Technical Trust Part I: What is it and why is it important?

Sam Feller at engineeringblogs.org recently discussed manufacturing in the USA vs abroad. He cited trust as a critical issue and focused on trusting your supplier (Sam’s full article). His article got me thinking about the importance of trust in engineering—more specifically trust in your colleague’s technical capabilities.

Technical trust is extremely important–but often overlooked–component of high-tech manufacturing. Technical trust is believing that someone else has the technical capability to complete a project successfully.

As a design engineer you spend years designing, testing and optimizing a particular sub-assembly or system. At the end of the design process, you turn your design over to manufacturing and service teams to build, repair and maintain the product. The most important question you’ll ask yourself is “how do I know the manufacturing and service people are capable of handling my design?”

Why is technical trust so important?

As an experienced engineer you know that any serious problem on the manufacturing floor or in the field is ultimately going to be become your problem. So it’s important to you to make sure that the best people are building and supporting your product.

When you get a call that your product is failing final manufacturing test or is crashing at a customer site, the last thing you want is to wonder whether the root cause might sloppy assembly or mis-diagnosis by the field support.

Even more importantly when it comes to troubleshooting remotely, you are relying on someone else to be your eyes and ears on site. You must guide them through a series of troubleshooting steps and trust that they are able to execute those steps correctly.

How do you build technical trust?
Ultimately, technical trust comes from regularly working together through technical problems and observing your colleagues’ strengths, weaknesses and biases. You learn to tailor your communication to the skill-set and adjust your expectations to their biases. You figure out who the super-techs are and which techs you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

For example, a manufacturing technician might do very clean and careful assembly, but be very methodical and require things be clearly explained and documented. You learn to trust that if he does something, he’ll do it by the book. A different technician might be really smart and learn things quickly, but can be impatient. You learn to double-check if he modified the process on the fly–sometimes the modifications are the root cause of the problem and other times they lead to a process improvement.

Technical trust for remote teams

Building trust is especially challenging when working with remote technical teams. Building technical trust requires observing someone work on a regular, almost routine basis. Unfortunately, these interactions require expensive travel when working with remote teams.

We’ll take a more in-depth look at this challenge in part II of this series: “Technical Trust for Remote Teams.”

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