Welcome back to the second part in my “How to eat an Elephant while you drink from the Firehose” series.  I know I’ve been away, but I hope you’re eager for the exciting adventure we’re going to have for the next few installments. Let’s get started.

In this blog, we’re going to be talking about “Eating the Elephant.” If you’re reading this in a different language, my apologies on the possible mis-translation. In some way, shape, or form, many of us have heard the adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That’s really at the heart of this installment.

So what are we really talking about when we use this phrase, and how does it apply to a career in Engineering?  Think of it like this: every year there is a slew of new (advanced, and sometimes mundane) tech that makes it to market. For a lot of us, what we’re seeing is novel and completely new. However, you have to also consider: there were probably a considerable (and sometimes outright ridiculous) number of man-hours that went into that tech.

Some companies work for years on a development, yet by the time it comes to market, most aren’t aware of the timeline or the amount of blood, sweat, and bacon went into getting things to the front line. I say all of this to make my point: you will be part of bringing that product to market in some fashion, and the tasks you will be handed will feel both overwhelming and intimidating both in quality and quantity. But fear not – like any seemingly impossible task, there’s a very simple three-step solution: 

Break it down into more manageable chunks with specific timelines and very specific deliverables.

Develop a laser focus.

Learn to prioritize.

Here’s one example you might consider:

Say for instance you’ve been tasked with doing the evaluation for a new feature set on the part you’re working on, you’ve got six months, and you’ve got 17 different areas to test (along with a small-scale characterization procedure).  This is an exaggerated example, but things like this do happen. Okay, so you’ve already panicked, cried, and now you’re ready to get to work. As mentioned above, let’s apply the three-steps and see what comes out.

You have 17 tasks – so the first step would be to break down each task based on timeline and an understanding of the deliverable. This is a pretty important step: make sure you understand the deliverable you’re being asked to produce at the end of the task. Whether it’s hard data, or a simple “yes it works/no it fails”, be sure to know what you’re doing. Likewise, know the timeline you have for producing said deliverables.

Second, develop a laser focus. There are a ridiculous number of articles, books, and webinars on how to develop solid focus, so I’ll leave out my two cents.

Lastly, learn to prioritize. The simplest idea behind this is: follow the signal path. If my black box is made of two sections, A and B, I may be tempted to work on section B (especially if it’s neater tech), but if I can’t guarantee that my A section works, I could be leading myself into a trap. Likewise, learning to prioritize will help you develop better timelines – based on what’s important, and what may take longer based on experience.

Keep in mind: this last one you may have the least control over. Scheduling conflicts, delays, and customer deadlines can and will shift the focus of what you’re working on, and you may need to jump to a different task. Likewise, some of the most exciting things that you could work on may get cut, both time-wise and/or actually removed and handed to others. Be both flexible and rigid – focus on the task at hand, but keep in mind things can (and probably will) be re-prioritized at times. Don’t take it personal – it’s never personal, that’s just life.

I hope you enjoyed learning just one way to eat an Elephant. Be sure to tune in for my next blog talking about how to drink from the firehose and this time I promise you won't have to wait too long. 

As always, if you like reading my blog articles, be sure to check back or Follow The Engineering Mind, and don’t hesitate to comment below if you have questions.