Archive for March, 2012

Win Hearts and Minds

As an engineering leader you have the biggest profit lever in the company. You lead the engineering teams, and the engineering teams design the products. You can shape their work, you can help them raise their game, and you can help them change their thinking. But if you don’t win their hearts and minds, you have nothing.

Engineers must see your intentions are good, you must say what you do and do what you say, and you must be in it for the long haul. And over time, as they trust, the profit lever grows into effectiveness. But if you don’t earn their trust, you have nothing.

But even with trust, you must be light on the tiller. Engineers don’t like change (we’re risk reducing beings), but change is a must. But go too quickly, and you’ll go too slowly. You must balance praise of success with praise of new thinking and create a standing-on-the-shoulders-of-giants mindset. But this is a challenge because they are the giants – you’re asking them to stand on their own shoulders.

How do you know they’re ready for new thinking? They’re ready when they’re willing to obsolete their best work and to change their work to make it happen. Strangely, they don’t need to believe it’s possible – they only need to believe in you.

Now the tough part: There’s a lot of new thinking out there. Which to choose?

Whatever the new thinking, it must make sense at a visceral level, and it must be simple. (But not simplistic.) Don’t worry if you don’t yet have your new thinking; it will come. As a seed, here are my top three new thinkings:

Define the problem. This one cuts across everything we do, yet most underwhelm it. To get there, ask your engineers to define their problems on one page. (Not five, one.) Ask them to use sketches, cartoons, block diagram, arrows, and simple nouns and verbs.  When they explain the problem on one page, they understand the problem. When they need two, they don’t.

Test to failure. This one’s subtle but powerful. Test to define product limits, and don’t stop until it breaks. No failure, no learning. To get there, resurrect the venerable test-break-fix cycle and do it until you run out of time (product launch.) Break the old product, test-break-fix the new product until it’s better.

Simplify the product. This is where the money is. Product complexity drives organizational complexity – simplify the product and simply everything. To get there, set a goal for 50% part count reduction, train on Design for Assembly (DFA), and ask engineering for part count data at every design review.

I challenge you to challenge yourself: I challenge you to define new thinking; I challenge you to help them with it; I challenge you to win their hearts and minds.

Fix The Economy – Connect The Engineer To The Factory

Rumor has it, manufacturing is back. Yes, manufacturing jobs are coming back, but they’re coming back in dribbles. (They left in a geyser, so we still have much to do.) What we need is a fire hose of new manufacturing jobs.

Manufacturing jobs are trickling back from low cost countries because companies now realize the promised labor savings are not there and neither is product quality. But a trickle isn’t good enough; we need to turn the tide; we need the Mississippi river.

For flow like that we need a fundamental change. We need labor costs so low our focus becomes good quality; labor costs so low our focus becomes speed to market; labor costs so low our focus becomes speed to customer. But the secret is not labor rate. In fact, the secret isn’t even in the factory.

The secret is a secret because we’ve mistakenly mapped manufacturing solely to making (to factories). We’ve forgotten manufacturing is about designing and making. And that’s the secret: designing – adding product thinking to the mix. Design out the labor.

There are many names for designing and making done together. Most commonly it’s called concurrent engineering. Though seemingly innocuous, taken together, those words have over a thousand meanings layered with even more nuances. (Ask someone for a simple description of concurrent engineering. You’ll see.) It’s time to take a step back and demystify designing and making done together. We can do this with two simple questions:

  • What behavior do we want?
  • How do we get it?

What’s the behavior we want? We want design engineers to understand what drives cost in the factory (and suppliers’ factories) and design out cost. In short, we want to connect the engineer to the factory.

Great idea. But what if the factory and engineer are separated by geography? How do we get the behavior we want? We need to create a stand-in for the factory, a factory surrogate, and connect the engineer to the surrogate. And that surrogate is cost. (Cost is realized in the factory.) We get the desired behavior when we connect the engineer to cost.

When we make engineering responsible for cost (connect them to cost), they must figure out where the cost is so they can design it out. And when they figure out where the cost is, they’re effectively connected to the factory.

But the engineers don’t need to understand the whole factory (or supply chain), they only need to understand places that create cost (where the cost is.) To understand where cost is, they must look to the baseline product – the one you’re making today. To help them understand supply chain costs, ask for a Pareto chart of cost by part number for purchased parts. (The engineers will use cost to connect to suppliers’ factories.) The new design will focus on the big bars on the left of the Pareto – where the supply chain cost is.

To help them understand your factory’s cost, they must make two more Paretos. The first one is a Pareto of part count by major subassembly. Factory costs are high where the parts are – time to put them together. The second is a Pareto chart of process times. Factory costs are high where the time is – machine capacity, machine operators, and floor space.

To make it stick, use design reviews. At the first design review – where their design approach is defined – ask engineering for the three Paretos for the baseline product. Use the Pareto data to set a cost reduction goal of 50% (It will be easily achieved, but not easily believed.) and part count reduction goal of 50%. (Easily achieved.) Here’s a hint for the design review – their design approach should be strongly shaped by the Paretos.

Going forward, at every design review, ask engineering to present the three Paretos (for the new design) and cost and part count data (for the new design.) Engineering must present the data themselves; otherwise they’ll disconnect themselves from the factory.

To seal the deal, just before full production, engineering should present the go-to-production Paretos, cost, and part count data.

What I’ve described may not be concurrent engineering, but it’s the most profitable activity you’ll ever do. And, as a nice side benefit, you’ll help turn around the economy one company at a time.

Stop Doing – it will double your productivity

For the foreseeable future, there will be more work than time. Yet year-on-year we’re asked to get more done and year-on-year we pull it off. Most are already at our maximum hour threshold, so more hours is not the answer. The answer is productivity.

Like it or not, there are physical limits to the number of hours worked. At a reasonable upper our bodies need sleep and our families deserve our time. And at the upper upper end, a 25 hour day is not possible. Point is, at some point we draw a line in the sand and head home for the day. Point is, we have finite capacity.

As a thought experiment, pretend you’re at (or slightly beyond) your reasonable upper limit and not going to work more hours. If your work stays the same, your output will be constant and productivity will be zero. But since productivity will increase, your work must change. No magic here, but how to change your work?

Changing your work is about choice – the choice to change your work. You know your work best and you’re the best one to choose. And your choice comes down to what you’ll stop doing.

The easiest thing to stop doing is work you’ve just completed. It’s done, so stop. Finish one, start one is the simplest way to go through life, but it’s not realistic (and productivity does not increase.) Still, it makes for a good mantra: Stop starting and start finishing.

The next things to stop are activities that have no value. Stop surfing and stop playing Angry Birds. Enough said. (If you need professional help to curb your surfing habit, take a look at Leechblock. It helped me.)

The next things to stop are meetings. Here are some guidelines:

  • If the meeting is not worth a meeting agenda, don’t go.
  • If it’s a status meeting, don’t go – read the minutes.
  • If you’re giving status at a status meeting, don’t go – write a short report.
  • If there’s a decision to be made, and it affects you, go.

The next thing to stop is email. The best way I know to kick the habit is a self-mandated time limit. Here are some specific suggestions:

  • Don’t automatically connect your email to the server – make yourself connect to it.
  • Create an email filter for the top ten most important people (You know who they are.) to route them to your Main inbox. Everyone else is routed to a Read Later inbox.
  • Check email for fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes in the afternoon. Start with the Main inbox (important people) and move to the Read Later inbox if you have time. If you don’t have time for the Read Laters, that’s okay – read them later.
  • Create an email rule that automatically deletes unread emails in two days and read ones in one.
  • Let bad things happen and adjust your email filters and rules accordingly.

Once you’ve chosen to stop the non-productive work, you’ll have more than doubled your productive hours which will double your productivity. That’s huge.

The tough choices come when you must choose between two (or more) sanctioned projects. There are also tricks for that, but that’s different post.

Run From Your Success

Don’t worry about your biggest competitor – they’re not your biggest competitor. You’ve not met your biggest competitor. Your biggest competitor is either from another industry or it’s three guys and a dog toiling away in their basement.

Certainly it’s impossible to worry about a competitor we’ve not met, but that’s just what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to use thought-shifting mechanisms to help us see ourselves from the framework of our unknown competitor.

Our unknown competitor doesn’t have much – no fully functional products, no fully built-out product lines, and no market share. And that’s where we must shift our thinking – to a place of scarcity – so we can see ourselves from their framework. We’ve got to look down (in the S-curve sense), sit ourselves at the bottom, and look up at our successful selves. It’s the best way to move from self-cherishing to self-dismantling.

To start, we must create our logical trajectory. First, define where we are and where we came from. Then, with a ruler aligned to the points, extend a line into the future. That’s our logical trajectory – an extrapolation in the direction of our success. Along this line we will do more of what got us here, more of what we’ve done. Without giving ground on any front, we will protect market share and build more. We’ve now defined how we see ourselves. We’ve now defined the thinking that could be our undoing.

Now we must force enlightenment on ourselves. We create an illogical trajectory where we see ourselves from a success-less framework. In this framework less is more; more-of-the-same is displaced with more-of-something-else; and success is a weakness. We know we’re sitting in the rights space when the smallest slice of incremental market share looks like a big, juicy bite – like it looks to our unknown competitor.

The disruptive technology created by our unknown competitor will start innocently. Immature at first, the disruptive technology will do most things poorly but do one thing better. Viewed from our success framework we will see only limitations and dismiss it, while our unknown competitors will see opportunity. We will see the does-most-things-poorly part and they’ll see the one-thing-better part. They will sell to a small segment that values the one-thing-better part.

In another variant, an immature disruptive technology will do less with far less. From our success framework we will see “less” while from their scarcity framework they will see “more”. They will sell a simpler product that does less for a price that’s far less. (And make money.)

Here’s the one that’s most frightening: an immature technology that does all things poorly but does them without a fundamental limitation of our technology.  From our framework the limitation is so fundamental we won’t let ourselves see it. This limitation is un-seeable because we’ve built our business around it. (Think Kodak film.) This flavor of disruptive technology can put our business model out of business, yet we’ll dismiss it.

We’ll know we’ve shifted our thinking to the right place when we see our unknown competitors not as bottom-feeders but as hungry competitors who see our scraps as a smorgasbord.

We’ll know our thinking’s right when see not self-destruction, but self-disruption.

We’ll know all is right with the world we’re working on disruptive technologies to disrupt ourselves, disruptive technologies with the potential to create business models so compelling that we’ll gladly run from our success.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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