Excellence is something we all want. But what does it truly mean? Think about that. What is the definition of engineering excellence? How can we measure it to know that we’ve achieved it? I’m on a quest to answer these questions. I’m starting with building a fundamental understanding of what it is and what it is not.
A colleague asked me the definition of engineering excellence. I stopped to think about my answer. It inspired me to want to explore it further, i.e. to get a better understanding of what it actually is.
This article is my thought experiment. It’s not complete. It needs more thought. It needs your input for us to collaborate on what we all think it is.
Let’s Start Here
I’ve always thought of engineering excellence as the achievement of technical authority and consistently performing at the top of your profession. I’ve envisioned it in this way:
Excellence is that sweet spot where operations seamlessly support the way we work and in harmony with us, where our team collectively leverages all of our strengths and fills in our individual weaknesses, and where we as a team work together to innovate, collaborate, and deliver high quality results that meet or exceed client and internal expectations.
As a mentor, coach, and engineering leader, I’m on a journey to go deeper, past the clichés and buzz phrases, to find a universal understanding of what excellence truly is and then how we know when we’ve achieved it. Think about that.
We’ve all heard this term thrown around. Do a Google search and you’ll find thousands of references. Companies make it part of their vision and initiatives. But it feels like a buzz phrase and instead of something achievable.
I want more. I want to know its qualities, attributes, and influencers. I want to know how to achieve it, what steps we need to take, and how we can measure it. I want to know how to effectively cultivate and sustain it within a team or organization. I want to make it achievable and real, not just a phrase that we toss around.
In this article, let’s explore what it is.
The Textbook Dictionary Definition
We want to know what engineering excellence is. Let’s start with a definition of excellence.
The quality of being outstanding or extremely good.
Let’s break down this definition:
What do you think of that definition? What comes to your mind? I immediately jumped to sports.
Seeking Excellence via Parallels in Sports
I used to be quite the athlete, competing at a semi-professional level. In my younger days, we didn’t have women’s professional sports, but we did have semi-professional organizations throughout our state and country. What sports did I play?
I was highly skilled in fast-pitch softball, basketball, and volleyball. I excelled in softball, as a utility infielder who was tall, strong, and flexible with fast hands and feet. I played first, second, and third base. I was disciplined, fearless, and committed to all aspects of the game, especially in its strategy.
I was recruited to play at a high level. I won a scholarship to play in college. As I look around my office, there are trophies, medals, and pictures capturing memories of those days. Sports were important to my family and me.
I find a direct correlation between sports and engineering, especially when we talk about teams, strategy, and excellence.
How Do We Determine Excellence in Team Sports?
How do we determine excellence in team sports? Let me frame the question another way. Within a given season, how do we label one team as the best in their sport?
It’s through their achievements measured by wins and losses.
Consider the winners of the World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series, or an Olympic gold medal. Would you consider the winner of these events to have achieved excellence? Yes, I think we can agree on that. Each team who wins the event is the best team in that season.
What is the process in sports to get to that final tournament? Teams compete throughout the season. The ones who accumulate the most wins can advance. Once in the tournament, the ultimate winner is the one who best leverages all of its talents and collectively executes the best strategy together.
Excellence in sports is measured by the team’s ability to consistently perform and win. Let me say it another way. Performance directly correlates to the result. The team that best performs in a game wins.
Does Excellence in Sports Translate into Engineering?
Yes, I believe it does. Engineering excellence is based upon our ability to perform and deliver results.
Just like a sports team who is disciplined and able to excel throughout the season, an engineering team racks up wins and increments of excellence through our continuous work from idea to implementation and beyond.
We don’t have a season or the Super Bowl of Engineering. Rather, our wins are measured in our performance to understand the client’s problem, the formulation of the solution strategies, and then ultimately through the entire prototype, build, test, and process.
In engineering, it’s the summation of the entire process. Our clients and all stakeholders decide if achieved excellence in how we served them.
Is There More to It?
Hmm, the thought experiment leaves me thinking there is more to the question about what engineering excellence is.
So I’ll ask you. What do you think engineering excellence is? How do you define it? How do you measure it?