Dear A.W. How do I organize my flow?

Aug. 1, 2006
Tips for Distance Collaboration

Sometimes it IS rocket science. Karlin Wilkes, director of marketing for actuators, positioners and controls for Flowserve Corp., an Irving, Texas, manufacturer of pumps and other flow control devices, found himself working remotely with engineers from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a cryogenic valve to be used for rocket engine testing.

“This wasn’t a problem that could be solved by just sending out a specification and getting quotes,” says Wilkes. “I had to fly over to Mississippi and eventually Huntsville, Ala., to discuss face-to-face with the engineers. We built a trust relationship with a first small project, so they came to us and asked if we could work with them to develop a new valve. Both sides would invest in the design and testing, but Flowserve would get to keep the rights to the product.”

The process included weekly meetings and much sending information back and forth, Wilkes relates. But the result, he says, was “a product that helped NASA achieve the rocket engine testing that it required plus a product that Flowserve could sell to other rocket manufacturers.”

How could such an intense and long-lasting distance collaboration succeed? Wilkes offers these tips:

· Never go to work until you get to know each other

· Take an honest, humble attitude (We don’t know everything, but we’ll work on it.)

· Create an open, honest dialog. (We had some weaknesses up front, and we told them. We also told them about mistakes right away.)

· Prove trust.

- A.W. Advisor

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