Managing joint ME and ID group

I have an opportunity to manage a joint Mechanical Engineering and Industrial Design department. It was formerly managed by an Engineer, and the hiring manager I can tell has some reservations handing the job over to someone with a design management background. Does anyone have any experience managing this type of team, or belong in a team like this? What’s your perspective?

When I worked at Evo we had ME’s on the team, there was a lead ME that reported into the design director. It seemed to work really well. After an initial “break in” period, those guys got really creative in their engineering solutions. It seemed like they got to do what they thought engineers would do before they enteredd the field.

This was at a consulting firm so it might be pretty different, Idunno.

I have done this.

First, it was a product development department, not a discipline department, an important distinction.

Second, get over the fictitious engineer / industrial design debate. Some projects diverse requirements mean starting with engineering to lead into ID.

Third, a secretary (sorry, administrative assistant) can lead the group if s/he understands project managment and people skills.

Regardless of job description, your qualifications and management expectations, you must be able to contribute and mentor everyone in the department regardless of discipline or issue at hand. Your metric for this, in my experience, is how many and how often come to you with professional and personal questions and issues.

You must adopt the role of quality control of submitted work - one of my biggest disappointments, the realization of other professionals’ work standards.

You must always know every project status, progress, manpower and financial, and be able to comment understandably anywhere anytime.

So much more…instead of me continuing to pontificate perhaps post more specific questions or concerns.

Thanks for your insight…very helpful.

The management positon reports to the VP of Engineering within a corporation. I haven’t much insight to their current working dynamic, but I suspect it’s a place where design has been expected to play a following role (group is 1/3 designers). You understand, “the ones who make the devices look nice”. I also suspect that the former manager had an engineering background. I view this as a great opportunity to combine the two into a concurrent development powerhouse, each discipline working off each other’s strengths to arrive at great solutions. I’ve personally appreciated this when working projects, and had great experiences along the way, but havent’ always found willing engineering (or for that matter, designer) participants. I also feel that a designer background would embrace and promote the entire end to end aspect of product development better than most.

Best description of a “manager”, by a project manager at my company (ME by training, with some military experience too…)

“you get paid to make complete decisions, based on incomplete information”.

Applied to your dilemma, it might be easier on the face of it for an ME to make a decision on design input. And being a designer on that side of things, you have to fight for the validity of the concept. On the other hand, a designer/manager might gloss-over a very real and serious mechanical engineering problem, thinking that an engineer just can’t think outside the box enough to solve something. I think the role is traditionally allocated to ME’s because that systematic approach to product development is better and more transparent than what is often an intuitive and erratic ID process.

Also good comments ‘pier’ on QC of other standards - it’s really understanding what the metric for success between designers, ME’s, everyone involved is, and holding them to that.

(DJB - PM me if you want to talk Seattle stuff)