Archive for the ‘Recession’ Category

Great companies are great because of the people that work there.

You can look at people’s salaries as a cost that must be reduced. Or, you can look at their salaries as a way for them to provide for their families. With one, you cut, cut, cut.  With the other, you pay the fairest wage possible and are thankful your people are happy.

You can look at healthcare costs the same way – as a cost that must be slashed or an important ingredient that helps the workers and their families stay healthy.  Sure, you should get what you pay for, but do you cut costs or do all you can to help people be healthy? I know which one makes for a productive workforce and which one is a race to the bottom. How does your company think about providing good healthcare benefits? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at training and development of your people as a cost or an investment. And this distinction makes all the difference.  With one, training and development is minimized. And with the other, it’s maximized to grow people into their best selves.  How does your company think about this? And how do you feel about that?

You can look at new tools as a cost or as an investment. Sure, tools can be expensive, but they can also help people do more than they thought possible. Does your company think of them as a cost or an investment? And how do you feel about that?

Would you take a slight pay cut so that others in the company could be paid a living wage? Would you pay a little more for healthcare so that younger people could pay less? Would you be willing to make a little less money so the company can invest in the people? Would your company be willing to use some of the profit generated by cost reduction work to secure the long-term success of the company?

If your company’s cost structure is higher than the norm because it invests in the people, are you happy about that? Or, does that kick off a project to reduce the company’s cost structure?

Over what time frame does your company want to make money?

When jobs are eliminated at your company, does that feel more like a birthday party or a funeral?

Are you proud of how your company treats their people, or are you embarrassed?

I’ve heard that people are the company’s most important asset, but if that’s the case, why is there so much interest in reducing the number of people that work at the company?

In the company’s strategic plan, five years from now are there more people on the payroll or fewer? And how do you feel about that?

Image credit — Gk Hart/vikki Hart/G

Pull the product lever, now.

If you’re reading this you’ve probably survived the great recession. You had to do some radical stuff, but you pulled it off. You cut to the bone as demand fell off, but you managed to shed staff and capacity and kept your company alive. Congratulations. Amazing work. But now the hard part: increased demand!

Customers are ordering, and they want product now. You’re bringing on capacity, re-hiring, and re-training, and taking waste out of your processes with lean and even extending lean to your supply chain and logistics. You’re pulling the levers as hard as you can, but you know it won’t be enough. What you need is another lever, a big, powerful, magical lever to make everything better. You need to pull the product lever.

So, you’re telling me to look at my product as a way to meet increased demand? Yes. To get more products out of few factories? Yes. To make more products with a short staff? Yes. To reduce supply chain complexity? Yes. Pull the product lever, pull it hard, and pull it now.

But meeting increased demand is a manufacturing/supply chain problem, right? No. What about flogging suppliers for unreasonably short lead times? No. What about quickly bringing on unproven suppliers? No. What about bringing on a totally new factory by next week? No. What about using folks of the street to make the product? No. Pull the product lever, pull hard, and pull it now.

Dust off the value stream map of your supply chain and identify the three longest lead times, and design them out of your product. Dust off your routings and identify the three largest labor times, and design them out of our product. Dust off your BOMs and identify the three highest cost parts, and design them out of your product. Pull the product lever. Then, identify the next three, and pull it again. Then repeat. Pull it hard, and pull it now.

Meeting increased demand will be challenging, but your customers and stockholders deserve your best. So, pull hard on all your levers, and pull them now.


Manufacturing creates value to pay for schools.


Manufacturing creates value to pay for healthcare.


Manufacturing creates value to build and maintain infrastructure.


Manufacturing creates value to pay mortgages.


Manufacturing creates jobs.

If you were a country, what would you do?

United Nations HeadquartersIf I was a country I would care about the well-being of my people.  I would truly care about the health, education, and happiness of my families.  That’s easy to say, but hard to pay for.  How would I fund it?  I would make stuff, lots of stuff.  My rationale – jobs, lots of jobs.  I would create a sustainable economy built on the bedrock of manufacturing.  I’m not talking about designing things, but actually making them, with real factories, real machines, and real people, because as a country, it’s more important to make things than to design them.

The single most important equation for me as a country is

Price – Cost = Profit.

While companies care most about profit, as a country I care most about cost – manufacturing cost. I want to incur the cost of manufacturing within my borders, and for good reason – that’s where jobs and money are.  For a product that sells for $100 with a 20% profit margin, costs ($80) are four times larger than profits ($20).  No big deal you say?  Pretend you are a country and look at the three components of cost from my perspective – labor, materials, and overhead, and then ask yourself if it’s a big deal.

My people get paid for their time. (For me, as a country, that’s magic.)  They buy food, clothing, and shelter and have a little fun.  In turn, they pay me income tax, which I use to educate my children.

My dirt, rocks, and sticks are used in products and my people get paid to dig, move, mix, and cut. (More magic.)  And the machines to do it all are made by my people. We then make the same trade as above – they buy food, clothes, shelter, they pay me income taxes, and I use the money to pay for healthcare.

My dirt, rocks, and sticks are dug and moved to make electricity.  My people get paid, they spend, and I provide services. A good trade for all.

I’m not an economist, and I’m oversimplifying things.  And I know there’s more than a hint of nationalism here.  But, even still, when I pretend to be a country, all this makes sense to me.

If you were a country, what would you do?

Click this link for information on Mike’s upcoming workshop on Systematic DFMA Deployment

Ready, Fire, Aim.

Scylla and CharybdisPent up demand is everywhere.  After almost two years of cutting inventories and pushing out purchases, companies are ready to buy. And with credit coming back on line, they’re ready to buy in bulk.  Good news?  No, great news.  We’re back on our growth path. And that’s good because Wall Street now expects growth. But, together this wicked couple of pent up demand and Wall Street’s appetite for immediate growth has created a powder keg that’s ready to blow.

Companies want more new products to satisfy the pent up demand (and Wall Street).  Growth through new products is a theme heard around the globe; there’s a relentless push for more products – early and often. Resources be damned, best practices be damned, we’re going to launch more products. Were going to market and will fix it later. The battle cry – Don’t launch, don’t sell!. However, the real battle cry is more aptly – Ready, fire, aim!  We’re going too fast.

I’m all for productivity, but we’re heading for a cliff, a cliff some have already accelerated off of, albeit in an unintended way.


We’ve forgotten the golden rule – provide value to customers, or you’re hosed.


Customers value function, or “what it does”.  Function first. But in this need-for-speed environment that’s just what’s at risk. To reduce time to market, we eliminate tasks (best practices?) in our product development processes. All good unless we eliminate tasks that make the product function as intended.  All good unless we load our engineers so heavily they don’t have time to design in functionality.  We must be careful here.  If you’re first to market and your product doesn’t work, you should have waited.

I believe launching too early is worse than launching too late because a botched launch can damage your brand, the brand you’ve taken years to build. (Click this link to see a post on brand damaging.) As we know, word gets around when your product doesn’t work (or accelerates on its own).

Satisfying the siren of pent up demand can run you into the rocks if you’re not careful.  So block your ears to her song, and take the time to get your products right.

It’s a tough time to be a CEO

2009 is a tough year, especially for CEOs.

CEOs have a strong desire to do what it takes to deliver shareholder value, but that’s coupled with a deep concern that tough decisions may dismantle the company in the process.

Here is the state-of-affairs:

Sales are down and money is tight.  There is severe pressure to cut costs including those that are linked to sales – marketing budgets, sales budgets, travel – and things that directly impact customers – technical service, product manuals, translations, and warranty.

Pricing pressure is staggering.  Customers are exerting their buying power – since so few are buying they want to name their price (and can).  Suppliers, especially the big ones, are using their muscle to raise prices.

Capacity utilization is ultra-low, so the bounce-back of new equipment sales is a long way off.

Everyone wants to expand into new markets to increase sales, but this is a particularly daunting task with competitors hunkering down to retain market share, cuts in sales and marketing budgets, and hobbled product development engines.

There is a desire to improve factory efficiency to cut costs (rather than to increase throughput like in 2008), but no one wants to spend money to make money – payback must be measured in milliseconds.

So what’s a CEO to do?  Read the rest of this entry »

Engineering your way out of the recession

Like you, I have been thinking a lot about the recession.  We all want to know how to move ourselves to the other side, where things are somewhat normal (the old normal, not the new one).  Like usual, my mind immediately goes to products.  To me, having the right products is vital to pulling ourselves out of this thing.  There is nothing novel in this thinking;  I think we all agree that products are important.  But, there are two follow-on questions that are important.  First, what makes products “right” to move you quickly to the other side?  Second, do you have the capability to engineer the “right” products?

The first question – what makes products “right” for these times?  Capacity is important to understanding what makes products right.  Capacity utilization is at record lows with most industries suffering from a significant capacity glut.  With decreased sales and idle machines, customers are no longer interested in products that improve productivity of their existing product lines because they can simply run their idle machines more.  And, they are not interested in buying more capacity (your products) at a reduced price.  They will simply run their idle machines more.  You can’t offer an improvement of your same old product that enables customers to make their same old products a bit faster and you can’t offer them your same old products at a lower price.  However, you can sell them products that enable them to capture business they currently do not have.  For example, enable them to manufacture products that their idle machines CANNOT make at all.  To do that means your new products must do something radically different than before; they must have radically improved functionality or radically new features.  This is what makes products right for these times.

On to the second question – do you have the capability to engineer the right products?  Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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