Electric engineering projects are considerable investments. You're putting a lot on the line to design and develop a product that will make waves in your industry. No matter the size, scope, or type of project you're getting off the ground, your electrical design engineer is your partner that makes it happen.
Engineers handle the technical aspects of your project, bringing concepts to life. Your engineer knows what they're doing, and they have the expertise to create innovative devices poised for greatness. But like all collaborative projects, yours has many moving parts. It's a massive undertaking that will go through many contributors and iterations before hitting the production line.
Communication and rock-solid project management are paramount to the success of your project. We here at Voler Systems know just how important communication is, and we thrive on constant contact to keep things running smoothly. But what kinds of questions should you be asking?
We are big believers in asking simple questions. Here are ten essential questions to ask the electrical design engineer that can help you understand project risks, improve management techniques, and improve communication.
1. What are the priorities of this project?
Designing a new electronic device involves coordinating many small tasks. Each one contributes to the bigger picture. Prioritizing those tasks is about understanding their importance and urgency while determining who takes ownership of what.
Some tasks will have a higher priority than others, requiring more time and attention to complete. But it's not only about figuring out the order to do specific tasks. Prioritization also involves:
- Cost - What design details are we investing more money into?
- Schedule - What tasks need more time to complete? Do specific tasks need to finish before others can start?
- Performance - What design features and elements are most important to the finished product's functionality?
2. Where are the risks in this project?
Every project has risks. Your project will have market risks that pertain to how potential customers respond to the finished product, technical risks that revolve around design feasibility, manufacturing risks that involve supply chain problems, and more.
Knowing where these risks lie is crucial to effective project management. Consultative engineers should understand where the risks are. When they do, they're more empowered and equipped to mitigate them early. Engineers and design experts can prepare for any possible scenario, taking steps to avoid budgetary and scheduling constraints that set your project back.
3. Do you have complete requirements?
Requirements refer to precise descriptions of every aspect of the design project. Successful projects need clear-cut requirements to ensure everyone understands the objectives and possible design restraints.
Requirements are detailed and technical by nature. It takes time to create precise requirements but avoiding risks, eliminating confusion, and ensuring proper communication of all design aspects is worth the trouble.
4. Can you drill down and explain every part of the design?
When you ask an engineer to drill down a design, they go from a high-level overview to more specific details. It's about uncovering every subset of actions needed to complete the project, going down to individual tasks and requirements.
This question can be time-consuming to answer and involve more detail than you're used to communicating, but that's the point. Your electrical design engineer should have no problem drilling down. It shows that they're well-informed and know what's going on.
As your engineer responds, pay attention to requirements. Ensure that they are thoroughly detailed and that they can explain how the customer will use the end product.
5. Where are details missing, or where don't you understand the customer's point of view?
Electrical design engineers deal with the technical logistics of bringing your idea to life. But that doesn't mean they don't need a complete understanding of the end user's perspective. You can't create a product without knowing how customers will use it or what it brings to their life.
Well-defined project requirements will clarify most details, but things can still get lost in translation. Ask about missing details and invite electrical engineers to discuss customer issues they might not understand. It's better to clear up confusion now than for your engineers to attempt to figure things out independently.
6. BOM Review and Questions about cost and supplier risks.
The bill of materials (BOM) is a comprehensive source of information with pricing and quantity data for raw materials, assemblies, individual components, etc. It's a document that provides valuable information you and your electrical design engineer will use moving forward.
You can ask many questions about the BOM, but the most important ones revolve around cost and supplier risks. For example, you should ask:
- What components are only available from a single supplier?
- What is the expected life of single-supplier components compared to the expected product life?
- What components are leading edge? What components provide a competitive edge and risk? How significant is the risk?
Questions about single-supplier components can help you prepare for sudden shortages. It also allows you to assess the risk of using a single supplier. You can determine if that supplier's parts can outlast your product's life cycle, or determine if it will be costly to change parts later.
For leading-edge components, BOM questions determine if the advantage gained is worth the potential risks involved.
7. Do you have slack at the end of the schedule?
You'd ideally have excellent project management to avoid delays and scheduling conflicts. But even the most efficient projects can experience last-minute delays. There are many unknowns, and failing to account for them can result in massive issues.
Seasoned electrical design engineers will often have schedule contingencies to deal with those uncertainties as they come. Asking your engineer whether they have a scheduling contingency plan will ensure that even minor delays don't cause trouble to your bottom line.
8. When you get a new feature request, do you stop and consider the impact on the budget and schedule?
Last-minute feature requests and changes can occur no matter how much you plan. Again, good project management can avoid final-hour delays and cost increases, but they can still come up as you reach the finish line. Your electrical design engineer should have a clear set of priorities for responding to change requests.
It goes back to project priorities. Engineers should consider the request's impact on the budget, schedule, and performance requirements. Sometimes, ample flexibility allows for these changes to happen. But in other cases, proceeding with the requests can throw the project into chaos. Engineers should look at the potential impact and decide your best interests.
9. Are there any milestones longer than 2 or 3 weeks?
The best way to tackle complex design projects is to break things up into milestones with clear deadlines and deliverables. Milestones need proper scoping. Otherwise, it's easy to fall into the cycle of unclear status reports.
Good milestones will be entirely objective and nothing more than "Complete" and "Incomplete" statuses.
One way to avoid confusion is to limit the milestone deadline to three weeks. Anything more than that, and it becomes easy to fall off schedule without noticing.
10. What have you learned since we made the plan or schedule?
Designing a new device takes time. You can do all the preparation in the world, writing requirements and planning carefully. But until your engineers get to work, you never know how things will go. Problems can arise. Your engineers might learn about new risks, make changes that decrease the impact of old obstacles, and more.
Always ask your electrical design engineer about what they've learned. Ask it regularly throughout the design process. Doing so will keep you in the loop of status changes, helping you reprioritize and have some fluidity in your project management techniques.
Benefit from Asking the Right Questions
Asking these questions will keep the lines of communication open, paving the way for more efficient project management and risk mitigation. The problems might be complex. But when dealing with experts, the answers to these questions should be simple.
At Voler Systems, we believe you should understand what's going on with your project, even if you don't have an electrical or development background.