Business Ethical Dilemma One

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Business Ethical Dilemma One:


Being the sole engineer in my discipline at a large company certainly had its advantages. It was difficult for people to disagree with me, I generally was able to get involved in everything, and I was, in a way, able to be my own boss. This was simply because most people around me didn’t understand the technical aspects of what components I was designing. Of course, the advantages can also be disadvantages. If I ever had questions or needed help with a design I was essentially on my own. Just like any other profession, just because an engineer is labeled as a certain type (electrical, mechanical, etc.) does not mean they understand every aspect of the discipline. For instance, a mechanical engineer that has designed pistons may not understand the technical aspects of designing a suspension system. Because of this, being a sole engineer in a company can also be a challenge.

I was working for a consumer products company where I was designing lighting systems for the products. Like most companies that design and manufacturer their own products, there were certain development dates and milestones that needed to be complete in order to complete the development process before the product can be released to production. In addition, there are certifications that need to be completed from regulatory agencies like UL, SAE, and CE. Product development cycles at companies are generally aggressive and relay on very few failures occurring. If at any point the development timeline, cost, etc. slips, upper management must sign off on the changes. Hence, engineering must work very carefully to ensure no mistakes are made otherwise key performance parameters will be missed.

Designing Components

I was in the middle of a design phase with a new product launch. I was designing electrical power supplies to help power lighting systems. With my background, I did not have a great understanding of the regulations needed to pass UL testing to certify the safety of the power supply. In addition, I was working with a supplier who did not have a history with designing this type of product. I reluctantly signed up for an aggressive timeline and cost target of the product knowing that I was potentially setting myself up for failure. Keeping this thought in the back of my mind, I submitted several components, schematics, and specifications to UL testing labs to verify that my power supply would meet regulations. If this power supply failed, I knew that the entire project would not meet regulations and therefore production would be delayed. In addition, I had management breathing down my neck to provide any information on this key component. I was exasperated with how often management kept asking me for status updates. My only response was, “I am pushing UL as hard as I can, but you have to understand we are small customers of theirs, especially their electronics division.” Management did not accept this response but there was honestly not much else I could do. The entire UL certification process took about eight weeks, so if I missed anything the process would start over and the project would slip.

The Design Error

I remember the afternoon very clearly. I was testing some components in the environmental chambers when I received a phone call from UL. I answered the phone, “Engineering, this is Chris”. The person replied on the phone, “Chris, this is Juan from UL, we encountered some problems with the power supplies you submitted.” Immediately my heart sank, as Juan begins to explain that the enclosure (that I chose to save money of course) designed was actually causing issues during testing. Juan stated he was going to put testing on hold until a new solution was provided. He also stated that depending on the change, UL might need to resubmit testing. I hung up the phone and put my hands over my face. My inability to comprehend the specification was going to cause a major delay in the validation of the power supply. To make matters worse, due to my inexperience, I did not have a single clue how to fix this issue. I called the supplier Jim and told him the news about the enclosure. He stated that he had a solution, but it comes with some safety risks. If we inserted a protective liner on the inner walls of the enclosure it would pass testing; however, there is a greater risk for safety issues arising down the road. Jim stated the best part would be that nobody would know that we made a mistake. I asked if there were any alternatives, and he said to design a new enclosure that would add major delays and costs. The worst part about this would be that I would have to admit that I made a mistake that caused major delays in the program. What was I supposed to do?

Business Ethical Dilemma Two:


Working in the engineering department of consumers products can be a fun and rewarding experience. Probably the best part of this experience is working on products and innovative ideas long before the product will ever be introduced into the market. The product development process takes an immense amount of time, resources, and testing to ensure that products are safely designed before they are released to consumers. Because of this, numerous prototypes and production replicas are created to test and validate during the development process. The size of the project and cost generally determines the amount of prototypes that are created and tested. Hence, when a project is complete thousands of dollars worth of prototypes are generally leftover. Sometimes these prototypes are destroyed from testing but occasionally units that are in perfect condition remain. Most companies have a disposition policy to destroy test units and dispose of the units properly. Although, it seems ridiculous to destroy perfectly good units, it prevents the company from putting questionable units into the field.

The Issue

We had just designed an innovative new product that we were about to release to the public. Hands down, this was one of the best products that our group had ever created. It beat the competition from a performance, cost, and efficiency standpoint. Hence, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the products and employees were excited to use the products. I had just shut down the final test of the products and was busy completing the test report when suddenly Roger, an engineering manager from another division, approached me. Roger asked me what the plans were for the left over test units and I stated I had not thought of that at this point. I said that I was going to dispose of it eventually but I hadn’t got around to completing this yet since the test was just complete this week. Roger said he needed it to be removed so we could bring other products into the lab for testing. He said he would gladly assist in removing and disposing of it. Although Roger’s offer was abnormal, I did not think anything of it and gladly accepted his assistance.

Disposition of the Test Unit”

I stayed later then normal that night to finish up my test report. I decided that before I went home that I would quick run to the bathroom. In order to get to the bathroom, I had to walk back by the shipping department. As I was walking back to the bathroom, I was not expecting anybody else to be around. To my surprise, I noticed that Roger had backed his truck up to the dock. I was not sure of what was going on, but I noticed that Roger was loading the unit that I had finished testing into his truck. It finally dawned on me why he was so eager to help me out with the disposal of the unit; it was because he was going to take it for himself! Roger was my superior and accusing him of stealing a unit could have a tremendous impact on my career. What was I supposed to do?

What Actually Happened?

Dilemma One: With the risk of losing my job, I decided that the best approach would be to contact the project manager and express the issue with UL. I nervously approached his office and stated that we need to discuss some issues that have developed with the lighting project. I stated that due to an oversight on my part, the enclosure was not meeting regulations testing at UL. I presented the two options that were available. I quantified the risks associated with both options to make the decision as black and white as possible. I recommended using the safer enclosure because I was concerned about the product safety and our company’s reputation. The project manager thanked me for being open and honest with him. He then stated that I actually lucked out because the project was being delayed already because of issues related with equipment on the production line. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and got to working on the new, safer enclosure. Eventually, the product was released with no ill-effects from mistake.
Dilemma Two: I sheepishly ignored Roger loading the unit up into his truck. As I was driving home that night, I decided that I was going to talk to my immediate manager in the morning. The next morning, I approached my manager about the topic. I told him that I saw Roger loading up the test unit into his truck and I was not sure of what he was using it for. My manager said that Roger cleared it with the General Manager of the plant so there was nothing that I could do. At that point, I then realized what type of organizational ethics (or lack thereof) existed in the company I was working for. I tried to justify in my head that what Roger was doing was ethical. I used the excuse that the unit was going to be scrapped anyway so it was not costing the company any money. Still the whole situation did not feel right but I simply ignored it. Later, the General Manager of the plant was fired and Roger went with him. I never confirmed whether the reason for severance was related to the test unit. I did eventually leave the company and a big reason was because of the ethical environment.

This exercise made reevaluate two situations that I have not contemplated for sometime. It made me analyze my choices and my immediate reactions when I was placed in unethical situations. After analyzing each situation, I feel two separate conclusions were formed.

In the first situation, the issue reminded me that being open and honest about the current status of a situation is always the best option. In this situation, I could have easily taken the easy route to save my short-term reputation and avoid taking the blame for making a mistake. Later on, if the power supply would have been considered unsafe and a consumer would have been injured, I would have been in a lot bigger trouble. In this case, sharing the actually status prevented any irrational and unsafe decisions from being made. Hence, it is important to maintain honesty and integrity when in the work environment.

In the second example, I learned that it can be very easy to let unethical environments flourish. Even though what I felt was happening was wrong, I decided to not doing anything about it. It is critical to understand that sometimes allowing for unethical practices to continue can be easier then doing something about it. I am disappointed that after talking to my manager, I simply turned a blind eye to what was going on around me. Also, I need to understand, that just because management says it is ok does not make the situation ethical. Not knowing what Roger’s intentions with the test unit where could have resulted in bad situations such as personal injury to occur. Next time, I will be more cognizant of my surroundings and try to do something about it.
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