Engineer’s logical thinking in problem solving

Engineers usually focus on professional knowledge and skills, but neglect the primary capability that is to work and think logically and systematically.

Definitely to get things done and solve problems are engineer's natural role. Most of the engineers engaged themselves in learning technical knowledge, which is obviously one of the preconditions for task successfully delivery,however, it is not the only one.

From time to time I find some experienced engineers stuck in trouble shooting, especially under emergency. Even they have all necessary knowledge and skills to solve it, finally they might be failed.

Why ? Because of excessive dependence on rich experiences. It sounds ridiculous, why does the precondition of problem solving finally become the obstacle ?

It's true that problem identification takes time and patience, sometimes good lucks. Most of the time, engineers want to get trouble solved ASAP, so they try to quick link current phenomenon to one of the past experience and forget logical thinking. But usually current trouble is the newest one and don't forget things you see are not those you suppose to be.

After once failure, engineers start to jump exhaustion thinking. It's correct to take Exhaustion however not by jump thinking. Probably after couple of hours, people are getting exhausting and have no idea on what have been tested, but the problem is still there. More over, the pressure from tight schedule and critical customer is getting stronger and stronger which for sure makes them very panic. When people getting panic, his or her brain is not likely to proceed any effective thinking and final failure is right there waiting.

Let's try a different way, a logical and systematical way to solve tough troubles.

When trouble is in front of you , please be inner peace at first and well prepared. Get notebook and pen in your hand, necessary tool sets as well. Good preparation can save a lot of time .

  1. Check the background out. Previous operation records especially troubles should be very helpful in next steps;
  2. Inquiry trouble reporter , probably customer on site. When did the trouble happen, how was it ?
  3. Try to find every clues and traces by yourself.

Maybe causes of some simple trouble has been already identified during above steps. If not, we need to take more reasoning.Several kinds of logical thinking should be used:

  • Causal analysis of potential root cause, internally and externally. Technical knowledge and experience should be used here. It's also useful to make a simple list to records all potential causes and do a process of elimination.
  • Comparing methods. Ask yourself several questions to dig out abnormal factors, such like:
    • Longitudinal comparison : Why troubles happened at that time, anything wrong or changed ?
    • Crosswise comparison: Why does it happens here, not other place which has same configurations? What is the difference ?

The key message is to use logical and systematic thinking to organize you trouble shooting procedure. Here are also some hints to help:

  • Strange trouble usually caused by simple things. Don't suppose the black out HMI computer is being hacked, most likely power cable is loose. So try to solve problems starting from the simplest, sometimes even stupid causes.
  • Don't be shy to asking for help. Remember the target is get trouble solved, no matter by what means. If you have tried everything out and been in your wit's end, why not make a phone call to people who might have similar experience?
  • Keep a good relationship with customer at any time even under emergency. Don't let your bad emotion bring additional pressures.

Generally speaking, engineers should do more practice on logical thinking. Once absorb it as a thinking habit, you'll find your ability on problem solving has been increased in a geometric ratio.

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