Misuse of Tools


There has never been a better time to be an engineer when it comes to the tools available to help us in our jobs. Computers operate at amazing speeds, new software comes out every year with more and more capability and answers to many questions are available online with the click of a mouse.
Why then are so many time-wasting mistakes made in design and business in general?
In some cases the blame lies with lack of attention to detail. As humans we don’t always operate at peak ability, and in some cases people just don’t care. In many instances mistakes are made because people don’t know any better.

Most software tools have pretty good help files, some even come with examples to help guide users in its proper use. Unfortunately documentation is rarely at a very advanced level, engineers need to look elsewhere for this type of training. Take CAD as an example; there are help files for the tools that are used in drawing, even a few example drawings (though mostly mechanical or architectural….), but no good examples of title blocks or wiring diagrams with line/wire numbers. This means that unless a company has good examples  or templates to follow or a good mentoring system, engineers may learn some bad habits that get carried with them from job to job.

Programming software is another area where there are often lots of good help files but not many examples. As with CAD, this can lead to the development of bad habits. Just because a program works doesn’t mean it has been done using the best or most efficient techniques.

Nowhere have I seen tools more misapplied than in the Lean/Six-Sigma area. Lean manufacturing is the holy grail of many manufacturing operations and there are many tools available for analysis of a company’s problem areas. The DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process, when properly applied can generate measurable improvements in a company’s bottom line, but can also create dissension and discord among employees. Even when tools are applied correctly the human factor can rear its ugly head… it is important to consider whether the cure may be more deadly than the disease. It is not enough to simply identify where a problem lies, developing the skills needed to work through the ‘politics’ of the process with all of the stakeholders is perhaps one of the most difficult lessons to learn and where training can provide significant guidance.

Fortunately there are many good resources available for training in software products, lean and six-sigma and various technical skills. Larger companies often provide training as part of personnel improvement programs. There is no substitute for experience and mentoring programs are also often available. If your company doesn’t provide resources like this take every opportunity possible to learn what you can from co-workers. Online searches can also turn up some surprisingly good examples.


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.