Return of investment from Continuous Professional Development

Developing medium to high complex technical systems is challenging, even the most competent and capable Engineering Organisations can make design mistakes with massive negative consequences. A recent example from the medical device industry is the product recall by Philips of their Continuous and Non-Continuous Ventilators. This example of a product recall is one that could lead to the bankruptcy of a smaller organisation. Yet even for a company with the resources of Philips, there will, unfortunately, be many major negative impacts.

At the point of a product recall, or a delay to an ongoing project, it is too late to retrain the Engineering teams, as the top priority will be working night and day for many months (sometimes years) to resolve the actual issue. This is the fundamental problem of when risks occur; we need to act urgently on the impact of the risk. Prior to risks occurring, we have the options to mitigate them by training our teams, implementing improvements in the development process etc. but when they occur, we must quickly move to firefighting mode. When analysing successful medium to high complex technical system developments, one major common factor is the number of years’ experience of the technical leaders in the project teams. For instance, roles such as the Lead Systems Engineer, Systems Architect, Software & Hardware Architects etc. Projects led by technical leaders with 10+ years’ experience in the organisation, having worked across many projects during different phases of the LifeCycle, has benefits worth more than any other attribute.

Continuous professional development in my opinion is the solution to avoiding costly, embarrassing issues such as product recalls. In my role as an SE trainer, I often have discussions with individuals or organisations who have enquired about specific training for their teams as they are keen to enhance a skillset or plug a knowledge gap for a particular project. They have pinpointed a weak area and want to strengthen it as swiftly as possible. And coming to a company like ours is absolutely the right thing to do. But I will always ask them about their long-term plans for developing their teams. It is certainly admirable that they are looking to educate their teams but is this standard practise? Do they support their employees throughout their career or only when it is necessary for a given project? Professional development needs to be ongoing. If you invest in it over the span of your employee’s work-life you will reap the benefits as an organisation.

I promote this not only for personal interest but as it is strongly based on my personal experience. I have been fortunate enough to work in organisations where professional development is highly valued, encouraged and expected – intertwined, if you like, within the job role and culture. And I have witnessed the positive impact – both as an SE manager and a trainer – this has on teams, productivity, and return on investment. Individual professional development must be properly and continuously nurtured for success.

With my experience in mind, I present to you my top 5 reasons to invest in your Systems Engineers’ professional development:

The spend is minimal:

The percentage of annual spend needed to invest in professional development is minimal when compared to the potential profit gain and annual outputs. It is a small monetary investment when balanced against the tangible gains for your organisation.

It makes employees feel valued: 

It really pays to have a clear process when it comes to professional development. Employees need to be aware of what they can apply for, who is responsible for agreeing additional training, and that it is encouraged within the organisation. If you invest in enhancing knowledge, skills and practice your employees will notice. They will feel appreciated. You are likely to be repaid with individuals who are dedicated, motivated and loyal to your organisation. I have spoken with many excellent Engineers who left their companies because they were not investing in the people. The people are every organisation’s most precious and valuable resource.

It increases organisational capabilities: 

With a global shortage of Senior Systems Engineers and Lead Systems Engineers, investing in professional development programmes is a fundamental need which can rapidly increase their SE maturity and capabilities in a low risk, cost effective way.

It improves team performance: 

Employees will apply their enhanced or advanced knowledge, problem-solving skills, improved practice, and expertise into their projects meaning a higher chance of an on-time, to-cost complex systems development. This means your customers will want to do further business with your company in the future.

It also encourages innovative thinking – the key to enhancing organizational success. With innovation comes the generation of novel ideas, the increase of revenue and consumer satisfaction and a differentiation from competitors.

It saves money on projects: 

In the development of complex systems, it is always possible that a costly mistake is made. Even with very clever engineers, this still happens. As stated above, this can have catastrophic consequences – not only financially but in terms of reputation, motivation, and stakeholder trust. Investing in continuous professional development reduces the risk of unpredicted, unnecessary expenditure, creating a fire-fighting culture, and certainly saves you money in the long-term.

So, my advice to you is not think of Continuous Professional Development as something that takes employees away from projects or as a knee-jerk reaction to complex problems. Think of it as a mutual, valuable investment – if you grow your people, you will grow your organisation.

Interested in learning more? SE-T offers a comprehensive Systems Engineering – Professional Development Programme (SE-PDP) which is structured to be delivered over four on-site training sessions, covering three main areas of Systems Engineering:

  1. End-to-end complex systems development (6-days)
  2. Integrating specialities / quality attributes applicable to the Customer (3-days)
  3. SE Matrix Management & Leadership (3-days)

The SE-PDP is currently limited to in-house deliveries and is highly customisable to project teams and their organisations.

Learning Outcomes: • Identify common attributes and causes of complexity. • Master the application of Systems Engineering methodologies to complex system developments. • Master key technical management competences required for Senior Systems Engineers, technical matrix leaders. • In a moderated workshop develop sustainable solutions in the System of Systems context.

For a discussion about your organisation’s training needs. Book a call with us here.

– Mike Johnson (Co-Founder, SE-Training GmbH)