Chief Engineer Transition
This document should serve as a reference for all the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Engineer. While this resource is as comprehensive as can be, it is not meant to be wholly complete, nor a blind guide to be followed as if the Torah. Certain processes and methods described may not be suitable for the team down the road, so please update this manual as needed. The contents are organized in a loosely chronological fashion, beginning with the initial period of setting top-level vehicle requirements and specifications. From there, management of the general design process is described, as well as ways to ensure deadlines are met and PTL’s stay on track. The bulk of your responsibilities are over after vehicle manufacturing enters full swing, but certain items like the design report and presentations still remain, as well as vehicle testing and validation. Miscellaneous responsibilities and helpful notes conclude the main section of this document. Contact information for previous Chief Engineers is included at the end of the document.
While stepping into the shoes of Chief Engineer, keep in mind that this–and the counterpart Chief Mechanic–position is fluid, and specific responsibilities may better be carried out by the other position. It is the entire Executive Board’s chief duty to work together as a team. If you do not mesh well with your Chief Mechanic, problems are guaranteed to ensue. It is impossible to design and build a great car in a vacuum. Figure out how your (the “Chiefs’”) abilities best complement each other and develop a leadership style and team organization to match. As stated prior, this may necessitate deviating from what is to be outlined, but is what will be best for the team and enable you to build a better car than ever before. In a similar vein, do not be afraid to ask for help. Even though you may be the ultimate authority on the team for design decisions and knowledge, you are ABSOLUTELY NOT expected to know everything. There is, however, an expectation that if the team is unable to perform some design task on its own, you seek outside help. Be it talking with your faculty advisor, other professors, or students outside of the team. The more questions you have to ask, the more you and the team will learn and grow.
Extending beyond that, you–and the Chief Mechanic–are not solely responsible for designing and building the Baja car. You are in charge of an entire team of capable and willing students. It is your responsibility to make sure that someone else designs each and every part of the car. There may be times that you needs to step in and design a part yourself or perform an analysis, but only when needed to help out those under you. And when you do so, ensure that you are not simply taking work from other individuals, but instead are using it as a teaching experience. That way, whoever it is will be able to replicate whatever task it was themselves. Use your position to empower others and help everyone else grow their skills. It is important that PTL’s and other team members have ownership over their projects and a sense of self-pride, so do not take credit for ideas that may even have been yours if someone else implemented them. Because at the end of the day: many individuals will have contributed to each piece of design.
As a final note to begin with: learn from the team’s past mistakes and any that you make along the way. It is crucial to understand how and why something went wrong or failed in order to find a solution better than a “band-aid” fix. In addition, search for problems and mistakes judiciously; the earlier you can catch one and solve it, the better. And this applies to more than just vehicle design and manufacturing; communication is perhaps the most important aspect of the team to perfect. You will inevitably encounter communication problems along the journey of building car, so identify what the problem stemmed from as soon as you have your first. There is nothing fun about minor communication problems angering team members and further compounding. The team has lost valuable members to this, and been victim of considerable drama and politics. While it is not solely your responsibility–that falls on the entire Executive Board–make every attempt to facilitate effective communication. As necessary, update and modify parts of this document to reflect what is in the best interest of the team. In doing so, I ask only that this introduction remain unchanged, though feel free to append it with your own contributions.
Alan Grier May 9, 2017