ID guy leading engineers

So we have just lost our Engineering manager…

And my VP (vp of sales and EVP of the company) has just spoken with me that he has asked the VP of engineering to consider me as a replacement(along with two other internal people). I would become Director / manager of Product development and design, overseeing ID and Engineering. My VP says that he likes my ability to see and understand the whole design and development process along with my appreciation for what needs to be done during the ID/Engineering/Manufacturing stages.

I am wondering if anyone else out there with a ID background has taken over the managing and directing of engineers and if they can provide insight into things i should consider, questions i should ask or things I should be concerned with.

from a career standpoint I like the ideal of being back in a leaderships / director role as it is something that i am good at and have had success with albeit I was in charge of ID and Graphic people.

Chevis W

Do you have the technical engineering background to direct engineering projects? It might be one thing to see the overall project direction but can you actually provide the expertise required to direct engineering staff toward viable solutions? You’ll get a lot of pushback from engineers, if you can’t rationally defend your decisions to them you will lose respect.

i.e., If, say, a draftsman was promoted to the head of the ID department that you work in, would you be willing to follow that individual’s direction if you perceived that they were not as qualified as you were?

I’ve never led an engineering group, but human nature is what it is.

I have very strong mechanical aptitude and can easily provide direction to lower level engineers, As for the Sr. engineers i wouldn’t pretend to be on there level nor would i dictate to them the engineering design, I would expect them to drive that. Here Ergonomics, style and the client drive the overall direction of the product, and it is up to the engineers to ensure that the vision is met and is mechanically sound.

But you are right my first concern would be “would the engineering staff be willing to follow me” Currently they have allot of respect for me and we have a great working relation, they also greatly appreciate my understanding of engineering and manufacturing and that I work with them to find the best solution that takes all requirements into consideration. but that is with me being in Charge of ID.

Sounds like you have the relationships to make it work. I have seen it happen before with carrying degrees of success. Sometimes wildly successful, and sometimes not, and a few places in between. It always depends on the people involved. At Converse for a few years, a designer was leading design, engineering, development (program management) marketing as the VP of Product.

Sounds like you got the right vision and are mature enough
to carry the load. I wish you luck and “enjoy the ride” .


And no, I do not direct our engineers, as the company
is engineer owned. But I do my best to charm
and persuade them…

I think if you have a firm grasp of materials, machining, tooling, threads and standards etcetera you should be ok.

Might depend on how good you are with maths and physics though. I work in a design role but also design tooling, custom threads, working out volumes and weights of parts for costing, but if you wanted to know how much load something can withstand or the pressure withholding rating of one of my products (e.g. a valve) I am a bit lost.

I moved from many years in an R&D group to a large engineering consulting company and led a product development group of 20 - 30 engineers. I was unsure of myself similar to exactly what you describe. It worked OK with some issues, we completed some really good projects and some boring ones, and fortunately I never found myself out of place or unqualified in leading the engineers.

It was not an issue of being taken seriously by the engineers, I was the boss, but of the common sense of getting the right jobs, scoping jobs properly, putting the right people together on a team or getting them via contract or new hire and occasionally contributing to the work. It was obvious when things were working well and when not. When some engineer came to me and explained in great detail steel section modulus I had no idea what he meant other than he was deep into doing a job he liked, conversely when another engineer took 4 days to specify an oring I knew he wasn’t the engineer for us.

It was both fascinating and frustrating, rewarding and annoying. I learned so much from some of the engineers, the FEA guy 's work and presentations were beyond awesome. I had to heavily review engineers written reports for stay-on-topic content and visual presentation clarity: a presentation for a complicated medical equipment machine frame would start with descriptions of which screw thread was used, confusingly odd CAD illustration views used in presentations, etc. I had to hire in professional writing and public speaking consultants as the engineers were terrible at this.

During my leadership time I managed to contribute actual industrial design on one project only, there just wasn’t time for more. It was fun to hire new designers and lead them. Not so much fun to look at labour burn rates every day or calculate scope change costs and schedules.

One of the engineers, after watching me and the two young designers critique some concept sketches, summarized quite elegantly why an industrial designer could lead an engineer dominated group: “You designers always start from a blank sheet, engineers don’t do that, I need specifications and calculations to start.”

That’s a bit of a mini autobiography, but I learned an industrial designer can lead an engineering group. You’ll learn a lot but greatly reduce your own actual design activities.

If you work well with them already, you’ll be fine. Use your Sr engineers as knowledge base, and look to them for insight to engineering problems.

Congrats on the new opportunity! I strongly encourage you to focus on the soft skills. I would get them involed in the development process by requesting their input and translate that input into something you feel will be acceptable to project goals. Often they may push back on your requests but I would use those moments to educate them on “why” and encourage them to try harder. Simple acts of trust in their skills will take you a LONG way. Just don’t get too focused on getting up to par with their technical skills. You’ll drown in that and that’s what they’re there for. You should promote and encourage them to do things they traditionally would not consider. It sounds like you’re already well on your way to doing that.

Good luck!

First off, you would be a GREAT manager, and you definitely have the necesary skill sets to manage Engineering.

Do the prep work and have conversations to set clear expectations. Individually ask Engineering staff what their expectations, needs, and concerns are directly. It helps to ask the question, give them time to think, and get their answer the following day or so. Engineers are not always the quickest responders (more often deep thinkers) so I find a little time to process gets better answers. If you want an advantage over your in house competitors for the position, talk to the engineers first, and expound upon your deep understanding of the department in your interview.

Managing would definitely shift the percentage of your time you spend doing actual design work. Are you ok with doing less design?

[quote=“imadesigner”]First off, you would be a GREAT manager, and you definitely have the necesary skill sets to manage Engineering.

Thanks for the vote of confidence… do we know each other?

Within the next few weeks i will be doing an internal interview for the opening, they have also posted the position. I am putting my thoughts together on how I see the depts being managed and what my plans for growth and development would be. I will also be making sure that my plans are in alignment with the VP’s and the companies and that I will have his support.

I have also asked him to consider and think about how potentially some of our clients may view an ID person in charge, considering we work extremely close the engineering dept’s. it Will be interesting to see how things play out, to be honest i consider it a honor just to have the VP’s tell me that I am being considered, even if it doesn’t work out or if I decide that it is not a fit for me.


Congrats Chevis- Best of luck to you.

If you don’t mind sharing at some point, it would be interesting to hear how the VP and engineering dept respond.

My boss (VP of R&D) leads a team of EE/ME/SW and he has a background in ID. If you have good management/leadership skills you should be fine. You don’t need in-depth technical of a background because you’ll learn on the way with the people you work it.

Well, it has been a little while since i originally posted this chain so I thought i would give a quick update.

It has now just been a little over a month in my new role as “Industrial Design/Engineering Manager” or "Design and Development Manager” the company is still trying to figure out the proper title… My role in this new position is kind of two folds. First I will be managing the design team which includes 5 engineers and 1 ID person; next I will be overseeing and guiding the design and development of the projects ensuring that all requirements are being met (external and internal) and helping to refine the handoff between our engineering team and manufacturing team.
We interviewed 2 internal candidates ( myself and one other engineer) and about 4 outside candidates but in the end what it came down to was a few things i brought to the table that the others didn’t. Below is a list of some of the key things we discussed and that they felt were important that I brought up and had a plan on how to execute. I am providing these items not to blow my own horn but to help designers see areas that they may want to involve them in, to help them grow into a management role.

  1. An understanding and consideration of the full design and development process from upfront sales through to manufacturing

  2. The relationships that i have built here in my 2 years within the Sales dept, Clients, Engineering Dept and Manufacturing Dept, all in an effort to have a smoother process as the designs move through the company. Along with my effort to bring in the various opinions and incorporate them into the designs

  3. My ability and eagerness to juggle multiple tasks at once along with the desire to and willingness to go outside my boundaries as an “ID person” in their eyes

  4. My observations that i provided during the interview process of the current Design and development procedures, pointing out what was working and what areas had potential for refinement. (note at no time did point out the flaws as wrong, to ensure that no one would be insulted if it was there area that needed some refinement.

  5. My personality and ability to interact with people throughout the company at all levels and to be able to understand and empathize the problems they experience and to work towards a common solution.

  6. My vision of a “team” approach to the design and development process with a plan to remove the current “silo’s” and over the wall approach. (a basic thing for some companies but a big thing for others)

  7. My plans to grow and develop the Design team to ensure that their abilities improve helping them and the dept to become more valuable

More to come as I continue in my new role, I already have 2 hurdles to over come from a team management stand point…

Congrats Chevis!