Crucial Soft Skills for Engineering Services – Part 2
When faced with the need for additional technical staff, to accomplish short-term project goals, companies that seek to supplement their own personnel generally focus on the work at hand that needs to be executed. But what about the many and varied other factors that influence effectively adding help to their existing workforce? Beyond the obvious needed technical skills and related project experience, what should a hiring company look for in their supplemental service provider? At Optimation, one of our goals is to view each and every project, though it may be but a small service contract, as an opportunity to build a relationship that will remain after the current job is completed.
Here’s the rest of our list of soft skills that are crucial to have in a service provider:
- Respecting client’s chain of command. There are few corporate etiquette mistakes that a supplier can make that, but not respecting your client’s chain of command would have to be one of the potential trouble spots. At Optimation, we make sure our client has described to us, and then we respect, how project decisions will be vetted and made. Experience has taught us that seeking project input through the incorrect source can sometimes create an excessive amount of negative exposure within a customer organization, a situation we strive to avoid.
- Studying/Learning client’s manufacturing process, product properties and constraints. A strength that we play to is the manufacturing process experience that our people have accumulated over the years. We are not shy about engaging in our client’s process, and even product, characteristics and limitations. We find that being able to discuss the cause and effect relationships between product, process, and then equipment is one way to mine extra value in our project deliverables. In some cases we have been able to demonstrate to our customers that their scope and intended outcome may be enhanced by pursuing an alternate approach or technology.
- Observing client cultural practices and being willing to adopt them. We know as we approach a new project team that we are the guests being invited to the party, and our customer team is manned by people to be viewed as the hosts. So, we try to take our queues from them when it comes to the soft things, like how their people like to be addressed, their protocol for things like lunch and break arrangements, how they work together, what topics interest them outside of work. Showing an interest in these non-project related issues helps to foster our adoption into the team, and usually results in improved effectiveness.
- Being accountable for deliverables (do what we say we are going to do, no surprises). As a supplier, one of if not the most important means of building client trust and stake in a supplier’s ongoing participation is to be 100% accurate with our work delivery and content. We know that our reputation, and the success of an emerging long term relationship, depend on this.
- Recognizing project obstacles and offering suggested work arounds. When problems arise, and unforeseen impediments to project progress block the forward motion of the team, we view this as an opportunity to step up and provide service beyond what a client may expect. Offering creative work arounds helps us gain share, please the client, keep the project moving, and ultimately allow us to deliver on our commitments and expectations.
- Ensure that the client’s User Requirements are documented, and if not be willing to assist in completing this important step. Fundamental, you might say…and yet, many projects start with general statements and direction from the client, but lack needed specific input. Providing a Requirements outline, and a Work Method to fill in the content, is one way we try to ensure that this step is not overlooked, and the risk of not doing it and missing needed project content is avoided. We may even provide a first pass version with our collected client input entered, for approval by our sponsor. This sometimes sparks a response in the form of corrections that results in the project team capturing the needed content.
- Provide a plan with key milestones and dates, so that critical time related project activities are on schedule, tasks and resources are managed appropriately. In order to measure project success, our collaborating technical folks will provide a plan/schedule with enough detail, and milestones, that our client will be able to tell that we are making good on our project commitments and expectations. This is not something that should be left to chance. We desire that our clients have proof that we are satisfying, if not delighting, them.
When a client contracts with us to do (technical) service work, in its simplest form we can think of the “work” which is to produce a set of engineering deliverables, and the “service” which embodies the way that we produce our documents, drawings, reports, etc. A successful project that results in a satisfied customer (one who is looking for future opportunities to work with us) is the result of a supplier attending to both the “work” and the “service”. By addressing some of the soft content/opportunities a service project offers, we as a supplier strive to demonstrate that we are not only technically qualified, we are committed to being good stewards of our clients time and resources.