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Improving engineering management

Engineering is multidisciplinary and can therefore benefit from 'consolidated thinking'. With with the advent of computer aided engineering, the development landscape has evolved into a more homogenous environment.

Engineering is multidisciplinary and can therefore benefit from 'consolidated thinking'. However, due to the dissimilar nature of the various disciplines, concurrent engineering has, historically, precluded any accessible method for documenting and coordinating results. Until recently, the effort involved in combining them has rendered true concurrent engineering almost impossible to achieve.
But with the advent of computer aided engineering, the development landscape has evolved into a more homogenous environment. It is commonplace to find engineers with contrasting skills working side by side on the same project using the same workstations, albeit using different software design and development tools. Under these circumstances, concurrent engineering has taken a giant step forward and looks to become a real possibility in improving the way we work.
This is particularly important for modern product development projects, which involve the creation and evolution of large amounts of digital data and efficient methods for data management.
A consumer or enterprise product consists of many elements – such as source code, marketing collateral, digital assets, hardware designs, configuration and test scripts. The use of a single repository for files from multiple sources makes sense and a Software Configuration Management (SCM) system meets that requirement with change history, and more, as a bonus.
However, in the world of engineering management, if the SCM tool takes only a software developer-centric view of the world, non software developers can find using it a very daunting prospect. This may reinforce their compartmentalised view that SCM tools are only for code, documentation management systems are for documents, digital asset management systems are for graphics and so on.
In reality, there are many SCM tools that support a range of contributors – including partners and third parties – in different parts of the world and that enable them to work well together. This leads to a reduction in the administrative overhead of managing separate systems for each type of file and reduces the inherent risk of integrating disparate systems. In addition, bringing the whole production effort under one system helps to manage complexity, reduce development time and reduce costs. It gives high visibility of any changes to everyone in the design process, so that development decisions are based on consistent and up to date information.
Using an SCM tool solves the problems associated with having multiple versions of a file and different people working on the file at the same time making many different changes. If the saving and repository scheme is fast and simple, all the changes are incorporated automatically and the conflicts are minimised. This saves hours compared to the traditional approach of bringing together different parts of the design team once a week to combine the developments in hardware, software and documentation.
The speed of change in the marketplace means developments are continuous and new versions of software are being created by various partners all the time. Embedded developers and designers grappling with variant management must understand what is different between the software that they write for each edition of the product and what is the same.

Dave Robertson

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