Ask, Don’t Tell; Listen, Don’t Direct: A “Shaming”

Can shaming a team member into doing something can achieve the desired results?

 By Dan Harrison

Upon starting a new position as a Programs Manager for a small, 230-employee company, my first task was to get a Long-Range Oblique Photography (LOROP) reconnaissance camera’s production back on schedule for delivery to Israel within a year. Just after I had lain out the tasks that were needed to do, I was given another project that had been sitting on a shelf for a full year following a contested government award to our prime. We were responsible for development of the scanner for a Joint Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) chemical agent detector to be fielded on all types of shipboard, airborne, land mobile and stationary platforms.

Those who had bid this proposal were now long gone. So, I was no worse off than anyone else. I dusted off our proposal and soon found a problem. The motor we had proposed looked much too small to meet the scan times required in the solicitation for the three required configurations. I confirmed these scan times with our prime and quickly found that no one was available in engineering to work this problem. So, as an experienced system engineer, I decided to take a shot at it. The accelerations required in each of the three configurations turned out to drive the motor requirements.

The results were clear. We needed a larger motor, and this would impact our internal power requirements, our internal heating—possibly requiring the addition of cooling—our total weight, etc. Once we picked a motor, the rest could be determined quickly. I knew that there were a good range of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) toroid motors available for scanners like this, and we did not have time to design our own. I turned to a Project Engineer who was recently assigned to me.

I quickly found that Ralph was afraid of his shadow; he had been badly abused in his last position after leaving our company for a few years. He was hesitant to take on any design work, but I had to have help at this point. I had to see the redesign completed, build a detailed schedule—only a rough outline had been in our proposal. I then had to take the new design and develop bases of estimates (BOEs) for labor and materials for required earned value management system (EVMS) reporting, and I had to prepare to brief our prime and our end users: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines, in a kickoff meeting very soon.

Rather than giving Ralph a hard time, I simply asked, “Do you really want your Program Manager to pick your motor for this redesign?” Ralph and I had already discussed available alternatives. He came around fairly quickly. Had I shamed him into it?

Ralph would go on to become the Chief Engineer for this company, and deservedly. Our prime would take our detailed system engineering oriented schedule and turn it into the overall program schedule. At the kickoff, our end customers accepted our redesign and even complimented the systems engineering approach we had used to quickly redesign the scanner.

Dan Harrison is an SMA Principal Associate in our Technical Management & Engineering Services Practice, and has over 35 years of experience in aerospace engineering.

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Published on May 21, 2020 by

Dick Eassom, CF APMP Fellow