The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{November 6, 2012}   Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time

It was an interesting summer, work-wise. There were so many projects that are at the front-end study or concept design stage that it has meant I’ve had the opportunity to get involved in lots of different types of projects. There’s been food, pharma and waste, large & small scale, clean and dirty. Plus, not only has there been plenty an opportunity to be involved in different areas of industry but also in different aspects of projects, everything from proposals, calculations & design reports to research, bid analysis and costing. So, in terms of loving new experiences and job variety it has been a brilliant summer.

But (well it’d be a bit of a dull post without a but…no-one can take *that* much sunshine & lollipops), the trouble with summer is that due to holidays, taken by the client, senior management and members of project teams, workload can be very disjointed. Clients take longer to take decisions as they’re never all in the same place at the same time, which can mean that the wait between project phases can take a while. With senior management on holiday too it can mean that during workload dips (or peaks for that matter) there is no-one to turn to for some assistance balancing the load. Colleagues’ holidays can also give rise to workload peaks as you dive in to cover their absence. Now a certain amount of those peaks & troughs have to be accepted as a way of life, they say the course of true love never runs smooth and I think the same is true of engineering.

There are few things I dislike more than being bored in the office, so the quieter times this summer have had me thinking about how we could balance things out better. Part of the problem, I think, is the incurable fact that everyone works at a different pace. Projects however are planned, and resources scheduled, on the basis that a report will take X days & a drawing will take Y hours. I don’t see a way of getting away from that, you have to use averages to make long term plans. But what about the weekly or even daily plan? When the project workload is fluctuating notably on a short term basis is there a way we could react faster to individual’s workload fluctuations so that those who are snowed under could rapidly be assisted by those who are twiddling their thumbs? In my mind’s eye I envisage gauges hovering mystically over people’s heads displaying how busy they are. A slightly less far fetched, but still probably far distant, version is perhaps some kind of mass log of individual’s to-do lists with all the deliverables assigned to them. This would be accessible to all so that if you’re getting low you can pro-actively offer help to those with a list as long as their leg. I know neither of these solutions can be implemented with any immediacy, but I do think there must be a way, in a workplace full of dedicated pro-active people, of balancing workload that doesn’t leave senior management constantly spinning plates.

In places like air traffic management there have been studies using measures like ‘instantaneous self assessment of workload’. In that incredibly fast-paced & stressful situation it’s more about ensuring no-one has so much work that they give themselves a heart attack or direct planes into one another. On a smaller scale though maybe there is something to be learnt from such vastly different workplaces, we’ll only be avoiding a site clash rather than a plane crash perhaps, but this is surely still of value. I wish I had a bright idea about implementation to conclude this blog, particularly as I’d love to see the pressure taken off some of my more frazzled colleagues, but I don’t – any ideas from you wonderful folk would be much appreciated though!


It’s an excellent idea: I would offer to help out on other admin tasks if I had some free time. But I’m not sure about making people’s to-do lists publicly viewable: everyone uses them differently and interpreting them in terms of someone else’s workload would be very difficult. How about making use of a system such as Microsoft Lync? Would it support a flagging system – red, amber, green to denote your ability to deal with extra work that day?

Gabriele B says:

I like the idea of little “gauges hovering over people’s heads” and, since you are an engineer, I was wondering whether you could design such a device? Next step would be a prototype and to take it to Dragons’ Den as I’m sure a lot of money could be made from it. Okay I’m joking, but your blog is food for thought and I have no answers.

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