(Small) Engineering Oversights

A few days ago I participated in a panel about “things developers overlook”.  The panel consisted of a great group of people and many smart things were said such as

  • listening to your customers, both internal as well as external
  • the crucial importance of a system architect or system engineer
  • the art of engineering communication through specifications, requirements and presentations
  • having a structured process in place such as New Product Introduction (NPI)

After the panel I thought of the many examples where all these things existed, yet an engineering error (or decision) permeated through the development process and emerged as a product catastrophe and a major embarrassment to the relevant company.  These occurrences are not rare and indicate that in the complex world we live in and develop for, even the best methods and plans fall short of expectations.  Its well known that released software has bugs, either large or small, its also widely accepted that products may be recalled. yet we find it hard to accept that engineering is limited in its ability to execute without flaw in the development cycle.

I though of giving some examples from the best of companies to remind us to be wary of data, plans and to constructively question our development activities

In 2010 left handed people reported having a significant percentage of dropped calls when using their iphone 4.  It seems the problem was related to a choice of antenna placement in the phone.  In 2014 when Apple released the iphone 6 and 6+ users complained of bending phones.  The problem was apparently related to engineering and design trade-offs made in the phones.

The Pentium FDIV bug is a bug in the Intel P5 Pentium floating point unit (FPU). Because of the bug, the processor can return incorrect decimal results, an issue troublesome for the precise calculations needed in fields like math and science. Discovered by Professor Thomas R. Nicely at Lynchburg College.  Intel attributed the error to missing entries in the lookup table used by the floating-point division circuitry.

Most recently the Volkswagen Emission Scandal is an amazing lesson in realizing and managing the limitations of engineering.

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