Archive for May, 2012

Less With Far Less

We don’t know the question, but the answer is innovation. And with innovation it’s more, more, more. Whether it’s more with less, or a lot more with a little more, it’s always more. It’s bigger, faster, stronger, or bust.  It’s an enhancement of what is, or an extrapolation of what we have. Or it’s the best of product one added to product two. But it’s always more.

More-on-more makes radical shifts hard because with more-on-more we hold onto all functionality then add features, or we retain all features then multiply output. This makes it hard to let go of constraints, both the fundamental ones – which we don’t even see as constraints because they masquerade as design rules – and the little-known second class constraints – which we can see, but don’t recognize their power to block first class improvements. (Second class constraints are baggage that come with tangential features which stop us from jumping onto new S-curves for the first class stuff.)

To break the unhealthy cycle of more-on-more addition, think subtraction. Take out features and function. Distill to the essence. Decree guilty until proven innocent, and make your marketers justify the addition of every feature and function. Starting from ground zero, ask your marketers, “If the product does just one thing, what should it do?” Write it down as input to the next step.

Next, instead of more-on-more multiplication, think division. Divide by ten the minimum output of your smallest product. (The intent it to rip your engineers and marketers out of the rut that is your core product line.) With this fractional output, ask what other technologies can enable the functionality? Look down. Look to little technologies, technologies that you could have never considered at full output. Congratulations. You’ve started on your migration toward with less-with-far-less.

On the surface, less-with-far-less doesn’t seem like a big deal. And at first, folks roll their eyes at the idea of taking out features and de-rating output by ten. But its magic is real. When product performance is clipped, constraints fall by the wayside. And when the product must do far less and constraints are dismissed, engineers are pushed away from known technologies toward the unfamiliar and unreasonable. These unfamiliar technologies are unreasonably small and enable functionality with far less real estate and far less inefficiency. The result is radically reduced cost, size, and weight.

Less-with-far-less enables cost reductions so radical, new markets become viable; it makes possible size and weight reductions so radical, new levels of portability open unimaginable markets; it facilitates power reductions so radical, new solar technologies become viable.

The half-life of constraints is long, and the magic from less-with-far-less builds slowly. Before they can let go of what was, engineers must marinate in the notion of less. But when the first connections are made, a cascade of ideas follow and things spin wonderfully out of control. It becomes a frenzy of ideas so exciting, the problem becomes cooling their jets without dampening their spirit.

Less-with-far-less is not dumbed-down work – engineers are pushed to solve new problems with new technologies. Thermal problems are more severe, dimensional variation must be better controlled, and failure modes are new. In fact, less-with-far-less creates steeper learning curves and demands higher-end technologies and even adolescent technologies.

Our thinking, in the form of constraints, limits our thinking. Less-with-far-less creates the scarcity that forces us to abandon our constraints. Less-with-far-less declares our existing technologies unviable and demands new thinking. And I think that’s just what we need.

Untapped Power of Self

As a subject matter expert (SME), you have more power than you think, and certainly more than you demonstrate.

As an SME, you have special knowledge. Looking back, you know what worked, what didn’t, and why; looking forward, you know what should work, what shouldn’t, and why.  There’s power in your special knowledge, but you underestimate it and don’t use it to move the needle.

As an SME, without your special knowledge there are no new products, no new technologies, and no new markets. Without it, it’s same-old, same-old until the competition outguns you. It’s time you realize your importance and behave that way.

As an SME, when you and your SME friends gang together, your company must listen. Your gang knows it all. From the system-level stuff to the most detailed detail, you know it. Remember, you invented the technology that powers your products. It’s time you behave that way.

As an SME, with your power comes responsibility – you have an obligation to use your power for good. Figure out what the technology wants, and do that; do the sustainable thing; do the thing that creates jobs; do what’s good for the economy; sit yourself in the future, look back, and do what you think is right.

As an SME, I’m calling you out. I trust you, now it’s time to trust yourself. And it’s time for you to behave that way.

Beliefs Govern Ideas

Some ideas are so powerful they change you. More precisely, some ideas are so powerful you change your beliefs to fit them.

These powerful ideas come in two strains: those that already align with your beliefs and those that contradict.

The first strain works subtly. While you think on the idea, your beliefs test it for safety. (They work in the background without your knowledge.) And if the idea passes the sniff test, and your beliefs feel safe, they let the subconscious sniffing morph into conscious realization – the idea fits your beliefs. The result: You now better understand your beliefs and you blossom, grow, and amplify yourself.

The second strain is subtle as a train wreck – a full frontal assault on your beliefs. This strain contradicts our beliefs and creates an emotional response – fear, anger, stress. And because these ideas threaten our beliefs, our beliefs reject them for safety’s sake. It’s like an autoimmune system for ideas.

But this autoimmune system has a back door. While it rejects most of the idea, for unknown reasons it passes a wisp to our belief system for sniffing. Like a vaccine, it wants to strengthen our beliefs against the strain. And in most cases, it works. But in rare cases, through deep introspection, our beliefs self-mutate and align with the previously contradicting idea. The result: You change yourself fundamentally.

Truth is, ideas are not about ideas; ideas are about beliefs. Our beliefs give life to ideas, or kill them. But we give ideas too much responsibility, and take too little. Truth is, we can change what we think and feel about ideas.

More powerfully, we can change what we think and feel about our beliefs, but only if we believe we can.

Make It Where You Sell It

Lean has rolled through our factories and generated profits at every turn.  Now it’s time to get serious about savings and realize the next level of savings. Companies are pushing lean into the back office, but that won’t get it done.  The savings will be good, but not great.  After picking low-hanging factory fruit, there’s uncertainty around what’s next for lean. 

Make it where you sell it, that’s next for lean.  Like a central theorem, this simple phrase will become lean’s mantra, and it will change everything, including our organizations themselves. The big multi-national companies have already started their journey, and we can take our cues from them.

The major automakers have assembly plants on all continents – objective evidence of make it where you sell it.  There are many benefits to make it where you sell it, but the top three are: speed, speed, speed.  The automotive value stream without make it where you sell it: make a car, put it on a boat, deliver it to a dealer, and sell it.  Make it where you sell it eliminates the boat: make it, deliver it, and sell it.  Inventory is proportional to cycle time and eliminating the long boat ride shortens the value stream, improves response time and reduces inventory. 

Make it where you sell it starts closest to the customer, and final assembly is the first to be established in-market. Engines and transmissions still ride the boat, but not for long.  After final assembly, make it where you sell it targets big, heavy, expensive subassemblies, so expect in-market engine and transmission plants.  (However, big ones like these may stay put for while due to technological, political, or cultural reasons.)

With one piece flow, right-sized machines, and short product runs, lean has taught us the most economic scale is far smaller than we’d imagined.  We’ve learned for our factories smaller is better, and make it where you sell it extrapolates smaller-is-better to the organization itself.  Here again, the big guys lead the way.  Multinationals are breaking themselves into smaller units, right-sizing into smaller regional companies – still big, but smaller.  Their in-country manufacturing creates nice tight feedback loops between customer and factory.  And there’s an important benefit to the brand – it becomes a local brand.  Not only can the brand better serve regional tastes, it provides goodwill in the form of jobs.

[Disclaimer: I don’t advocate outsourcing.  I’m simply explaining the forces at work and their consequences.]

Lean cares about speed, not countries, and make it where you sell it causes jobs flow across company boarders.  This is especiallylevant as countries compete for manufacturing jobs like their survival depended on them.  For those countries that understand manufacturing jobs are the bedrock of a sustainable economy, make it where you sell it can be threatening.  If you’re a country that doesn’t buy a lot of manufactured goods, you and your economy trouble – jobs will flow to where products are sold.

Make it where you sell it won’t stop at making, and will extend up stream.  The next logical extension is design it where you sell it, R&D it where you sell it, and innovate it where you sell it. (The biggest companies are already doing this with regional R&D centers.) More jobs will flow across borders, but this time they’ll be the coveted thinking jobs.

Make it where you sell it is the guiding principle companies are using to become more responsive, more productive, and local.  It has already broken the biggest companies into smaller ones. They’ve realized that the most economic scale is small, and they’re getting there using make it where you sell it.

Make it where you sell it will change all companies, even small ones.  And the mantra for small companies: think narrow and deep.


I will hold a half-day Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment on June 13 in RI.  (See bottom of linked page.) I look forward to meeting you in person.


Work The Rule

If the rule makes things take too long, do you follow it or shortcut it?

If the reason for the rule is no longer, do you follow it or declare it unreasonable?

If you don’t understand the rule do you work to understand it, or conveniently trespass?

If you don’t follow the rule, does that say something about the rule, or you?

When is a rule a rule and when is it shackles?

When it comes to law, physics, and safety, a rule is a rule.

If you’re limited by the rule, is it bad? (Isn’t far worse if you don’t realize it?)

What if the solution demands unruliness?

If you don’t follow rules, is it okay to make them?

What if a culture is so strong it rules out most everything, except following the rules?

What if a culture is so strong it demands you make the rules?

When it comes to rules, there’s only one rule – You decide.

I will hold a Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment on June 13 in RI. (See bottom of linked page.) I look forward to meeting you in person.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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