The key to managing a successful engineering activity or department is to manage the innovation of the key members of that organization. Referring once again to Peter Drucker in another of his books, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, he outlines a number of issues important to managers of technology.

Innovation: Identify your customer needs and develop products to meet them. Differentiate your company’s products from your competitors. Focus on the technology. Understand it thoroughly, and apply it intelligently.

Personnel: Surround yourself with the best people you can hire. Develop and cultivate their loyalty. Allow them to make their mistakes. Nurture the mavericks in your group. They may be hard to manage, but give them their space – from them will likely come your best ideas.

Vision: Know where you are going and always lead the way. Make sure your company has a strategic plan. You will be the bridge between your development group and the rest of the company management. This will prove to be very difficult at times – particularly when budgets are being cut.

One of the keys to developing successful new products is to find the specialized niches in your industry. When you find that niche, move into it at full speed with all the resources you can muster. This is a great gamble, of course, and it will be unforgiving if you make no allowances for a mistake. There will usually be no second chance.

In the practice of providing heat for industrial processes, new technology is not readily accepted. Because the application of heat in manufacturing is so basic to the whole process, the failure of a new product or process applied in the manufacturing cycle can have catastrophic impact on the entire plant’s production. The product associated with that failure will be totally rejected. No amount of marketing effort will erase that memory for a very long time.

So, be sure you have carefully tested any new technology as close to actual conditions as you can. Don’t overlook those small failures that occur under lab conditions as unimportant. When subject to operations under uncontrolled conditions on a 24/7 pace, that small failure will likely become a much larger factor.

Once discussing some new technology we were applying at a Nucor Steel plant, a corporate VP told me they experimented constantly with new ideas. That vision has undoubtedly made Nucor a leader in the industry. He stated, however, that they had broken up more concrete in one year associated with failed new technology than most steel plants had installed. That’s great, but you don’t want your products lying in the bone yard behind the Nucor plant.