In 2011 I was a graduate engineer working at a product development consultancy in Australia. Back then, our client asked us to work on the next iteration of a lab automation instrument. The work involved general improvements and a bug fix for their instrument; nothing ground-breaking, but it would give the product an edge in the market.
We went to the client’s lab to familiarise ourselves and realised that a significant amount of space and effort was devoted to sorting and managing samples to get the most out of very expensive instruments. After being able to have a bird’s-eye view of the lab, it became apparent that there was an opportunity to make a bigger impact: how can we fit the instrument into an efficient lab workflow that increases total throughput and reduces the likelihood of making mistakes?
This idea was quite a departure from the initial client request and met resistance from the wider client management group. So as engineers, how do you present a ground-breaking idea to your client in the most impactful way? PowerPoint has its place, but in this instance a few slides weren’t going to cut it.
One of the challenges of working as an engineer in a consultancy is being able to blend the technical and interpersonal aspects of your work. Engineers very often jump directly to technical problem-solving because it’s within our comfort zone; but understanding the ‘people’ side of the equation and the user needs is as important as solving the technical aspect if you want to get the best outcome.
So, we brainstormed and came up with an idea: what if we could cobble together our concept, show how it fits into the workflow of the client’s lab and demonstrate the benefits. We were fortunate enough to have several obsolete instruments ‘in the shed’ we could salvage and the budget to spend a month pulling the pieces together. The ‘Frankenstein prototype’ wasn’t pretty and involved a reasonable amount of cable ties, but it worked! The resulting 3-minute video, complete with cheesy theme music, went viral around the client organisation and gave the necessary momentum to the project.
After this experience, the importance of getting your message across is a lesson that has stuck with me. Even as an engineer solving technical problems, you need to know your audience and be willing to put in a lot of effort behind the scenes to get your ideas across in the most impactful ways.
Oh, and don’t be afraid of some cheesy theme music!
Peter is a member of the mechanical engineering group, where he contributes at a technical and project management level on a range of development projects. In addition to this, he is also involved in medtech business development commercial activities.