry experience and expertise in the area you’re developing. They are natural or developed leaders with high emotional intelligence and a high IQ. They make empathetic listeners and possess the intuition to see and address potential issues long before they become urgent matters.

A quality leader requires a high level of accountability and responsibility without a high level of stress. If your leader’s behavior is inconsistent and they’re demanding while being emotional, your team will be inundated with fear and trust. If your leader provides a safe place to grow while still holding people accountable, however, all members will succeed and get the most from each other.

Crucial team members
A successful engineering leader knows the value of having the right people in the right roles, including:

  • Project managers
  • Group managers
  • Project engineers
  • Mechanical, electrical, software, and hardware engineers
  • Draftsmen

Of course, technical proficiency and process-related experience are crucial:

  • Strong computer-aided design (CAD) skills
  • Experience with SOLIDWORKS tools and Creo software
  • Project management skills using Microsoft Project
  • Experience with a product data management (PDM) system
  • Familiarity with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems

However, look for those who also demonstrate a growth mindset, passion and perseverance. Don’t be afraid to hire employees who will grow into their role. The ones with the most grit are likely to succeed.

Build value with team members
Follow the “51 percent rule” — offer more than half the effort to provide the most value for your employees. They will feel appreciated and meet you with 120 percent in return. Cultivate space for your employees to establish realistic and attainable goals, then strive to help them meet these goals. Goal-setting forges a path that will motivate them and keep them in an innovative mindset.

Document their needs, understand that they will change over time and create a principle-based culture that supports training and coaching. Provide ample technical training to grow team capabilities and constantly meet customer needs.

Follow up with direct reports at least once a week and once a quarter for other team members. Get an update, so you know that the individual is working toward their goals and they feel empowered to continue. Listen more than you speak. Speaking too much or providing too much direction will diminish production because employees don’t feel empowered.

For employees who fail to meet goals, ensure you have a formal process and corrective action plan that offers them the opportunity to correct their actions. Turn things around with an underperforming employee by creating a clearly defined plan of what needs to change and a schedule to make the required corrections. It should be actionable, trackable and attainable.

Prepare a legacy. Your team should operate well with or without the leader, which will happen when you empower employees, build trust and meet their needs.

Implement processes that work
Now that you have the right people, it's important to identify processes that are effective and efficient. Require everyone to use product lifecycle management systems (PLMS) to build a foundation of scalable on-boarding and training and document every lesson you learn.

Require a standard project management system for all projects. This system includes meeting minutes and project trackers, project baseline or something similar to Production Engineered Designs (PED). Select a system with a dashboard that manages activities and action items.

Build technical design history files for each project. You’ll be more successful as a business if you develop an amazing searchable database of technical content related to what works and what doesn’t.

Build processes into workflows to increase scalability and consistency. It’s harder to instruct people to follow a process versus requiring them to go through a workflow process with milestones that precede each phase.

Refine the product design process by creating a diverse Product Design Process Committee comprised of industry experts. They don’t have to all be senior-level management, and they don’t have to all be from your industry. Borrow any relatable processes that add value to yours.

Add value to your clients
Focus on driving value for your clients’ business. Approach the companies you work for as if they were your own, listen to them with openness and diligence and you’ll know how to meet their needs.

Follow a process that seeks to understand them, and your team will know how to provide the most value. Depending on the project and duration, provide opportunities to visit your client onsite for the first few weeks. You’ll reach a more successful outcome, deepen your relationship with them and increase your engineers’ and designers’ experience.

Provide clients with details of skills, strengths, biographies and the types of projects that can add value for them and remember to document market capabilities.

After all, clients want to know what sets you apart from other companies. What one thing do you do better than anyone else? Find ways to add enough value so your clients will keep coming back. Want to learn more about building a world-class team? Contact EASi now.