Day 9, New Engineer’s First Job: Mistakes

Dear Diary, Day 9. I really dodged a bullet on Tuesday. I spent all day fine tuning my computer model of my design in preparation for John my manager to review my progress. He wanted a few changes made which undid all of my fine tuning so I essentially wasted the entire day. I think he knew what I had done but didn’t get angry with me or even acknowledge it, just gave me some good advice and left me to it.

I am still trying to get the measure of John so at lunch time today I admitted to a few of the other engineers what had happened and got their input. Stephen seemed to sum him up best, “If John is under pressure he will get angry but most of the time he is really good at respecting our own ability to realise when we screwed up and learn our own lessons.”

Though don’t make the same mistake twice added Martin “I once ordered the steel parts kit for a prototype at the wrong scale, all the parts came in a tenth of the size they were supposed to be. It is bad enough wasting time but that was just throwing money into the scrap bin. I couldn’t believe it when John actually laughed at the state of the kit, he said obviously it was an expensive screw up but we could make up the miniature version for a display. So that was ok, then when re-ordering the kit, I thought I had changed the settings but I didn’t realise it was still defaulting to 10:1 scale, I really hate AutoCAD! I’d made the exact same mistake again and that time John went through me for a short cut.”

“I once created a design that physically couldn’t be made” admitted Stephen. “There was a welded assembly that was an almost fully enclosed box but the fitters needed to get access to the inside to bolt it in place. They had to get out the gas torch and cut a hole in the side of it. It is so easy to miss things like that when you are creating the computer model. John was ok with it but the fitters haven’t let me live it down. They thought they were hilarious when they left me up the drawing afterwards, they had drawn on the new hole and had wrote ‘A-Hole’ in big red letters beside it”. Stephen continued “Of course Dave is the worst as far as manufacturing is concerned. He has sent out designs so many times with tolerances so badly off that the parts can’t actually be put together. He can’t show his face on the factory floor any more. John did get a bit angry with him but he really was starting to make us look bad.”

James then told us about a company he used to work for that would always have the first batch of a product sold before the design was even finished which meant the managers never gave them enough time to do complete testing. One product he worked on only got a basic functional test, no reliability testing. Within a month, every one of that first batch had broken. He said management put all the blame on him and made him deal with all the complaints and drive to each of the customers himself and do repairs onsite. “I learnt the lesson there and so did the company” he admitted, “I told the customers that this was how management tested products then I went back to the office and handed in my notice!” . . . Note to self, don’t cross James.

It was good to hear those horror stories from the others. I am still really worried that I will keep doing stupid things and screwing up. I do know there is a limit to John’s patience. At least I know it is not the end of the world anyway.

Lessons from day 9:

If you screw up, and if you ask yourself what will the effect be on me, you are more likely to assume the worst, panic and as a result do something foolish to cover up. If instead you ask what the effect will be on the company, it is unlikely to be anything more than a relatively minor time delay or financial loss. There is rarely as much at stake as you think, especially as a graduate engineer.

Ownership and honesty are generally always the best polices if you screw up in work, good managers are prepared for things to go wrong and they need to be able to trust their team.

That said if you can do anything reasonable in terms of damage limitation that would also be advisable.

Containment is the first thing to think about when you realise you have made a mistake. Could you have made that same mistake before, could that mistake have slipped down the line and be hiding in a product on the production line, or worse, with a customer? The rule of ten states that the cost to rectify a mistake gets ten times greater every step that the product gets closer to the customer.

You may get some mocking from co-workers but that is all just part of office banter, don’t take it personally

The best lessons you will learn will come from mistakes. Take time to reflect on what went wrong and what you can do differently next time.

A bad manager or a good manager on a bad day may go through you for a shortcut, take it on the chin, we have all been there at least once . . . or twice . . .

In short: Take ownership for the mistake, be honest about what happened, contain the issue, learn from it, ensure it doesn’t happen again and move on.


Coming up: Day 10, Personal Development – How can our new graduate set himself on the right career path?

To compliment this series, a list of the TOP TEN USEFUL PROFESSIONAL TOOLS is available for download inside our new LinkedIn Group ‘Graduate Engineers Entering Industry’

Feel free to join up, join in the conversation and share your own stories and experiences.

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