Professional Development

The 7 Deadly Communication Sins in Engineering Teams

The 7 Deadly Communication Sins in Engineering Teams 250 250 Lynn Roulo

“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” ~Tony Robbins

It is no surprise that communication errors are the root of the most costly mistakes in the engineering world. From slipped schedules, undisclosed technical failures, to team-wide frustration and confusion, the lack of effective communication bleeds into all elements of a project.  This post is about how to identify the most common issues and how to bridge communication gaps.

What are the seven deadly sins of engineering teams? Based on the book “Overcoming the 7 Deadliest Communication Sins” by Skip Weisman, these sins are:

  1. Lack of specificity – communication that is not specific enough.
  2. Lack of desirable behaviors – focusing on what “not to do” rather than what needs to be done. This leads to a focus on negative behavior.
  3. Lack of immediacy – procrastination of bad news, difficult conversations.
  4. Lack of focused attention – multitasking when someone is talking to you.
  5. Lack of appropriate tone and body language – in the form of raised voices, yelling, pointing and so forth.
  6. Lack of directness and candor – not talking about the “elephants in the room” or talking in general context hoping others will infer the actual meaning.
  7. Lack of respectful rebuttals – using the word “BUT” instead of “AND.” This inadvertently fosters disrespect.

When addressing the seven deadly communication sins, it is important to identify your own communication style. Which of the following are you?

The 9 Communication Types

Attention Style* Communication Style Illustrative Quote
Perfectionist/Type 1 Uses precise, direct, exacting, structured and detailed speech, shares task-related thoughts, can get mired in details, becomes defensive if criticized or if they are told their information is “wrong.” “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
Helper/Type 2 Asks lots of questions, focuses on the content of the other person, more “other” than “self” referencing, gives compliments, values social connection. “The ultimate source of happiness is not money and power, but warm-heartedness”
Achiever/Type 3 Uses clear, efficient, logical speech, may become impatient with lengthy conversations, focuses on steps to success, avoids topics that might reflect negatively on them or their image. “People are not lazy-they simply have goals that do not inspire them.”
Individualist/Type 4 Uses deliberate, conscious word choice, sensitive to emotional undercurrents and the personal situations of others, comfortable unearthing and addressing negative or messy work situations. “Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.”
Investigator/Type 5 Speaks tersely with highly selective word choice, offers little extra information, focuses on analytical data, limited sharing of extra or personal information, answers only exactly what is asked. “Reward worthy failure–experimentation.”
Skeptic/Type 6 Starts with analytical comments, discusses worries, concerns, “what ifs” and potential negative outcomes,  may alternate between hesitant, cautious speech with bold confident speech. “You need to plan the way a fire department plans: it cannot anticipate where the next fire will be, so it has to shape an energetic and efficient team that is capable of responding to the unanticipated as well as to any ordinary event.”
Enthusiast/Type 7 Uses upbeat, positive, quick, spontaneous speech, tells engaging stories, avoids the negative, reframes negative information into positive information. “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
Leader/Type 8 Uses bold and authoritative speech, big picture and strategic, may raise the intensity of their language until they get a response, may display anger directly and overwhelm others with their “aggressive” communication style. “You can do a lot more with weapons and politeness than just politeness.”
Peacemaker/Type 9 Uses agreeing words, gives highly detailed information in a sequential style, makes effort to be fair and balanced, may say yes when they mean no. “Silence is sometimes the best answer.”

Wondering who said those quotes?

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, the Dalai Lama, Tony Robbins, Andy Grove, Vladimir Putin and Ben Cohen. We’ll tell you who said what in an upcoming post.

Get started now:

Here’s our top tip of how you can start to improve your communication now. Pick Deadly Sin #1, the sin of lack specificity.  Focus on this topic for the next 30 days. Your goal is to be as accurate and specific as possible. Pay attention to your communication both written and verbal. Are you clear? Are you accurate? Could you be more specific?  Ranging from email subject heading to voicemail greetings, check your communication to see if you can take it up a notch. And notice how it feels to be more accurate, precise and complete in your communication.

Want to learn more?

Learn more about how to improve your business communication in our Effective Communication for Engineers Boot Camp.


*The nine types are based on the Enneagram System of Personality. Learn more.

Communication Skills for Engineers – The Seven Deadly Sins and How to Overcome Them


A new book for technical training managers

A new book for technical training managers 331 499 Eric Roulo

To kick off the new year, I’d like to share a great resource designed for the technical project manager – ‘Practical Project Management for Engineers’ by RCI trainer Nehal Patel.

This book guides readers through a step-by-step process on how to deliver quality, robust products and services while strengthening teams and customer relationships. It introduces the core processes identified for management:

  • Communication management: Over communicate, listen first.
  • Scope management: What does the customer expect?
  • Schedule management: Who does what by when?
  • Requirements management: The product or service to deliver.
  • Risk management: What could go wrong and what is the impact?
  • Vendor management: Visit the vendor in person (rule number 1 for NASA project managers).
  • Resource management: What do you need to do on Monday?
  • Cost management: Get paid.
  • Configuration management: Everyone working from the same sheet of music.

Here’s an excerpt of a review from Janet Grondin, Director of Emerging Space Capabilities, Stellar Solutions, Inc –

“Whether you are new to project management or a veteran PM, you absolutely need to have your own copy of Practical Project Management for Engineers! You will learn up-to-date, actionable information to up your game on any project!” 

You can purchase a copy of Practical Project Management for Engineers here on Amazon.


The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming: (1) Learning to Learn

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering by Richard Hamming: (1) Learning to Learn 480 360 Eric Roulo

Orientation. The purpose of this course is to prepare you for your technical future. There is really no technical content in the course, though I will, of course, refer to a great deal of it, and hopefully it will be a good review of the fundamentals that you have learned. Do not think the technical content is the course – it is only illustrative material. Style of thinking is the center of the course. I am concerned with educating and not training you.

To get more course content (notes, books, slides) visit:

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization 386 295 Eric Roulo

Published on Dec 20, 2013

This presentation provides some great examples of how to present complicated data in ways that maximize the amount of information transferred. Use it for inspiration when generating engineering plots for decision-makers. [-ejr]

— From —
David McCandless makes infographics — simple, elegant ways to see information that might be too complex or too big, small, abstract or scattered to otherwise be grasped. In his new book, Information Is Beautiful (in the US, it’s being called The Visual Miscellaneum), McCandless and his cadre of info designers take a spin through the world of visualized data, from hard stats on politics and climate to daffy but no less important trends in pop music.

McCandless’ genius is not so much in finding jazzy new ways to show data — the actual graphics aren’t the real innovation here — as in finding fresh ways to combine datasets to let them ping and prod each other. Reporting the number of drug deaths in the UK every year is interesting; but mapping that data onto the number of drug deaths reported by the UK press, broken down by drug, is utterly fascinating (more deaths by marijuana were reported than in fact occurred, by a factor of 484%). McCandless contributes a monthly big-think graphic to the Guardian’s Data Blog, and makes viral graphics for his blog Information Is Beautiful.

“It’s not just the sheer variety of topics covered — though knowing the relative effect of rising sea levels or the prime vintage years for red and white wines by country will come in handy someday soon, I’m certain — but the way in which, for many of these charts, there’s considerably more than meets the eye.”

Chris Bilton, Eye Weekly review of The Visual Miscellaneum

In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters

In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters 588 572 Eric Roulo

This book is a business classic and sometimes gets short shrift due to some of the ‘best-run companies’ it highlights. Like Atari. The book was published in 1982 and has so much timeless content, it deserves a read. It’s an engaging and fast read with a tremendous amount of sage advice and actionable goodies. The eight principals are written on the inside cover of the book and are worth the price of the book (even though now you can get it second hand for about $5). This book has the feel of the later Jim Collin’s books and a lot of the lessons listed below are reiterated across most, if not all, of the best selling business and management books.

Eight Basic Principles to stay on top of the heap

  1. A bias for action: a preference for doing something – anything – rather than sending a question through cycles and cycles of analyses and committee reports.
  2. Staying close to the customer – learning his preferences and catering to them.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – breaking the corporation into small companies and encouraging them to think independently and competitively.
  4. Productivity through people – creating in all employees the awareness that their best efforts are essential and that they will share in the rewards of the company’s success.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – insisting that executives keep in touch with the firm’s essential business.
  6. Stick to the knitting – remaining with the business the company knows best
  7. Simple form, lean staff – few administrative layers, few people at the upper levels.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – fostering a climate where there is dedication to the central values of the company combined with tolerance for all employees who accept those values.

Mr. Peter’s has a website. It has a lot of great content, you should check it out. His other books are pretty good too.

The rest of my recommended leadership lists are here.


Elements of Engineering Excellence

Elements of Engineering Excellence 1024 700 Eric Roulo

NASA looked back on it’s illustrious history and condensed the traits that were responsible for it’s mission successes. They got it down to 9 principles and 27 lessons learned. This list represents over 1 trillion dollars of hardware development. It is foolish to ignore it.

Elements of Engineering Excellence (start here)

Additionally referenced reports


RCI Recommended Text Editors

RCI Recommended Text Editors 598 429 Eric Roulo

Engineers should have a good text editor in their software toolbox. It’s hard for me to help clients troubleshoot their Nastran models (in person) when they don’t have a text editor better than notepad on their machines.

Some traits of a good text editor are:

  • Ability to open unlimited size files (i.e. multi-gigabyte)
  • Cross-platform (same editor on Windows, Linux, macOS, etc.)
  • Free or very low cost
  • Column editing/cutting
  • No administrator install requirements
  • Fast search/replace functionality

Here are some good packages that I recommend:

Textpad ($16.50)

A popular text editor from a long way back

UltraEdit ($80/year)

This is my editor of choice in the Windows environment. It was one of the few editors that could open files over 4Gb back in the 32bit days. It has many different environments to access as little or as many of the advanced features that you want. I’m disappointed they went to a subscription model. I purchased an unlimited lifetime upgrade for $99 about 10 years and that is no longer an option.

Kinesics (free)

This is a very lightweight editor that I’ve been introduced to. It does everything you need and loads very quickly. The price is right too. Worth a long look at.

Notepad++ (free)

This editor is popular among my client’s IT departments. It’s free and has that going for it. It’s not very good relative to the purchased editors and has trouble with files over 1Gb. I know that’s a big file, but Nastran input decks are often 256Mb+ and output files (.f06) are often larger than 1Gb.

Nedit (free)

This was the first text editor I used professionally. It was loaded on our Unix systems where we ran Patran/Nastran. Nedit is an excellent open-source editor available in basically every flavor of Unix. I ran it for years inside of Cygwin (a wonderful Unix emulation layer that sits on top of windows). There are ports to Windows, but they never seemed to be well supported and basically just installed a Unix x/win server and ran Nedit inside of that. If you’re in a Unix environment, use this.

NastPad ($99-$999/year)

Old co-workers from Goodrich Aerostructures turned me onto this new software development. It looks awesome from the screenshots and capabilities page. I’m disappointed in the subscription model. I can’t imagine paying $1000/yr. for a text editor. I don’t spend enough time in a Nastran bulk desk as part of my daily work to justify this. Perhaps I did 10 years ago. For comparison, you can get the *entire* Adobe Creative Cloud suite of software for $600/yr.

Please comment with any editors that you think I’ve missed that you recommend and meet the requirements above. Thanks!


Lists of Leadership Guidance

Lists of Leadership Guidance 258 272 Eric Roulo

Top Ten lists are fun! There are lots of lists out there relating to management, personal development, professional development, and good old-fashioned engineering. I read a lot so when I come across a list, I enjoy reviewing it later because it reminds me of some of the ideas of the original work. These are not substitutes for reading the source documents. They are reminders of great ideas. But perhaps if you haven’t read the source, they will encourage you to do so.

  1. Success by Richard St. John
  2. Excellence by Tom Peters
  3. Skunk Work Rules by Kelly Johnson
  4. 100 Rules for Project Managers by NASA
  5. Augustine’s Law’s by Norman Augustine
  6. Spacecraft Design Laws by David Akin (i.e. Akin’s Laws)
  7. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
  8. Secrets of Success by Nicholas Bate
  9. Life Tips 101 by Nicholas Bate





Learning from the Best – Kelly Johnson, Lockheed

Learning from the Best – Kelly Johnson, Lockheed 480 368 Eric Roulo

As part of my series on Successful Lists, Kelly Johnson ranks among the best. Primarily due to his tremendous record in aviation and the fact that he was perhaps the first to create an entirely new corporate structure that is now referred to as “Skunk Works.”

Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works was responsible for some of the highest-flying and fastest aircraft in the world. They were built on relative shoestring budgets and in record times by a small team of people. Johnson’s team of engineers, mechanics, and craftsmen developed the P-80, F-104, U-2, and SR-71 under the direction of Johnson and his unique style of management that was distilled into 14 rules

  1. The Skunk Works manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.
  2. Strong but small project offices must be provided both by the military and industry.
  3. The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner. Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to the so-called normal systems).
  4. A very simple drawing and drawing release system with great flexibility for making changes must be provided
  5. There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly.
  6. There must be a monthly cost review covering not only what has been spent and committed but also projected costs to the conclusion of the program. Don’t have the books 90 days late, and don’t surprise the customer with sudden overruns.
  7. The contractor must be delegated and must assume more than normal responsibility to get good vendor bids for subcontract on the project. Commercial bid procedures are very often better than military ones.
  8. The inspection system as currently used by the Skunk Works, which has been approved by both the Air Force and Navy, meets the intent of existing military requirements and should be used on new projects. Push more basic inspection responsibility back to subcontractors and vendors. Don’t duplicate so much inspection.
  9. The contractor must be delegated the authority to test his final product in flight. He can and must test it in the initial stages. If he doesn’t, he rapidly loses his competency to design other vehicles.
  10. The specifications applying to the hardware must be agreed to well in advance of contracting. The Skunk Works practice of having a specification section stating clearly which important military specification items will not knowingly be complied with and reasons therefore is highly recommended.
  11. Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  12. There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor with very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis. This cuts down misunderstanding and correspondence to an absolute minimum.
  13. Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.
  14. Because only a few people will be used in engineering and most other areas, ways must be provided to reward good performance by pay not based on the number of personnel supervised.

Note that Kelly had a 15th rule that he passed on by word of mouth. According to the book “Skunk Works” the 15th rule is: “Starve before doing business with the damned Navy. They don’t know what the hell they want and will drive you up a wall before they break either your heart or a more exposed part of your anatomy.”

Other companies have groups that attempt to mimic the working environment that Lockheed pioneered. These include:

Lockheed – Skunk Works -> Now Advanced Development Programs

Boeing – Phantom Works

NASA – Eagleworks Laboratories

Google – Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP)



Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed


Success – Richard St. John

Success – Richard St. John 564 513 Eric Roulo

8 Secrets of Success by Richard St. John

I enjoy this video for a few reasons. It is the ultimate 80/20 video. 3 minutes. If you don’t have three minutes to discuss how to be successful, please leave this website. I start all of my high school and college career talks with this video.

The “Big Eight Things that Lead to Success

  1. Passion: Successful people love what they do.
  2. Work: They work very hard.
  3. Focus: They focus on one thing, not everything.
  4. Push: They keep pushing themselves.
  5. Ideas: They come up with good ideas.
  6. Improve: They keep improving themselves and what they do.
  7. Serve: They serve others something of value.
  8. Persist: They persist through time, failure, and adversity.

Richard’s Website is here:

My other lists of leadership advice are here.