Time Management

Time management is a topic that is not mentioned often in engineering designs or manufacture reviews.  Sure expectations for deadlines are mentioned, and the status to completion of a task is mentioned too, but how to manage time and what are the consequences of bad time management aren’t mentioned that often.  It is this second that I want to share an example I learned when I was a Formula SAE student (Univ. of Puerto Rico).  Now that I’m a graduate student it can help the Baja SAE team (Univ. of Notre Dame) that I’m helping out and all others reading.

All teams are composed of people that work different, some are efficient and others have to put more hours to complete the same job.  If this is not your case stop reading here and congratulations; but for the rest of us:  What happens when someone can’t finish a task by the deadline?  Examples from my Formula SAE years: (a) a student that was supposed to work on “X” suddenly disappears after midterms (b) the design doesn’t work, (c) the machining was ruined, and so on.  What is the resulting workload for those that stayed to finish the work (finish the car)?

Here is what I learned. The simplest scenario is composed of two players and each one of them had to complete 50% of the work by midterms and the other 50% by the end of the semester. In this case everything was perfect and no one had to work more.

Now, let’s say that student 2 completed 50% of the work by midterms, but then at that point in time is notified that student 1 left the team and never completed his/her work.  Reasons for leaving a team can range from lowering grades, up to group dynamics.  Now student 2 has to finish the original workload and add the work from student 1.  The point and eye opener is that student 2 now has to triple the amount of work (150%), when compared to the first part of the semester.

If you are working in any of the SAE collegiate design competitions and feel that close to the end you are working much more than in the beginning this might be one of the reasons.  In this simple example when someone doesn’t finish the work, the result is that it triples the workload for the one that stays!  Very likely, if you are reading this, you are the one that sticks, just have this triple factor in mind next time.  Remember that time is a scarce nonrenewable resource.  This was the first of a series of posts in which I will discuss and share a few things of what I’ve learned in Formula SAE.



How to peel Post-it notes?

Last year I learned how to peel a post-it note and recently I witnessed how many people don’t know how to use them.  Since it is a process that is difficult to describe in words but simple to show in a video I went to the how to video library of the internet (YouTube) in search of such a video and here it is.

Now that you know spread the word.

Casa Batlló Design

This house has over a hundred years, it is located in Passeig de Gràcia Avenue in Barcelona, Spain.  Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol restored it.  Representing an organic style, it has oval windows in the front and as you enter, the lines of the staircase have a distinct natural course.

By means of evolution, nature has “optimize” its creation; for example bones are lightweight and strong, they are narrower at the center where forces only act in tension or compression and wider at the ends were they are subject to moments.

In nature, form and function combine in one. As I toured the house I observed that the organic shapes were not only visually appealing but also functional.  Nature, as the central theme, was spread all across the house. From the second floor and up, the window frames had vents that resembled the gills of a fish.

The tour guide explained that these vents were all over the house and that the ventilation of every room was “connected” to the adjacent rooms by these gills/vents.  Aside from recreating the respiratory system of a fish, it was actually recreating the respiratory system of the house.

Barcelona experiences very warm summers and cold winters, and closing or opening these gills, depending on the season, helped to maintain a good temperature.  Remember that at that time HVAC units were not around.

If you looked up from one of the first floor interior patios you would see that the windows were all of the same size and that the color of the wall was the same from top to bottom.  Then, as you went upstairs (that were on the side of the patio) you noticed that the size of the windows changed from floor to floor.  The lowest floor had bigger windows because it needed more sun, and as you went up the windows were smaller. You can ask, why the windows looked the same dimension? Cleverly, the frames of the windows were bigger thus creating the perception, from the first floor, that all were of the same size.  Suddenly, you noticed that the intensity in the color of the wall was changing between floors. The color took into account the gradient (the change in the amount) of sunlight to create the visual effect that the whole wall was of the same blue color.

I don’t have to mention that all these details and others impressed me, like the roof that had a room where you could line dry clothes even when raining, chimneys that were just part of a piece of art that involved recycled materials, and much more.

During my stay I visited other houses designed by Gaudí.  They shared the same design principles.  Obviously nature was his inspiration, but did he follow any method?  Most of these houses were built without blueprints.  What was his ultimate goal; make a functional or beautiful house, or both?  How is it that this house design is functional but at the same time aesthetic pleasing and environmental friendly?

Today, many products and artifacts lack of that blend that fuse aesthetics and functionality.  What is really the motivation behind product design today?

Note: First posted in personal web page August 3, 2010