Articles

The Motivation Behind Crossbeams Team Builds

Charles SharmanJuly 14, 2015

When I started designing analog integrated circuits (ICs) in 1996, typical projects required one to two design engineers. By 2014, typical projects required more than 10 design engineers. The transition surprised me, but it shouldn't have. Analog IC design was simply following the pattern of its already-matured predecessors, like microprocessor design and automobile design. As complexity grew, projects required more personnel to meet the same time-to-market constraints.

Teams are an engineering reality. They reduce time-to-market, help grow beginners, avoid mistakes with peer review, and foster strong comradery.

Teams also have their drawbacks. Tightly specified products are only as good as their weakest link. Inefficiencies and miscommunications grow as team sizes grow. And, on poorly managed projects, the best engineers carry all the weight, while others are along for the ride.

This last inefficiency has been my usual experience among middle school and high school engineering teams. The team's best programmer does nearly all the programming; the team's best driver does nearly all the driving; etc. The remaining members are along for the ride. But that's not the way real engineering works. Everyone is vital.

I developed Crossbeams Team Builds to more closely approximate real-world engineering teams in a compressed timeframe. Our instructions designers took the role of project manager, carefully segmenting tasks into achievable elements for beginners to advanced builders. Everyone's on the same footing, and everyone's vital.

Crossbeams Team Builds is a fairly simple idea: a team of builders work together to construct massive Crossbeams structures. To keep the timeframe short, builders work from pre-made instructions. No design is done. While that's a diversion from real engineering, the experience still captures much real-world engineering design team essence: teamwork, helping the slow, positive feedback, individual importance, and a well-engineered end-product everyone can be proud of.

As my family tested each Team Build, I discovered an added bonus. Like eating out and playing board games, Crossbeams Team Builds became a family pastime. We enjoyed it, and it brought us together. I hope that Team Builds will find a home not only with school-age engineering teams, but also with work teams, game groups, and families. Creating is in our blood, and when others share the creating experience with us, we bond.