Observation: Engineers Like Working on the 6th Decimal Place

I think some generalizations and stereotypes about engineers, of which I am one, have some validity.  For example, engineers tend to have an easy time understanding the concept of local optimization vs. global optimization as illustrated in the example at [link].  However, I find that they tend to be some of the biggest offenders while in the pursuit of their own work.  As a former engineer, I can identify with my own programming projects I do for recreation as illustrated below.

My claim is that many engineers are just as willing to work on a problem or project for which the solution is likely to improve the sixth decimal place in performance (i.e., very tiny impact) as they are working on a problem or project for which the solution of which improves the 1st decimal place in performance (i.e., big impact).  In fact, engineers frequently enjoy the former more than the latter since they have to be extremely clever to even measure the improvement. [Humor]

Clearly one of a manager’s key jobs is to ensure that the engineers and engineering teams are enthusiastically working on first order problems rather than 6th decimal place problems as the first order problems will have the greatest impact on the outcomes.  One method of keeping the correct focus is to always challenge the engineering team to define the metrics of problem improvement and ensure that resources and effort are focussed on those with the highest likely payout.  This is merely a variation of the theme of global vision versus tactical execution.

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