Posts Tagged ‘DFMA Culture’

The Threshold Of Uncertainty

Limbo under the threshold of uncertaintyOur threshold for uncertainty is too low.

Early in projects, even before the first prototype is up and running, you know what the product must do, what it will cost, and, most problematic, when you’ll be done. Independent of work content, level of newness, and workloads, there’s no uncertainty in your launch date. It’s etched in stone and the consequences are devastating.

A zero tolerance policy on uncertainty forces irrational behavior. As soon as possible, engineering gets something running in the lab, and then doesn’t want to change it because there’s no time. The prototype is almost impossible to build and is hypersensitive to normal process variation, but these issues are not addressed because there’s no time.  Everyone agrees it’s important to fix it, and agrees to fix it after launch, but that never happens because the next project is already late before it starts. And the death cycle repeats project after project.

The root cause of this mess is the mistaken porting of manufacturing’s zero uncertainly mindset into design. The thinking goes like this – lean and Six Sigma have achieved magical success in manufacturing by eliminating uncertainty, so let’s do it in product design and achieve similar results. This is a fundamental mistake as the domains are fundamentally different.

In manufacturing the same product is made day-in and day-out – no uncertainty; in product design no two product development efforts are the same and there’s lots of stuff that’s done for the first time – uncertainty by definition. In manufacturing there’s a revision controlled engineering drawing that defines the right answer (the geometry and the material) – make it like the picture and it’s all good; in product design the material is chosen from many candidates and the geometry is created from scratch – the picture is created from nothing. By definition there’s more inherent uncertainty in product design, and to tighten the screws and fix the launch date at the start is inappropriate.

Design engineers must feel like there’s enough time to try new things because new products that provide new functionality require new technologies, new materials, and new geometries. With new comes inherent uncertainty, but there are ways to manage it.

To hold the timeline, give on the specification and cost. Design as fast as you can until you run out of time then launch. The product won’t work as well as you’d like and it will cost more than you’d like, but you’ll hit the schedule. A good way to do this is to de-feature a subassembly to reduce design time, and possibly reduce cost. Or, reuse a proven subassembly to reduce design time – take a hit in cost, but hit the timeline. The general idea – hold schedule but flex on performance and cost.

It feels like sacrilege to admit that something’s got to give, but it’s the truth. You’ve seen how it goes when you edict (in no uncertain terms) that the timeline will be met and there’ll be no give on performance and cost. It hasn’t worked, and it won’t – the inherent uncertainty of product design won’t let it.

Accept the uncertainty; be one with it; and manage it. It’s the only way.

A Recipe for Unreasonable Profits

There’s an unnatural attraction to lean – a methodology to change the value stream to reduce waste.  And it’s the same with Design for Manufacturing (DFM) – a methodology to design out cost of your piece-parts. The real rain maker is Design for Assembly (DFA) which eliminates parts altogether (50% reductions are commonplace.) DFA is far more powerful.

The cost for a designed out part is zero.  Floor space for a designed out part is zero. Transportation cost for a designed out part is zero. (Can you say Green?) From a lean perspective, for a designed out part there is zero waste.  For a designed out part the seven wastes do not apply.

Here’s a recipe for unreasonable profits:

Design out half the parts with DFA.  For the ones that remain, choose the three highest cost parts and design out the cost.  Then, and only then, do lean on the manufacturing processes.

For a video version of the post, see this link: (Video embedded below.)

A Recipe for Unreasonable Profits.


We must broaden “Design”

Design is typically limited to function – what it does – and is done by engineering (red team).  Manufacturing is all about how to make it and is done by manufacturing (blue team).  Working separately there is local optimization.  We must broad to design to include both – red and blue. Working across red-blue boundaries creates magic.  This magic can only be done by the purple team.

Below is my first video post.  I hope to do more.  Let me know what you think.



The Improvement Mindset

witch with wartwitch with wartwitch with wartwitch with warttoad with wartsImprovement is good; we all want it. Whether it’s Continuous Improvement (CI), where goodness, however defined, is improved incrementally and continually, or Discontinuous Improvement (DI), where goodness is improved radically and steeply, we want it. But, it’s not enough to want it.

How do we create the Improvement Mindset, where the desire to make things better is a way of life? The traditional non-answer goes something like this: “Well, you know, a lot of diverse factors have to come together in a holistic way to make it happen.  It takes everyone pulling in the same direction.” Crap. If I had to pick the secret ingredient that truly makes a difference it’s this:


People with the courage to see things as they are.


People who can hold up the mirror and see warts as warts and problems as problems – they’re the secret ingredient. No warts, no improvement. No problems, no improvement. And I’m not talking about calling out the benign problems. I’m talking about the deepest, darkest, most fundamental problems, problems some even see as strengths, core competencies, or even as competitive advantage. Problems so fundamental, and so wrong, most don’t see them, or dare see them.

The best-of-the-best can even acknowledge warts they themselves created. Big medicine. It’s easy to see warts or problems in others’ work, but it takes level 5 courage to call out the ugliness you created. Nothing is off limits with these folks, nothing left on the table. Wide open, no-holds-barred, full frontal assault on the biggest, baddest crap your company has to offer. It’s hard to do. Like telling a mother her baby is ugly – it’s one thing to think the baby is ugly, but it’s another thing altogether to open up your mouth and acknowledge it face-to-face, especially if you’re the father. (Disclaimer: To be clear, I do not recommend telling your spouse your new baby is ugly. Needless to say, some things MUST be left unsaid.)

It’s not always easy to be around the courageous souls willing to jeopardize their careers for the sake of improvement. And it takes level 5 courage to manage them. But, if you want your company to contract a terminal case of the Improvement Mindset, it’s a price you must pay.

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

What is a DFMA Culture?

What is a DFMA Culture?  (.pdf, 1 page)

John Gilligan of Boothroyd Dewhurst, Inc. asked me to describe a DFMA culture.   Here is my description:

At the highest level, a strong DFMA culture is founded on the understanding that The Product strongly governs most everything in a company. Product function governs what customers will pay for; product structure governs a company’s organizational structure; and product features, attributes and materials govern cost. Stepping down one level, the DFMA culture is founded on the understanding that product function and product cost are coupled – they are two sides of the same coin – and are considered together when doing DFMA. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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