Engineering-to-Business Alignment For Profitability

The business world and engineering world speak different languages and operate at different tempos with a shared imperative to meet the needs of customers.  Businesses that leverage technology innovation for competitive advantage need to find their ‘E2B Alignment Rosetta Stone‘ for the best results in their business context. How can the engineering leader facilitate effective alignment between engineering and the business?

Why is Engineering Work Different?

The business world operates according to the laws of social science, fraught with ‘short termism’, and the pressure to constantly perform, compete, satisfy customer needs while commercially relevant engineering work requires more time and functions in the presence of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) bounded by the laws of science. Engineering work involves solving difficult problems that arise in the business and the market place, creating new products to create new value for the firms, finding new ways to meet regulations to remain compliant and possibly creating competitive advantage, and optimizing design performance to achieve cost and quality. The answer to engineering problems is not known in advance and the time that a solution is ready is not known to any degree of certainty. Some engineering problems are simple while others are wicked and ugly problems. Engineering problems are almost always complex. While others may be unsolvable within the current state-of-the-art or beyond laws of physics. Novel solutions require creativity, experimentation, and learning that are difficult to schedule.  How can engineering leaders bridge these incongruent worlds?

 Common Goal – Increasing Profits

The answer rests in remembering the common goal.  The common goal of both business and engineering is to increase the profits of the firm.  Easily stated but accounting is the day-to-day language of business which enables them to clearly see how to increase profits through business actions with well defined measurements for feedback.  The engineering world does not speak accounting nor is it often clear how engineering decisions can increase profits.  Engineers ought to speak the language of accounting better, but practically speaking their education and professional development is often all consuming in the increasingly complex engineering world.  Apart from every engineer taking an MBA or second degree in accounting how can engineering leaders help their staff to understand how their actions increase profits? Engineering leaders need an E2B alignment Rosetta Stone to translate engineering decisions into profit impact.

E2B Alignment Rosetta Stone – Engineering Profit Decision Tool

Fortunately in all cases an engineering profit decision tool can be created to help engineers make sound business decisions and trade-offs that increase profits in terms they can understand. The problem is that most businesses don’t take the time in this fast paced world to develop one.

The engineering profit decision tool can be developed using the approach illustrated below. The resulting business model can then be the E2B Alignment Rosetta Stone to help engineers to translate engineering actions into profits.

Engineering Decision Rules

Engineering leaders need to facilitate the development of the engineering profit decision tool with help from the other business functions (marketing, finance, operations, and project management). The baseline profit/cost model is the P&L statement for the project, new product development, service line, etc. delivered by engineering.  Like any model key assumptions need to be captured. A sensitivity analysis is then performed on key cost drivers such as: time; unit cost; engineering operating expense; value; performance; and risk as appropriate for the context of the business. The sensitivity analysis can then be used to define profit impact parameters.  These profit impact parameters can then be stated in terms of engineering decision rules (that are understood by engineers).  As engineers go about their work key decisions arise that require trade-offs amongst competing alternative courses of action.  The engineering decision rules can help them to compare alternatives and decision on the best alternative that maximizes the profit to the company. Over time the results of the decisions become evident in the business results enabling feedback adjustments to the model.

The key to success is taking the time to build the first model, trial it on a pilot project, build buy-in, train the broader engineering team, and then refine and expand its use. This post has provided the high level picture and there is clearly more effort to perform each step in the process suitable for each firm.  Contact Alopex Management Consulting if you are interested in developing an engineering profit decision tool.

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