The Unwritten Laws of Engineering

MEMagazine is running a three part series entitled “The Unwritten Laws of Engineering” by W. J. King and James G. Skakoon. W. J. King first published the three series articles in Mechanical Engineering magazine in 1944. Briefly the laws are:

  1. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to get things done.
  3. Develop a “Let’s go see!” attitude.
  4. Don’t be timid—speak up—express yourself and promote your ideas.
  5. Strive for conciseness and clarity in oral or written reports; be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
  6. One of the first things you owe your supervisor is to keep him or her informed of all significant developments.
  7. Do not overlook the steadfast truth that your direct supervisor is your “boss.”
  8. Be as particular as you can in the selection of your supervisor.
  9. Whenever you are asked by your manager to do something, you are expected to do exactly that.
  10. Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples’ opinions and recommendations.
  11. Promises, schedules, and estimates are necessary and important instruments in a well‑ordered business.
  12. In dealing with customers and outsiders, remember that you represent the company, ostensibly with full responsibility and authority.
  13. Do not try to do it all yourself.
  14. Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain.
  15. Cultivate the habit of “boiling matters down” to their simplest terms.
  16. Cultivate the habit of making brisk, clean‑cut decisions.
  17. Learn project management skills and techniques, then apply them to the activities that you manage.
  18. Make sure that everyone, managers and subordinates, has been assigned definite positions and responsibilities within the organization.
  19. Make sure that all activities and all individuals are supervised by someone competent in the subject matter involved.
  20. Never misrepresent a subordinate’s performance during performance appraisals.
  21. Make it unquestionably clear what is expected of employees.
  22. You owe it to your subordinates to keep them properly informed.
  23. Never miss a chance to commend or reward subordinates for a job well done.
  24. Always accept full responsibility for your group and the individuals in it.
  25. One of the most valuable personal traits is the ability to get along with all kinds of people.
  26. Never underestimate the extent of your professional responsibility and personal liability.
  27. Let ethical behavior govern your actions and those of your company.
  28. Be aware of the effect that your personal appearance and behavior have on others and, in turn, on you.
  29. Beware of what you commit to writing and of who will read it.
  30. Analyze yourself and your subordinates.
  31. Maintain your employability as well as that of your subordinates.

ASME has published the expanded version of these laws as a book. From the introduction of the book we learn that these laws are the result of direct observation for 17 years in four engineering departments. Also “many of these laws are generalizations to which exceptions occur in special circumstances. There is no thought of urging a servile adherence to rules and red-tape, for there is no substitute for judgement; vigorous individual initiative is needed to cut through formalities in emergencies. But in many respects these laws are like the basic laws of society; they cannot be violated too often with impunity, notwithstanding striking exceptions in individual cases”.


3 thoughts on “The Unwritten Laws of Engineering

  1. Context sensitive “rules” and “laws” are merely best practices. A law should neither be susceptible to interpretation nor require subjective judgment.

    1. “Social” laws are allowed to be context sensitive, as opposed to, for example, Ohm’s Law. That is why we talk about the “letter” and the “spirit” of the Law. You have to view this list as a “Lessons you never took in the University” list. Engineers manage people (and budget) and you never really managed anyone besides yourself while in the University. Two thirds of the job are usually left out of the educational process because, somehow, OJT (On the Job Training) takes care of that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s