Correlation Issues Always Came Down to Communication

Correlation Issues Always Came Down to Communication

I had a conversation with a friend a couple weeks ago about correlation. He’s a super techy professional as well, and we got onto this topic and sharing our own individual experiences. We come from completely separate industries and even countries, but we settled on exactly the same problems when it comes to correlation. 

Communication (or lack thereof) is always at the heart of a correlation issue.

I spent my career in motorsport engineering, and more specifically in race car aerodynamics. I was the new kid on the block, building up the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) capability. It took me years to gain the respect and trust of the organization. Simulation, especially for aerodynamics, for whatever reason was a tough sell. 

But even once I had my little team up and running, and we’d been through successful customer projects, in our downtime and on our R&D projects, we would come across the same issue, over and over again.

What’s right?

CFD, the wind tunnel, or the track data?

The real answer is - they all are correct, you just have to know the limitations. 

But the answer that would often come up went something a little like this:

“CFD’s predictions were total shit.”

“The wind tunnel model doesn’t exactly replicate the real car.”

“The pushrod loads aren’t measuring near the front downforce you said we’d get.”

Ah, the joys of working with large international teams. No one was right, no one was wrong. We were all just using different tools, and not spending enough time communicating effectively about those tools. 

Engineers Are Not the Best Communicators

Engineers are notorious for being terrible at communicating with one another. I once had a meeting where a colleague called in from his desk IN THE SAME BUILDING, because he would rather hide behind his phone than speak in person. I get it - engineers can be awkward, and we all like to work in isolation and create pretty PowerPoint slides of our designs and results. But this has to stop so that we can work better together. 

The only way that I’ve ever solved a correlation issue was through open honest communication. Not blaming, not name-calling, not defensive posturing, but everyone coming together to solve a problem. 

It’s a little bit like solving a mystery. There’s always a reason why there are issues in correlation. You may not figure it out for months after the project, but it’s always there and it’s always logical. The trick is that you have to be open-minded enough to find that piece of information. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I was defensive of my CFD work in the beginning. But some of the most productive partnerships came from letting down my guard and having frank conversations with other groups of engineers. When all parties come to the table in calm camaraderie, that’s when the real work gets done. It’s when you check your ego at the door that you start to really figure shit out. 

There are two ways to facilitate better communication in an engineering organization:

  1. Quit the internal billing

If you have the decision making power in your organization to restructure, for the love of all that is holy, please quit internal departmental billing. Many of the issues between groups on the same project stem from billing arrangements. Simulation bills design who owns the project, but simulation has no idea of what the budget is going in, etc. Again, a lack of communication and creating financial and project management barriers unnecessarily causes so much heartache to the engineers, and ultimately your customers. 

2. Form a Skunkworks Team

If you can’t get past the issues above, break members of each department out of their normal roles and form a skunkworks group without the politics of the organization. You can do this by getting all the key players into one room or a separate office for a couple days or a week to address correlation issues. This is also where strategic relationships can be built so that down the line, it’s easier for everyone to communicate and work together as a cohesive team. 

We Need To Stop Blaming Each Other

The only way to begin to solve these issues earlier, to save companies money, and to continue to strive for higher levels of accuracy is to work in more multi-disciplinary teams. It’s to stop blaming each other for “errors” and work together towards solutions. It’s opening up the lines of communication for the long haul so that everyone is on the same page. 

There cannot be barriers between testing, simulation and design. The more we loosen the reigns on our engineering expertise and begin to explain the constraints, limitations and compromises to our colleagues, the easier it is to solve the correlation mismatch. But to get to this place, we need to start communicating better. Welcome open conversations about the project. Go up to your colleagues IN PERSON and ask how their work is going. Allow for your own work to be scrutinized by others. Have a curious mind, you know, that one that got you into engineering in the first place. Get excited, inquisitive, and genuinely interested in figuring shit out. Have fun in your work again, learning, growing and problem solving as a team. 

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