Four Differences in how Engineers and Operators Attack Problems

Think engineers and operators are interchangeable when it comes to solving problems? Think again. You need both, but for different types of problems. Let’s discuss. When your infrastructure encounters repeat issues, you often need an operator rather than an engineer. An operator can both manage issues as they occur and prevent them from happening again in the future. While engineers may be able to resolve your current problems quickly, troubleshooting is not where their efforts should be focused. Engineers should be focused on innovation and building. Let’s explore the four major differences between the problem solving strategies of operators and engineers.

1. Engineers Focus on Symptoms; Operators Focus on Causes

Engineers tend to treat the symptoms of issues rather than root causes. It's no surprise– engineers are generally focused on innovation and ensuring entire systems remain productive and in service. Engineers often don't have the time necessary to resolve issues with components; they only have time to fix the most pressing issue at hand. This can create additional work down the line, as issues are far more likely to recur when the actual source of the problem hasn't been resolved. This is where an operator comes in handy, as they could investigate the source of the issue and discover a fix instead of a repeated issue cascades into multiple breakdowns.

2. Engineers Independently Solve; Operators Coordinate Problem-solving

Operators typically work with managerial staff, supervisors, and decision makers when resolving issues, working to optimize a system and plan for the future. Comparatively, engineers are far more likely to have a lone wolf approach, attempting to deal with problems on their own without keeping others in the loop. Understanding the entire system means that while an engineer generally can fix an issue, they rarely have time to think about who needs to be involved in the process in order to achieve a top-to-bottom resolution of the whole problem.

3. Engineers Rely on Intuition; Operators Rely on Evidence

Engineers have a high level of education and training, which predisposes them toward intuition-based decision making. Operators, on the other hand, solve problems with process and evidence as opposed to intuition. They collect information regarding the problem and then take the time to step through solving that problem accordingly. Engineers may be able to occasionally resolve problems based on intuition alone, but it may also lead to issues that are not truly fixed.

4. Engineers are Fast; Operators are Slow (but Methodical)

Operators don't work as quickly as engineers because of their process-first approach. While this does create a more stable and consistent infrastructure, it also takes more time. That being said, the investment of time is balanced out by effectiveness: problems are resolved completely and at once. Ultimately organizations will yield far better long-term results when using operators to sustain and maintain networks. In an efficient organization, more complex operations can be conducted by in-house operators while innovation and building tasks can be assigned to the engineers.

The bottom line? Your organization needs both engineers and operators. Each has their own responsibilities, goals, and environments they are best suited for. In your organization, tasks requiring a sustain/maintain mindset should be delegated to an operator to fully resolve. Engineers are geared toward innovating and moving the business forward, and not getting bogged down with network maintenance frees them up to do just that. Bonus: everyone is working according to his or her preference, which boosts morale and positively impacts the bottom line of your business.

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