The Newton of Engineering Management

The Newton of Engineering Management

Google's Misstep: Trying to Fire All Managers

When people think of Engineering Management, they think it is this sort of fuzzy field, where definite statements or principles have no place.

In 2002, the leaders at Google thought, the whole field of management was bunk, and they said, let's get rid of all the managers and see what happens.

What happened as a result of this experiment was disastrously compelling: the company started failing. Projects not getting out of the woodwork. People losing steam.

The managers were put back in place. And things came to a functioning state soon. As a side note, Google built a heavy data-powered HR department of sorts to optimize the engineering management function.

The people at Google had to experiment to conclude the need for skilled engineering management. But there is a class of people, who understand subtle truths like these without the need for experiments.

Experiments are merely confirmations of their powerful intuitions. When they do things, results materialize, and systems start functioning. No matter the uncertainty, they somehow end up making it work.

My Exhausting Wanderings in Engineering Management - Summarized for Your Benefit

Before I got started with Hexmos, for the past decade or so, I was concerned with Human Organization. I was trying to ascertain for myself what my principles should be. MBA curriculums didn't satisfy me. Nor did various forms of startup culture wisdom available all across the web. I was not at any stage where I could justify my positions in Engineering Management to others. I wanted to convince others, but first I wanted to ascertain for myself what is reasonable to preach. I wanted to be in the right company when thinking about Engineering Management.

If you want to think about physics matters - it doesn't hurt to find who have been the true masters of the field. You find Newton, you find Einstein, you find Maxwell. Once you know the masters, once you are devoted to their methods and ways of thinking and doing, you are more likely to develop yourselves constructively.

So - I was worrying about Engineering Management. I read many things. First, I tried to explore from the academic side. There was Herb Simon. He had incredible descriptions of how organizations work, in a sort of abstract and ideal form. It was a great read. It created wonderful pictures in my mind. But - does it work, on a day-to-day basis? Are his views usable and applicable to me as a practicing founder of an upcoming startup? That was my worry. Also - I was specifically concerned about building deep and complex technical capabilities. I didn't care particularly about for example, how a restaurant business works.

And then it struck me that, given how complex a field of human organization is, perhaps the views of practitioners with a strong intellectual and scholarly bent would be a profitable direction to explore. At some point, I was already aware of Lee Kuan Yew and his transformation of Singapore. While this was not exactly a transformation of any particular organization, he was dealing with a small city-state, and I felt, maybe I could find some good principles there. And it indeed was - I read the whole works of Lee Kuan Yew, his speeches, writings, everything. And it gave me a benchmark on how to think about development starting from a position of weakness. How to focus, how to get things done, and what way one should conduct oneself in uncertain situations and times.

And I do not remember exactly how, but I also happened upon many works from various military leaders. I think there were the nice works of John Boyd, which I once read. I found some nice principles, but nothing is very strong or usable. Then at some point, I discovered Rickover, at first I read him with curiosity, but eventually, grasping the ingenuity and powers of the man, I turned into a full convert. In essence, I became a Rickoid -- a spiritual disciple of Rickover.

Rickover as leader made something deemed impossible, possible. He got the first nuclear-powered submarine working for the US military, in a partly resistant and hostile environment. That too, within 5 years of conception. New materials were invented, and extremely difficult technical, bureaucratic, and political obstacles were overcome. Despite the massive uncertainties involved, Rickover created a flawless safety record -- of no nuclear disaster unfolding under his watch.

While his tangible achievements are doubtless great, in my opinion, what is of greater value is his principles and teachings on how complex technological endeavors must be handled. Given my wide reading, I have not come across a more coherent and reliable set of perspectives, ideas, and principles on engineering initiatives.

The Root Question: "What Is the Purpose of The Organization?"

Rickover always started with the purpose of the organization, and the end goal. And he worked backwards from it. He had no time for fuzzy schemes and theories. Once the goal was set, he would take the most effective means to achieve the goal. He was going to be useful, and get the job done.

I feel like that man as I talk to you today. I have fought for reform in the Navy for years. If I still shout it is because I am afraid the Navy will not be able to meet the demands which will be placed upon it in the future. There are two broad reasons for this condition. First, we misread history. Second, we do not ask the root question -- What is the Navy's purpose?

Engineering Know-How and Capabilities Is of Central Importance

You can see Rickover working backwards here.

He recognizes that the Navy's fighting efficacy is primarily dependent upon engineering efficacy.

Rickover alludes to the failures of "line officers" in handling engineering concerns.

This question demands a fresh look at our naval past. Instead of
basking in past glories, we should ask: How well were the ships designed
and built; how well were they used in battle? These are matters of
In discussing engineering in the Navy, I am not going to
consider the present state of ordnance in the Navy, That area has been run
by line officers throughout this century and its failures are well-known

Managers Detesting Engineers Is a Common but Dangerous Occurrence

Rickover traced the history of the Navy and saw clearly that the line officers always held engineers in a lower position.

They didn't understand the work involved, and took a sort of aristocratic attitude, leading to many practical failures.

The line officer detested the greasy engineer and his smoking boilers that
blackened the sails. Not until 1842 did Congress authorize an engineer
carps for the Navy. The selection of the first engineer-in-chief was
evidence of the low prestige of naval engineering. Gilbert L. Thompson
combined the talents of law, scholarship, and diplomacy, but he knew no
engineering. He could not speak for the engineers in the Navy, nor could
he judge engineering problems.

The Navy forgot the hard-earned lessons and attempted to return to
the days of sail. Aboard the ship, the position of the engineer deteriorated.
The chief engineer and his men were at the beck and call of the line officer.
He was denied the living quarters to which he was entitled. He was forced
to give way to the most junior line officer. He was not even allowed to eat
in the same mess with the line officers, He found his firemen taken from
his control and set to work shifting sails.

Managers Imposing Over Engineers in Technical Matters Leads to Disasters

Rickover recounts many, many examples where clueless line managers impose their half-baked ideas on the engineers on purely technical matters - ultimately leading to bad outcomes for the navy.

Under these conditions, mistakes were inevitable, But, by and large,
the worst errors were caused by the imposition of the opinions of line
officers on technical matters.
The result can be seen in the Navy's
first three battleships, one of which was the famous Oregon. The Bureau
of Ordnance, headed by a line officer, proposed a turret and gun arrangement
based on the hoped-for success of technical developments. When these did
not materialize, the turrets had to be redesigned. As a result, when any
of these ships swung their guns to deliver a broadside, it heeled over to
such an extent that the armor belt on the side toward the enemy dipped
below the waterline, giving no protection to the ship.

Engineers Must Fully Be "in Tune" with The Systems They Build and Manage

The Engineer must have an intuitive sense of the systems they work on.

And this intuitive sense can only be developed via experience.

Rickover talks of Milligan, whose wise decisions against his line manager's wishes saved many lives for the US Navy.

Milligan was one of those old-fashioned engineers who was never far
from his engines. He was one of that breed of men taught by experience.

These engineers—and I proudly and with no false humility class myself
with them —could walk through an engine room and, through the din and
uproar, catch the slight sound of a component out of adjustment, They
could touch a jacket of metal and feel from the vibrations whether the
machinery inside was operating well. They would taste boiler water to
see if it were pure, and would dip their fingers into the lubricating oil to
find out if a bearing was pinning hot.

In the Navy, Lack of Engineering Chops Meant Death

Rickover recounts a tragedy -- the death of 65 -- due to a line manager's lack of Engineering capability on board:

Some did, others did not. In 1905, a boiler explosion aboard the
gunboat Bennington, at anchor in San Diego harbor, cost 65 lives.
Subsequent investigation revealed that the chief engineer was an ensign
who had never stood an engine room watch before being assigned to the
billet. He knew nothing of machinery, and he did not have the technical
knowledge to stop the chain of events that led to the tragedy. He had
never been required, nor given the opportunity, to acquire the necessary
The Bennington disaster was an extreme example of how far
some line officers had yet to go to recognize the need for proficiency in
engineering on board ship. The old way was simply not good enough.

The Design Engineers Must Be as Respected as Operational Engineers

Due to accidents and bad experiences, the Navy first recognized the value of Operation Engineers.

But the design engineers were recognized only later.

The devaluation of the various types of engineers doesn't end well usually:

The Navy could also rely on American industry as another
source of technology. Although this was a period of rapid growth, there
was a serious weakness. The status of the engineer aboard ship was by
now satisfactory, but the importance of the design engineers—those who
could design ships and machinery—had been forgotten

Let the Engineers Focus on Important Engineering Activities

Relatable even today, the Engineer must be kept close to the core engineering problems relating to the organization.

Taking away their focus on irrelevant things means subpar outcomes.

One reason was, that instead of devoting full time to the condition of our ships,
top Navy officials also spent time on unimportant matters.
As an example,
between World Wars I and II, the Secretary of the Navy promulgated a
General Order—the highest type of official directive that can be issued—
concerning the Navy's homing pigeon establishment. This Order divided
responsibilities for the care and operation of pigeons among the Bureau of
Engineering, the Bureau of Construction and Repair, the Bureau of
Navigation, and the Director of Naval Communications. All these
organizations were involved in pigeons at one time or another, Their
responsibilities included, among other things, pigeon population and banding,
transportation, housing, and food. There were also plans and literature
concerning the pigeon service, miscellaneous equipment, and other
pigeon problems.

Value Rigorous Practical Experience Over Theoretical Credentials

Rickover emphasized practical experience running real systems, rather than mere theoretical credentials.

You can see him batting for people with 2 years of practical experience running his ships over people with paper credentials in a subject such as management or computer science.

As he says, the machinery does not respect these irrelevant capabilities:

The emphasis on operational engineering experience is just the
opposite in nuclear ships. Since the beginning, I have required all
nuclear ship captains as well as their subordinate officers to qualify
as operators of the propulsion plant before being assigned to a ship.
Before being assigned as chief engineer, executive officer, or captain
of a nuclear ship, the nuclear-trained officer must complete
a comprehensive eight-hour written examination and a three-hour oral
examination at my headquarters in Washington. I personally approve
or disapprove of all examination results. To be eligible for the examination,
he must be recommended by his commanding officer and must first have
completed one year of academic and operational training, which includes
qualification as a watch officer on a fully operational land prototype nuclear propulsion plant, similar to the ones we have at sea. An engineering
Department officer, once he has completed his initial training, must qualify
as a watch officer on a nuclear ship and serving in the engineering
Department for at least one year,

These requirements produce line officers who are familiar with
the operating details of their propulsion plants and are not afraid to
get their hands dirty. When reports from subordinates conflict, or
where they doubt the accuracy, they know enough to look for themselves
and to put the weight of their own experience behind the decision. They
also know how to train their officers and men and inspect their plants.
They possess that essential requisite of leadership— to educate and to
train. I would much rather have officers with this sort of experience
than those with postgraduate degrees in systems analysis, computer
science, management, or business administration—as many of the
Navy's line officers now have, The machinery does not respect these
irrelevant capabilities.

Management Techniques Cannot Make up For Substandard Engineering Quality

The usual response from management types is to attempt reorganizations and makeshift arrangements to deal with technical deficiencies within the organization.

To meet the demands of the technological revolution we had
witnessed since World War II, the Navy had two choices. It could
make the strenuous effort needed to keep abreast of technology.
Or it could let technical competence fall from its grasp; placing its
dependence on industry, tinkering with its organization, and, through
various makeshift arrangements, attempt to keep track of the technical
developments upon which its future depended. The decision was to rely
on reorganization and management techniques. The result was a flood
of studies and an endless series of reorganizations, all of which
increased emphasis on "management' and decreased the reliance on
technical competence.

Too Many Approvals via Layers of Management Leads to Engineering Paralysis

Some management "reorganizations" end up adding layers and layers of management, and the engineers have to keep asking for approvals to get anything done - which saps their initiatives, intelligence, and energy.

This reorganization created a new bureaucracy—the Office of the
Chief of Naval Material-——which has now grown to 800 people, thus
adding another huge layer of management between the technical people
who have to deal with the engineering details if they are to get the job
done, and the people in charge whose approval must be obtained to
proceed. They are empowered to ask any questions and to
stop the work from proceeding.
Their endorsement must be obtained
before forwarding a recommendation to higher authority in the chain
of command. But there is no one that I can find in the Naval Material
Command who has the authority to approve proceeding with programs.

Non-Technical Organization Cannot "manage" Technical Organizations

Rickover criticizes McNamara's view that they could "manage" technical projects via management techniques with execution powers rested with industry.

The growing dependence upon management systems has been another
characteristic which has evolved in the years since World War II.
Secretary McNamara, instead of requiring the Navy to build up its in-house
technical capability decreed that it should depend on the industry. The Navy
could "manage" the projects that it assigned to the industry. His successors
have followed the same path. I have learned from many years of bitter
experience that we cannot depend on industry to develop, maintain, and
have available a technical organization capable of handling the design of
complex ships and their equipment without the Navy, itself, having a
strong technical organization to oversee the work in detail.

There Is Not a Single Management Gimmick That Can Save You from A Lack of Technical Competence

Gimmicky management "systems" keep popping up, and it eats up the attention of naive managers.

The Engineering profession, on the other hand, is closely connected to ground realities, out of necessity gel with reality and deliver results.

Management systems are as endemic to the Government as the Black
The plague was in Medieval Europe. Brochure after brochure crosses my desk
offering seminars and courses in management. Usually, these are aimed at
Government officials. Details vary, but the substance is the same. For
a substantial fee, paid by the Government, and for a few days spent in
pleasant surroundings, those attending the seminars will be taught
management, Usually, the agenda contains numbers: seven trends of
management, five differences between a leader and a manager, four
functions of a leader, five ideas for improving human relations, and three
basic situations. There are gimmicks.
I have a pocket-sized plastic
card, complete with different colored eggs long-sweeping arrows, and fine print. Problems go one way, decisions another, and plans in
yet a third direction. Presumably, a person, faced with a decision, has
only to pull out this card and follow the arrows. That is if he has the
time and the patience, and can comprehend it, I can't.

In Technical Matters - the Devil Is in The Details

The problem with management systems is that they are too broad and generic to be of any practical use.

A management system is broad and sweeping in its generalities.
But technical problems are a matter of detail, The devil is in the details,
Management systems cannot help when the difficulties are technical. A
badly designed machine on which the safety of the ship and its crew may
depend is impervious to the blandishments of a management system.
But a badly designed machine will yield an exhaustive analysis by a technically trained man

Thought Experiment: What if Columbus Had Applied Modern Management Techniques to His Voyage?

Rickover makes a powerful point about the ridiculousness of the modern management approach to challenges:

What if Columbus had applied modern management systems to his
proposed voyage? He would have attended management seminars. He
would have studied tables with brightly colored squares and broad arrows
to show which way plans, decisions, and problems were to go. He would
not have bothered with details such as navigation and seamanship. These
were technical matters. He would simply have "managed" the voyage. He
would have used a colored-plastic decision-making card. Further, his
analyst—I mean systems analyst—would have presented him with several
volumes proving that the venture was not cost-effective. America would
never have been discovered. We would all be Indians.

Elaborate Management Systems Dull Purpose and Competence

The disastrous effect of management systems is that they dull purpose and competence, rather than enhancing it.

It is hard to describe how pervasive management systems are; and how
they have dulled the sharp edge of purpose and competence.
Nor are line
officers the only ones to depend on the teachings of modern management.
A recent Chief of the Bureau of Ships told his engineers that their key role
was management in & the technological revolution, He did not deny the need
for technically trained people but stated that management was the job
of engineering officers in Washington. Moreover, he noted approvingly
that engineers, more used to dealing with verifiable facts, had participated
in courses to enable them to deal efficiently with unpredictable human
beings. In my experience, there are not many facts in a rapidly advancing
field. Finding out what they are consumes all the time of a good engineer.
It is upon knowing these technical facts that the Navy depends not upon people taken from their jobs to become skilled at human relations.

Management Teaches People to Avoid the Central Problem at Hand

The central thing required to solve problems is usually effort.

What management systems do is, help people give excuses on why they should avoid the effort.

Management is taught at Annapolis. This has done serious harm to
its young graduates. My people and I interview midshipmen before they
enter the nuclear program. We do this because it takes time, effort, and
expense to train an officer to operate nuclear ships. We cannot afford to
penalize men who are working hard to learn atomic power plant technology
by wasting our resources on individuals who have been taught the easy social
science courses, or who cannot or will not make demands upon themselves.

Management Studies Builds up A Lazy, Aristocratic Approach

Rickover noticed that people with Management Studies training tend to be divorced from reality.

We must also select men who will seek facts and face them. Officers in
nuclear ships cannot rely on theory alone.
One midshipman, who had
taken management courses, told me that he was able to learn my job in
six months; he could run General Electric in a year.
It was not his fault. It was no crime for him to give this answer.
He had been taught by his supposedly responsible and knowledgeable
professors that his job was to "manage," It will take some of these men
years to unlearn the Annapolis social science propaganda, and some never
What is tragic is that often these young men have good potential as
naval officers. They report to the Academy expecting to be taught the
elements of the naval profession and have no reason to expect otherwise.
Instead, they learn that a naval officer shouldn't bother with technical
details. All he needs to know are broad concepts on how to manage.
Someone else will do the work. There will always be available to him
a sufficient number of cheerful, willing, competent, hard-working "serfs"
to do the technical work, as well as the money to do the job. He will be
the leader, the aristocrat.

Management Studies Often Encourage Building Up a Cult in Thought

Rickover was always afraid of a sheltered view of life.

In the Navy business, refusal to update views based on updated situations meant death.

So he could see the dangers posed by the doctrinal orientations of management thought.

There exists a great temptation in a man's life to commit himself to
the dogma of his youth and to base his entire life's work on that dogmatic
foundation. This temptation is fostered by the cult of management, and
this is why management studies should be banned from the Naval Academy.
Many of its graduates, leading the sheltered naval life, never reexamine
this doctrine; never afterward do they fully experience the world of reality. They would be lost if suddenly the dogma handed down should prove to be fallacious

Engineering Requires a Continuous Questioning & Renewal of Views

One of the great reasons for practicing Engineering personally for me is: the honesty demanded in the field.

One must adhere to nature, and its constraints.

One must deal with society and people's needs correctly, or be kicked out.

Rigour keeps the engineer honest.

Though we may stop asking questions the day we obtain our diplomas,
the Navy we are committed to serve and enhance will not. It keeps asking
us whether we know what we are doing; it keeps asking us why the Navy
we have desired and built over the past 50 years is in its present state.

Knowing the Details of The Job > "World Outlook"

As a hardened engineering leader, Rickover understood the importance of paying attention to the minutest details of the job.

He accepted the importance of time-honored attributes like hard-work, honesty, excellence and such things.

But other than that he clearly rejected impractical approaches such as operating on the "world outlook" of his team.

There are also signs that the Naval War College has lost its sense
of purpose. That college was founded in 1884 to give a few naval officers
a chance to think about strategy. But today strategy is one among other themes. For example, in the Naval War College Review of January 1872,
the lead article was entitled "A Revolution in Organization Concepts."

A single sentence sums up the author's philosophy: 'A person's ability
to manage his affairs or those of any public or private organization
or institution depends less on the methods, techniques, and tools he
employs than on his understanding of, and attitudes toward, the world
that contains him and the groups of which he is a part." Put another way,
he is saying that an attitude is more important than knowing the details
of a job. The article's author has taught in several colleges here and
abroad, and at one point was a professor of city planning and a co-author
of a book on management. But would you go to a doctor who believes his
"world outlook" is more important than his medical knowledge?

The Engineer Must Solve the Problem in Fact, Not on Paper

Claims made on paper must be considered weaker than claims made through
actual performance.

A working system is of far superior value due to its power to function and produce results.

We must respect this aspect as engineers.

You must fight at sea, not on paper.

Contrast this philosophy with that of another article in the same issue
of the Review. It describes how Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves, who was
Commander of the United States Fleet in 1934, gathered officers of all
ranks for a lecture at the War College. He told them: "In everything we
do, we must ask ourselves: does this directly advance preparation for war?
...if war comes, this Fleet must fight 'as is." You must fight at sea
and not on paper."
These two examples from the Review go to the heart
of the matter—one is professional advice from an experienced naval
officer; the other is not. .

More Complex the Work, Greater the Need for Initiative

Modern management seems to have no place for special talent and deep experience.

People can be replaced easily with someone else, in theory.

But in deep knowledge based industries this is impossible.

Process cannot replace initiative.

You need intelligent people heading complex initiatives, giving it their all to succeed.

Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done. For this reason, subordinates must be given authority and responsibility early in their careers. In this way they develop quickly and can help the manager do his work. The manager, of course, remains ultimately responsible and must accept the blame if subordinates make mistakes.

Promote the Technically Knowledgeable Into Leadership Positions

In Engineering teams, just like in surgery teams, you need expert leadership.

A non-technical leader, just like a non-surgeon leader, will be too slow, make faulty judgments under pressure, and lead to painful results.

The Navy is raising a generation of officers who believe that technical
training is not essential and that they can rely on management techniques to
make decisions. For these officers, the road to advancement in many cases
leads through the non-professional areas of the Navy, such as political-
military affairs, foreign sales, planning and budgeting, and human relations.
Further, they want subordinates with whom they can be comfortable rather
than those who are qualified. On the other hand, the Russians do not put
management experts into highly technical positions. A recent Soviet listing
indicates that the head of the Russian space program is a design engineer
who has been associated with Soviet rocket development since World War II.

Engineering Problems Cannot Be Solved Through Personal Will Alone

What Engineering and Science teach us is about the limits and realities of the world, and learning to respect those constraints, while working around them.

People used to management systems and processes, and those divorced
from reality, are not accustomed to dealing with the obstacles of engineering.

My people and I find that the technical bases for these proposals are
unsound. When we object to these schemes on scientific and engineering
grounds, we are told that we are unimaginative and stubbornly conservative,
that we could make these systems work if we really tried and wanted to do so.
Such an argument reduces all engineering to the simple matter of personal will.
We are constantly faced with people who believe in the idea of overcoming
existing difficulties by trying something even bolder and more difficult.
Like all exaggerated gallantry, such a course is attractive but unrewarding.

Set up A Lifelong Sequence of Challenges - a Never-Ending Challenge

Rickover recommends continuously raising the bar for the engineers and managers.

There must be a never-ending challenge of engineering to keep the team going for a lifetime.

As subordinates develop, work should be constantly added so that no one can finish his job. This serves as a prod and a challenge. It brings out their capabilities and frees the manager to assume added responsibilities. As members of the organization become capable of assuming new and more difficult duties, they develop pride in doing the job well. This attitude soon permeates the entire organization.

Keep Increasing the Responsibility of the Engineer & Help Them Develop Ability

Again - an engineer must not be thought of as a bricklayer, who can be bossed around.

The engineer must have broad responsibility, the freedom to think and act.

They must make their own mistakes, recover from them, and grow in wisdom.

One must permit his people the freedom to seek added work and greater responsibility. In my organization, there are no formal job descriptions or organizational charts. Responsibilities are defined in a general way so that people are not circumscribed. All are permitted to do as they think best and to go to anyone and anywhere for help. Each person then is limited only by his own ability.

Dealing with Challenges Over Long Term Makes Formidable Engineers

A central motivation for the engineer is challenge, and the mental high obtained when difficulties are overcome via ingenuity.

Also -- putting long-term efforts to overcome major obstacles is a source of commitment.

The manager must encourage such an attitude.

Complex jobs cannot be accomplished effectively with transients. Therefore, a manager must make the work challenging and rewarding so that his people will remain with the organization for many years. This allows it to benefit fully from their knowledge, experience, and corporate memory.

The Defense Department does not recognize the need for continuity in important jobs. It rotates officers every few years both at headquarters and in the field. The same applies to their civilian superiors.

This system virtually ensures inexperience and nonaccountability. By the time an officer has begun to learn a job, it is time for him to rotate. Under this system, incumbents can blame their problems on predecessors. They are assigned to another job before the results of their work become evident. Subordinates cannot be expected to remain committed to a job and perform effectively when they are continuously adapting to a new job or a new boss.

If the Manager Doesn't Care or Commit, Nobody Does As Well

Due to monetary inducements and incentives, people lose their long-term vision and capability to execute on the same direction for longer periods.

This is not good for the organization and the profession (or the individual too on a long-term basis).

We must learn to care about the projects we work on & develop the commitment to see them through to the conclusion.

When doing a job—any job—one must feel that he owns it, and act as though he will remain in the job forever. He must look after his work just as conscientiously, as though it were his own business and his own money. If he feels he is only a temporary custodian, or that the job is just a stepping stone to a higher position, his actions will not take into account the long-term interests of the organization. His lack of commitment to the present job will be perceived by those who work for him, and they, likewise, will tend not to care. Too many spend their entire working lives looking for their next job. When one feels he owns his present job and acts that way, he needs to have no concern about his next job.

When Something Goes Wrong - Who Is to Blame - Who Is Responsible?

In industry, we often see failing projects, but there is no single person who is responsible.

Turns out, nobody truly wanted to see it done. There is a crisis of responsibility in the world
at large.

There is a lack of commitment. There is a deficit in taking 100% ownership.

Structure projects in such a way that there is one person responsible when things go wrong.

If everyone is theoretically responsible, in practice is nobody is!

Unless the individual truly responsible can be identified when something goes wrong, no one has really been responsible. With the advent of modern management theories, it is becoming common for organizations to deal with problems in a collective manner, by dividing programs into subprograms, with no one left responsible for the entire effort. There is also the tendency to establish more and more levels of management, on the theory that this gives better control. These are but different forms of shared responsibility, which easily lead to no one being responsible—a problem that often inheres in large corporations as well as in the Defense Department.


A problem with me is that I could go on quoting the Admiral's wisdom with no end in sight. The space available for this week's post is limited, therefore I must stop.

So at this point, I will encourage everyone who deals with engineering matters to learn more about Admiral Rickover. You can find some starting points right within our blog, Hexmos Journal, to embark on a learning journey.

What do you think of my choice to project Rickover as the Newton of Engineering Management? Do you have any other personalities, either historical or contemporary who fit the bill? Do let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Links/Further Reading

By Rickover:

Other references: