Archive for the ‘Bottom Line Growth’ Category

To make the right decision, use the right data.

wheels fall offWhen it’s time for a tough decision, it’s time to use data.  The idea is the data removes biases and opinions so the decision is grounded in the fundamentals.  But using the right data the right way takes a lot of disciple and care.

The most straightforward decision is a decision between two things – an either or – and here’s how it goes.

The first step is to agree on the test protocols and measure systems used to create the data.  To eliminate biases, this is done before any testing.  The test protocols are the actual procedural steps to run the tests and are revision controlled documents.  The measurement systems are also fully defined.  This includes the make and model of the machine/hardware, full definition of the fixtures and supporting equipment, and a measurement protocol (the steps to do the measurements).

The next step is to create the charts and graphs used to present the data. (Again, this is done before any testing.) The simplest and best is the bar chart – with one bar for A and one bar for B.  But for all formats, the axes are labeled (including units), the test protocol is referenced (with its document number and revision letter), and the title is created.  The title defines the type of test, important shared elements of the tested configurations and important input conditions.   The title helps make sure the tested configurations are the same in the ways they should be.  And to be doubly sure they’re the same, once the graph is populated with the actual test data, a small image of the tested configurations can be added next to each bar.

The configurations under test change over time, and it’s important to maintain linkage between the test data and the tested configuration.  This can be accomplished with descriptive titles and formal revision numbers of the test configurations.  When you choose design concept A over concept B but unknowingly use data from the wrong revisions it’s still a data-driven decision, it’s just wrong one.

But the most important problem to guard against is a mismatch between the tested configuration and the configuration used to create the cost estimate.  To increase profit, test results want to increase and costs wants to decrease, and this natural pressure can create divergence between the tested and costed configurations. Test results predict how the configuration under test will perform in the field.  The cost estimate predicts how much the costed configuration will cost.  Though there’s strong desire to have the performance of one configuration and the cost of another, things don’t work that way.  When you launch you’ll get the performance of AND cost of the configuration you launched.  You might as well choose the configuration to launch using performance data and cost as a matched pair.

All this detail may feel like overkill, but it’s not because the consequences of getting it wrong can decimate profitability. Here’s why:

Profit = (price – cost) x volume.

Test results predict goodness, and goodness defines what the customer will pay (price) and how many they’ll buy (volume).  And cost is cost.  And when it comes to profit, if you make the right decision with the wrong data, the wheels fall off.

Image credit – alabaster crow photographic

Can It Grow?

Retired SunflowerIf you’re working in a company you like, and you want it to be around in the future, you want to know if it will grow.  If you’re looking to move to a new company, you want to know if it has legs – you want to know if it will grow. If you own stock, you want to know if the company will grow, and it’s the same if you want to buy stock.  And it’s certainly the case if you want to buy the whole company – if it can grow, it’s worth more.

To grow, a company has to differentiate itself from its competitors.  In the past, continuous improvement (CI) was a differentiator, but today CI is the minimum expectation, the cost of doing business.  The differentiator for growth is discontinuous improvement (DI).

With DI, there’s an unhealthy fascination with idea generation.  While idea generation is important, companies aren’t short on ideas, they’re short on execution.  But the one DI differentiator is the flavor of the ideas.  To do DI a company needs ideas that are radically different than the ones they’re selling now.  If the ideas are slightly twisted variants of today’s products and business models, that’s a sure sign continuous improvement has infiltrated and polluted the growth engine. The gears of the DI engine are gummed up and there’s no way the company can sustain growth.  For objective evidence the company has the chops to generate the right ideas, look for a process that forces their thinking from the familiar, something like Jeffrey Baumgartner’s Anticonventional Thinking (ACT).

For DI-driven growth, the ability to execute is most important.  With execution, the first differentiator is how the company investigates radically new ideas.  There are three differentiators – a focus on speed, a “market first” approach, and the use of minimum viable tests (MVTs).  With new ideas, it’s all about how fast you can learn, so speed should come through loud and clear.  Without a market, the best idea is worthless, so look for “market first” thinking.  Idea evaluation starts with a hypothesis that a specific market exists (the market is clearly defined in the hypothesis) which is evaluated with a minimum viable test (MVT) to prove or disprove the market’s existence.  MVTs should error on the side of speed – small, localized testing.  The more familiar minimum viable product (MVP) is often an important part of the market evaluation work.  It’s all about learning about the market as fast as possible.

Now, with a validated market, the differentiator is how fast company can rally around the radically new idea and start the technology and product work.  The companies that can’t execute slot the new project at the end of their queue and get to it when they get to it.  The ones that can execute stop an existing (lower value) project and start the new project yesterday.  This stop-to-start behavior is a huge differentiator.

The company’s that can’t execute take a ready-fire-aim approach – they just start.  The companies that differentiate themselves use systems thinking to identify gaps in resources and capabilities and close them. They do the tough work of prioritizing one project over another and fully staff the important ones at the expense of the lesser projects.  Rather than starting three projects and finishing none, the companies that know how to do DI start one, finish one, and repeat.  They know with DI, there’s no partial credit for a project that’s half done.

All companies have growth plans, and at the highest level they all hang together, but some growth plans are better than others.  To judge the goodness of the growth plan takes a deeper look, a look into the work itself.  And once you know about the work, the real differentiator is whether the company has the chops to execute it.

Image credit – John Leach.

Product Thinking


Product costs, without product thinking, drop 2% per year. With product thinking, product costs fall by 50%, and while your competitors’ profit margins drift downward, yours are too high to track by conventional methods. And your company is known for unending increases in stock price and long term investment in all the things that secure the future.

The supply chain, without product thinking, improves 3% per year. With product thinking, longest lead processes are eliminated, poorest yield processes are a thing of the past, problem suppliers are gone, and your distributers associate your brand with uninterrupted supply and on time delivery.

Product robustness, without product thinking, is the same year-on-year. Re-injecting long forgotten product thinking to simplify the product, product robustness jumps to unattainable levels and warranty costs plummet. And your brand is known for products that simply don’t break.

Rolled throughput yield is stalled at 90%. With product thinking, the product is simplified, opportunities for defects are reduced, and throughput skyrockets due to improved RTY. And your brand is known as a good value – providing good, repeatable functionality at a good price.

Lean, without product thinking has delivered wonderful results, but the low hanging fruit is gone and lean is moving into the back office. With product thinking, the design is changed and value-added work is eliminated along with its associated non-value added work (which is about 8 times bigger); manufacturing monuments with their long changeover times are ripped out and sold to your competitors; work from two factories is consolidated into one; new work is taken on to fill the emptied factories; and profit per square foot triples. And your brand is known for best-in-class quality, unbeatable on time delivery, world class performance, and pioneering the next generation of lean.

The sales argument is low price and good payment terms. With product thinking, the argument starts with product performance and ends with product reliability. The sales team is energized, and your brand is linked with solid products that just plain work.

The marketing approach is stickers and new packaging. With product thinking, it’s based on competitive advantage explained in terms of head-to-head performance data and a richer feature set. And your brand stands for winning technology and killer products.

Product thinking isn’t for everyone. But for those that try – your brand will thank you.

Secret Sauce that Doubles Profits

Last month a group of engineers met secretly to reinvent the US economy one company at a time.  Here are some of the players, maybe you’ve heard of them:

Alcoa, BAE, Boeing, Bose, Covidien, EMC, GE Medical, GE Transportation, Grundfos, ITT, Medrad, Medtronic, Microsoft, Motorola, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Siemens, United Technologies, Westinghouse, Whirlpool.

Presenter after presenter the themes were the same: double profits, faster time to market, and better products – the triple crown of product development. Magic in a bottle, and still the best kept secret of the product development community. (No sense sharing the secret sauce when you can have it all for yourself.)

Microsoft used the secret sauce to increase profits of their hardware business by $75 million; Boeing recently elevated the secret methodology to the level of lean. Yet it’s still a secret.

What is this sauce that doubles profits without increasing sales?  (That’s right, doubles.) What is this magic that decreases time to market? That reduces engineering documentation? That reduces design work itself? What is this growth strategy?

When trying to spread it on your company there are some obstacles, but the benefits should be enough to carry the day.  First off, the secret sauce isn’t new, but double the profits should be enough to take a first bite.  Second, its name doesn’t roll off the tongue (there’s no sizzle), but decreased time to market should justify a taste test. Last, design engineering must change its behavior (we don’t like to do that), but improved product functionality should be enough to convince engineering to swallow.

There are also two mapping problems: First, the sauce has been mapped to the wrong organization – instead of engineering it’s mapped to manufacturing, a group that, by definition, cannot do the work. (Only engineering can change the design.) Second, the sauce is mapped to the wrong word – instead of profit it’s mapped to cost.  Engineering is praised for increased profits (higher function generates higher profits) and manufacturing is responsible for cost – those are the rules.

With double profits, reduced time to market, and improved product function, the name shouldn’t matter. But if you must know, its name is Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DFMA), though I prefer to call it the secret sauce that doubles profits, reduces time to market, and improves product function.

Money out the wazoo

There’s a huge untapped source of profits out there – a virtual gold mine – with profit opportunities so large you can’t see them, and if you do see them, too large to believe. These profits larger than you’ve achieved with your traditional lean work. (Actually, what I’m talking about the next evolution of lean.) Want to see what I’m talking about? Go to your factory and watch. The gold mine will be hiding in plain sight – it’s your product.

Huge savings blah, blah, blah. How significant? Here’s the formula:

material cost x volume x 50%.

Now, for your highest volume product, do the calculation. Go ahead. Do it. Humor me. It’s worth it.

Go get your best pen, and calculate by hand. Write down the number. Go ahead. Write it down, but make sure you put the dollar sign in front, and, please, put in the commas. Don’t abbreviate thousands, millions, or billions (or trillions, Mr. Gates) – write the zeros.  All of them.

There. You did it. Not so hard. Now, sit quietly, and contemplate the number. Look at it for an hour. Don’t say anything, just sit with it.

Now, get bigger piece of paper, and re-run the calculation, but this time write big. Repeat with a poster board, and finish with your biggest whiteboard – big zeros, lot’s of them. (Don’t forget the commas.) Marinate for an hour. Don’t say anything, just sit.

Now that you appreciate the significance of the number, go make something happen.  If you’re a CEO, tell your engineering leader to do DFMA; if you’re the manufacturing leader, grab your engineering leader by the ear, and walk to the whiteboard; if you’re the engineering leader, do DFMA.

You likely don’t believe the number. I know. It’s okay. But, a number that big at least deserves a Google search: save 50% with DFMA.

Upcoming Workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment

I will be running a half-day workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment on June 13 in Providence, RI.  The workshop will kick of BDI’s 2011 International Forum on Design for Manufacturing and Assembly and will focus on how to incorporate DFMA into your product development process.

The Forum (June 14, 15) is the yearly gathering of the world’s leading DFMA experts.  It is THE place to learn about DFMA and see examples and results from leading companies.

I urge the product development community to attend.

I am also presenting at the Forum and hope to finally meet you in person.

Out of the recession — top line or bottom line approach?

I have been watching the news and listening to the pundits, and, apparently, we are steaming out of the great recession and the manufacturing flywheel is nearing full speed.

As we all know, that’s a bunch of crap.  Many manufactures are still in survival mode where cost cutting has crossed into the ridiculous; where the best talent has been cut; and where the product development flywheel is motionless.  We are far from coming out of this thing, and the bad stuff we had to do to survive will take time to undo.

However, some companies are considering options to accelerate themselves out of the soup.  They are asking the big question – what is the fastest way out?

To me, the fastest way out is all about three things: product, product, product — do you have the right products coming to market?  Or, if not, how can you get your product development flywheel moving so the right products hit the market as quickly as possible?  But, what are the attributes of the “right product”?

I think there are two components of the right product: the top line component and the bottom line component.  The top line component (which drives top line growth) is all about function and features.  More function equals increased sales through market share and price.  The bottom line component (bottom line growth) is all about cost.  Pretty basic.  But, if your resources are limited (like most of us) and can improve only one, which should you improve?

Bottom line cost reduction is not glamorous, but the balance sheet improvment is surprisingly good.  Let me give an example.  Product A is an existing product that sells for $1000 and it costs you $800 to produce, providing $200 profit per unit.  You spend your product development resources on a bottom line effort and reduce product cost by 20%.  Still selling for $1000 but with a cost of $640 (0.8 * $800), profit dollars increase by 80% ($360 vs. $200).  Not bad especially since sales have not increased.

Top line growth has a strong emotional component which energizes people, and the upside potential is huge.  Here is an example using the same product as above.  Product A still sells for $1000, costs you $800, and you make $200 per unit.  You spend your product development resources on a top line project to add better functionality and more features.  Because you don’t have time to address the bottom line component, your costs go up 10% (to $880).  But, you do get the function and features you wanted, and the market can support a 10% price increase to $1100.  Profit per unit is up 10% t0 $220 ($1100 – $880).  Your engineering really came through and the market likes your new product and sales increase by 20%.  With all that, profit dollars increase by 32% ($220*1.2 = $264 vs. $200).

Clearly the examples are contrived to illustrate a point: bottom line cost reduction is powerful and so are top line sales growth and price increase.  And the best answer is not to choose between top line and bottom line components.  It makes a lot of sense to do a little of both, because it’s the fastest way out of the soup.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner