Monday, December 22, 2014

A Paragraph to Ponder

From the Wall Street Journal today - San Antonio Weighs Expansion by Nathan Koppel:

"San Antonio is moving ahead with plans to annex an much as 66 square miles around it, a land grab that would add as many as 200,000 people to the city and potentially make it the nation's fifth-largest metropolis."

The Nicaragua Canal

This will be interesting to follow - from Bloomberg:
"President Daniel Ortega and executives from the Hong Kong-based HKND Group, which is building the canal, will attend an inauguration ceremony in the capital of Managua, according to Telemaco Talavera, a spokesman for the project’s development commission. A separate ceremony will be held in Rivas, a town between the Pacific coast and Lake Nicaragua, he said.
At an estimated cost more than four times the size of Nicaragua’s $11 billion economy, the project has raised doubts among analysts who point to HKND’s lack of experience in major infrastructure projects and question the need for another Central American canal. Panama is planning to complete a $5.25 billion expansion of its waterway next year."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Civil Engineering Needs to Focus More on Systems Engineering

In a world of "smarter" solutions and breaking down discipline silos, civil engineers need to have a better understanding of basic and advanced systems engineering.  Consider the following from Meeting of the Minds:

Sadly, cities often frame their infrastructure needs independently. How cities prescribe and procure solutions is, frankly, anachronistic. It leaves the cities (and other participants in the “urban ecosystem”) at a significant disadvantage, at a time when we need each other the most.
Consider what’s happening with water treatment. There are approximately 30,000 of these systems in the USA. Let’s assume we want to make these water treatment systems become “smarter”. There’s currently no standard to determine what “smarter” means. This makes it hard to know if a water system is technologically in Kindergarten or if it has a Master’s degree. If a particular water system is second grade, it’s unclear if that system needs a high school education or a doctorate to accomplish the long-term goals. How to procure the solutions needed to increase “smartness”?
Solving this problem requires a formal “requirements framework” which outlines the needs for each major infrastructure segment (water, mobility, buildings, energy). And then imagine that this “requirements framework” was jointly agreed and developed by a critical mass of key public and private constituents. The framework would, ideally, recognize the variance in the maturity/capability of different urban infrastructures. The framework would take into account the fact that different maturity/capability levels are needed in order to reach city goals.
In addition to the framework, a useful measurement system would help to verify and iterate progress. Many of the KPI’s used today to measure city sustainability address the results derived from sustainable practices (i.e. air and water quality). Once a common standard is in place it becomes possible to augment these measures. The goal is to improve the technological maturity of each urban infrastructure system (e.g., water, rail, energy). Technology is a key driver that determines how fast and how far a city will get on the road toward achieving sustainability. There are additional drivers, of course. Two of the important ones are fiscal feasibility and the political will to change.

Attacking Drones

Influencing, Motivating, and Persuading In 2015

One New Year's resolution that engineering project managers should focus on in 2015 are the "soft" skill sets of management.  One of my goals this year is to cover more of the recent research from social psychology, behavioral economics, and neuroscience.  Project managers and engineers need a greater understanding of how influencing, motivating, and persuading skill sets impact their projects.

In the case of influencing, the research is clear that managers and organizations stand to benefit by actively seeking out opportunities to provide explicit thanks.  The principle of reciprocation is important for project managers - the act of giving first is an especially great tool when seeking to develop new relationships, create engagement across teams, and develop long-term partnerships and opportunities with others.  The power of a simple e-mail, "I am very grateful for your hard work.  We sincerely appreciate your contribution to the project team.", should not be underestimated by a project manager.

The small act of communicating your appreciation for efforts made on your project  has huge positive impacts.  Keep in mind that the mechanical "Thanks" via e-mail it not truly showing how really grateful you are.  Going with just "Thanks" is a missed opportunity - engineers need to get much better at communicating genuine appreciation.  In terms of influence - those project managers that can create a heighten culture of communicating explicit thanks will have greater influence and more successful project teams.

ASCE Needs to Start Working the Phones

From the New York Times today, Cheaper Oil, Fatter Wallets and a National Opportunity by Jeff Sommer:

"The national gas tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, hasn't increased since 1993.  With falling gas prices, a tax increase would barely be noticeable at the pump.  Such measures would make a great of economic sense, if politics didn't get in the way."