“Powerpoint Engineering”

Thomas James points out this little article from Government Executive:

The biggest lesson, Roe said, is to curb the practice of “PowerPoint engineering.” The Columbia report chided NASA engineers for their reliance on bulleted presentations. In the four studies, the inspectors came to agree that PowerPoint slides are not a good tool for providing substantive documentation of results. “We think it’s important to go back to the basics,” Roe said. “We’re making it a point with the agency that engineering organizations need to go back to writing engineering reports.”

Thomas wonders if there will be slides available of the report…

This is not just a problem for NASA–in my recent experience of the past couple years (in which I’ve fallen off the “recovering engineer” wagon and done some consulting for both large and small companies), it’s endemic in industry as well (partly because contractors come to reflect their customer’s culture). Back in the olden days, when I was a technical supervisor, I was a stickler for well-written technical memoranda. Now they don’t even seem to exist, let alone exist in a useful form, and few engineers seem to know how to write any more.

I absolutely agree that this is a major problem in the industry, but it’s not going to change until upper management decides to make it happen, and unfortunately, being upper management, they’ll probably remain addicted to briefing charts, and not even understand the problem. We’ve forgotten how to write, and they’ve forgotten how to read.