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A way in a manager


It is a common opinion among engineers that one should learn the basic mechanics of a subject at university and then learn to use these in practice; that management need not be addressed in education because it is not required until later in practice. Such opinions help to perpetuate the undesirable separation of theory in education from its use in practice.

Management is the definition and control of processes.

There are some principles in management which are arguably more important than the principles of mechanics since their implementation is more dependent on attitudes. It can be much more difficult to correct a bad attitude than to assimilate a new theory.

There are two types of process: determinate - where there is a unique outcome - and indeterminate - where there is no unique outcome and where uncertainty is a major issue.

Education tends to focus on the former type whereas most engineering problems are indeterminate.

The 'essential skill' of a professional engineer is not to 'make numerical predictions of the performance of a proposed engineering system' (Letters last week) but is to consistently achieve successful outcomes in situations of uncertainty. The use of numerical predictions represents only one feature of this competence. Ability to manage the process is no less important.

Should one not start to develop this ability from the earliest age?

Iain A MacLeod, Emeritus Professor of Structural Engineering, University of Strathclyde i. a. macleod@ntlworld. com

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