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Episode 082: Connecting the Dots and Going Deeper into New Ways of Thinking and Working

Today’s episode of the AEC Leadership Today podcast features Patrick Sweet, President of the Engineering & Leadership Project, and prior to that a high-achieving professional, manager, and leader at Lockheed Martin and Bombardier. Our discussion takes us deeper into the emerging practice of systems engineering, Agile work methods, and how to improve productivity. 

Connecting the Dots and Going Deeper into New Ways of Thinking and Working

It’s clear that the way most of us work – the way most of us in leadership and senior management were taught – is at least less than ideal, if not disjointed and, in some cases, even dysfunctional.

The goal of this podcast episode is to begin to ‘connect the dots’ and go a bit deeper into new ways of thinking and working that will benefit us both for today and moving forward. 

Many organizations continue to ‘load the wagon’ with work hoping it all works out, use ‘sink-or-swim’ as the primary means for training and development, and rely on ‘just-in-time’ management to make the best out of most projects month-after-month, year-after-year.  

If we take a step back, it’s not hard to figure out why frustration, overwhelm, burnout, and missed opportunity loom large, especially when so many of us are continuing to push a greater number of more complex and integrated projects through inefficient and ineffective work environments that have at the same time become hugely chaotic and distractive. 

This, plus the reassessment of priorities and the rebalancing of so many of our lives coming out of COVID, are clearly helping to fuel the ‘3 Great R’s’ – or the not-so-Great R’s depending on our position – these being: the Great Resignation, Great Reshuffling, and Great Retirement waves spanning across all industries, including our own. 

If we’re going to slow down and stop the trend and be able to attract and retain more great talent to our teams and firms and our industry overall, we’re going to need to come up with some better ways to work… which takes us to today’s episode. 

Our guest is Patrick Sweet, President of the Engineering & Leadership Project, and prior to that a high-achieving professional, manager, and leader who held key positions at Lockheed Martin and Bombardier. 

Our discussion focuses on the emerging practice of ‘systems engineering’, Agile work methods, and how we can improve our overall productivity – especially now when so much more is being asked of us both individually and organizationally.

This conversation ties directly into two recent podcast episodes: one related to advanced technology and data use, Episode 81with Shawn Mahoney, and one introducing us into the world of Agile design and thinking, Episode 79 with Michael Sahoto (links provided at the bottom of these shownotes). 

These episodes, along with todays and Episode 77 on designing our ideal day, are designed to help us look beyond what we’ve come to know and continue to do in order to more critically and strategically consider new and more innovative approaches to solve our present work challenges and the changes we already see coming. 

“Yes, (systems engineering and Agile) can absolutely work together… you’re applying a systems engineering mindset and executing that work in an Agile manner.”

— Patrick Sweet 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Patrick’s background as a consulting and systems engineer and how and why he became an entrepreneur and launched the Engineering & Leadership project. 
  • The definition of systems engineering, its rise as an emerging practice coming from the aerospace and defense industries, and how systems engineering and thinking may help us in AEC as our projects become more complex and integrated and our industry moves towards more pre-fabrication and modular design. 
  • Why understanding the form, fit, and function of a project, especially a complex project, requires a particular focus during the early stages, and why systems engineering and thinking is really the same across industries.
  • The environments and types of projects that would benefit the most from systems engineering and what disciplines may benefit the most from it, including architecture and civil engineering. 
  • The philosophy of Agile, its genesis, and how it’ really a process of continuous planning designed to produce very real results in terms of specific deliverables. 
  • What the Agile methods of ‘scrum’ and ‘sprints’ look like, and the benefits of the ‘daily stand up’ in terms of project management and real-time coordination and escalation of key issues – and how that would translate to traditional AEC roles.
  • How Agile design forces us to think more critically and strategically about what we need to produce and why – with Agile’s goal to produce the most important work first while unlocking other work down the road.
  • Who should be included on an Agile team and why, who should be ‘in the room’ and when, and what the ‘room’ could and should look like with more distributed teams. 
  • How and when systems engineering and Agile can work together… and when other methods may be more appropriate. 
  • The definition of productivity and the many reasons why it’s important, particularly in terms of time and energy management and optimization.
  • How to maximize productivity as an individual, team, and firm, and why we need to think about it in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and systems – and in that order, as well as the need to have clear (and aligned!) short and long-term goals.
  • How training and development needs to change to succeed with these new ways of thinking and working, and the need to have a firm-wide ‘operating system’ and cultural framework that replicates and reinforces success behaviors.  

“There’s no reason to fundamentally believe that a project in any one industry has to be different than any other. We are all faced with ambiguity, complexity, high time pressures, and constant change – that’s the world we exist in as engineers and, frankly, most knowledge workers.”

— Patrick Sweet 

I am thankful for the time taken and the insights Pat shared with us on the podcast. I hope you found our discussion as thought provoking and connective as I did, and that you’re inspired to think differently about how you, your team, and your firm can work more efficiently and effectively. 

About Patrick Sweet  

Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, PMP, CSEP is a recognized expert in engineering management, productivity, and leadership. He is the president of The Engineering & Leadership Project, which specializes in leadership and management development, training, and consulting for engineers and engineering firms. He also hosts the popular Engineering & Leadership Podcast, a show dedicated to helping engineering leaders thrive.

Prior to launching The Engineering & Leadership Project, Pat spent 13 years in industry. His work focused predominantly on leading and managing engineers through complex systems integration projects in the rail and defense industries. He’s worked as a product manager, project manager, systems engineering manager, and as the head of configuration management at a large naval combat systems integrator.

Pat has a Bachelor of Engineering from Dalhousie University and an MBA from the Royal Military College of Canada. He’s also a professional engineer licensed in Nova Scotia, Canada, a Certified Systems Engineering Professional (INCOSE), and a certified Project Management Professional (PMI). 

Thanks for listening to the AEC Leadership Today Podcast!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Be sure to connect with Pat to learn more about how to best improve your team and work productively. If you like what you heard, please leave a review on iTunes and share the podcast with your friends, colleagues, partners, and peers. Look forward to seeing you in the next episode!  

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About the Host

Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider having spent more than 20 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms.  Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Pete works with AEC firms and leaders to grow and advance their success through modern and new era focused strategic planning and implementation, executive coaching, leadership and management development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design.

Trace the steps to preventing and reversing burnout in you and your team.

Trace the steps to preventing and reversing burnout in you and your team.

Episode 082: Connecting the Dots and Going Deeper into New Ways of Thinking and Working