Automation professionals are often asked to provide feedback on ideas and projects based on summary levels of information. When solicited for an opinion, it is tempting to react by sharing a view, especially if one has veteran experience gained in the field. But the role of an automation professional is to resist volunteering opinions and, instead, acquire more information to make a better recommendation.
The best way to acquire information is to ask for it. The temptation is to blurt out ideas and demonstrate our intelligence so that we are recognized as a true professional. However, the best solution is much more likely to be arrived at through a planned approach, rather than a quick reaction, as the number of categories of consideration cannot possibly be processed instantaneously.
Possessing key information will enable automation professionals to provide feedback that, rather than being an opinion, is more a recommendation grounded in a comprehensive understanding of multiple factors impacting the project which can evolve into a system design and, ultimately, an integrated solution.
Practicing an information gathering process will ultimately support sound business outcomes and bring more ease to projects. Here are five information categories that automation industry professionals and system integrators will want to cover prior to volunteering ideas or committing to recommending an automation approach.
Risk Areas: Have the risk areas been identified? Learn what is perceived as the most challenging aspect of the project. Acknowledge any elephants in the room.
Recent Activities: Why is now the time to address this? Ask about internal activities that have elevated the idea/project to this point of discussion with suppliers and engineering firms. Timing is everything in business and life. Research the market and what advances are driving profitability.
Favorite Approaches: What approaches have been tried or determined as promising? Which is the favorite? It is important not to minimize the human factor and, if an incumbent idea exists, for that to be recognized and considered.
Basis of Opinion: How has the present viewpoint been arrived at? By testing or opinion? Unverified opinions are dangerous. The most reliable type of information is obtained through testing. It may behoove a professional to withhold providing an opinion until adequate testing has been done. Opportunity for a feasibility study to de-risk the project and provide more value exists where opinions are strongest.
Financial: Who stands to profit from a successful project? The best possible system design and integrated solution is based on a given set of sound universal business considerations, such as quality, time to market, safety, etc. Countless customer and market-specific factors carry influence, however the foundation for any project is profit potential, so professionals should understand how the project leads to profit and if the project is being driven by an end-customer requirement.
Remember, fools rush in. Do your homework. Your reputation depends on it.
Mark Perlin is an automation project manager at Symation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Symation is an integrator member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Symation, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.