Engineering 101

Building_Quality“What does this have to do with Bullsye?” you might ask.

Well, this process is what Bullseye shooters do to develop a successful shot plan: We write the steps down, follow those steps and, when something doesn’t work, we figure out how to change that shot plan so we do it right. And then we write down the new shot plan and follow it.

Bullseye shooters say it can take years to fully perfect the shot plan.

It’s not easy, but it works.

Here’s the process.

To build a quality product no matter what that “product” might be:

  1. Write down the build steps.
  2. Follow those steps exactly.
  3. If something comes out wrong, figure out how to change the steps to prevent that and repeat from #1 (above).

This is the essence of all quality engineering.

No matter whether you are building bridges, making airplanes or assembling waffle irons, if you want a top quality product, this is how it’s done.

Note that, realistically, you probably won’t make a perfect product the first time around. For example, the waffle iron handle might occasionally fall off because the screw holding it on was cross-threaded during assembly. When that happens, you go back to the instructions and find the step for attaching the handle and add, “Make sure the bolt is straight and not cross-threaded.” If the new written directions are then followed, there should be no more cross-threaded bolts on the handle.

When this process is followed and, problem by problem, tuned to perfection, perfect waffle irons will eventually come out every time.

This is how quality happens.

This is how airplanes are built.

Indeed, this is how airplanes are designed in the first place. There is a process, a methodology, for that, too.

It starts with a step like, “Write down the requirements for the aircraft: How fast is it supposed to go, how high will it cruise and how many passengers will it carry?”

And that process, at its end, includes a matching set of questions: “Will the aircraft fly as fast as the requirements state?” And, “Will it cruise at the required altitude?” If any of the answers are no, then the process failed and needs to be modified.

The designer writes down those requirements and, when the design is done, answers those final questions.

So far, so good.

But that doesn’t make the airplane perfect. We might still miss something — maybe the airplane burns too much fuel. So then we go back and change the design methodology adding new questions at the beginning and the end of the process to make sure that requirement is satisfied.

I design training for software engineers.

I use a written methodology.

It begins, “Write down the requirements for training: Who is the audience, what can they already do, what do they need to be able to do, how much time is available to teach them, will this be an instructor-led in-person class, something taught through the web or will it be a book and print self-paced class?”

I write it all down.

And the process ends with another set of questions that are answered in the classroom: “Does the audience match what the requirements predicted? Can they already do what we thought they should be able to do?” And at the end of the class, it asks, “Can they now do what they need to do?” And so forth.

This is a rigorous, painful and sometimes embarrassing process. But it works.

Our customers design and build airplanes using our software. They know about writing it down and companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Northrop Grumman and Embraer build quality aircraft.

You bet your life on it.

Let me say that again:

You bet your life on it.

They rely on our training so we build quality training.

We write it all down, follow all the steps and, if something doesn’t come out right through the training, we fix the process, write down the new steps and start over.

Shoot the X ring, move passengers 5,000 miles in safety and comfort, allow automobiles and trucks to drive over a deep chasm, make a waffle, or design a training class, that’s how quality is built.

One (repeatedly replaced, amplified and corrected) step at a time.

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