Manufacturing's Voice Heard
by Dave Biggs
know, we are doing better. Not perfect, but much better." Coming from Abby,
that's a significant comment. Her official title is "New Products Material
Planner." Unofficially, she has been accused of being the self-appointed
resident critic. Having the responsibility for planning the parts for new
product projects can have that effect on the best of people.
wasn't so long ago that product development was an activity that was dominated
by one department. The department might vary from company to company --
Marketing in one, Design in another, and Engineering in yet another. Many
factors have caused a change, but it all comes down to customers being
more informed and more demanding. They want the latest technology or fashion,
they want it now, and they want it at a low price.
use to compete by just being a technology leader, or a marketing leader,
or a process leader. Now they have to be good at all three. Knowledge from
all functional areas of the enterprise has to be utilized. It even requires
knowledge from sources outside our enterprises, like customers and key
suppliers. The trick is how do you get everyone involved without slowing
down the development process?
years ago, companies like Abby's began to realize they had to change the
new product development process. Manufacturability and Quality had to be
designed into the product to meet the customer's demands. Back then, the
catch phrase was concurrent engineering, meaning that business and manufacturing
processes are designed at the same time as the product. As people understood
the need, many techniques were tried and many of the early adopters experienced
a competitive edge.
decade ago, the term "multifunctional teams" became popular and co-locating
the multifunctional teams became a means of concurrently designing the
processes and products. Again, the early adopters experienced a competitive
edge. But even with these two advances, many lessons of the past are forgotten
because not everyone can be on all the product development teams. So, just
what are companies doing to include the experience and knowledge of all
the Abbys? What methods and techniques get everyone's knowledge involved
and actually shorten the overall development cycle?
current focus of attention is the concept of "corporate learning." Corporate
learning is best defined by example. In an organization of 100 people,
one person might touch a hot stove. Mother Nature has wired the person
to individually learn the lesson and not touch a hot stove again. If only
individual learning is in place, the other 99 people have to go through
the same painful experience to learn the lesson. When an organization has
corporate learning in place, all 100 people learn the lesson when any one
of them touches the stove. Unfortunately, humans don't naturally come wired
to "corporate learn" and specific tools and techniques are required.
are a lot of corporate learning tools. In the last few years, techniques
like "enhancement lists" have been discussed in dinner meetings and explained
in books like MAP (Market Aimed Products). Another effective corporate
learning tool is "design guidelines." It's unfortunate that a different
label has not been chosen for this tool because many people assume they
know all about design guidelines. To the contrary, audits of product development
practices reveal that a majority of companies don't use this tool in an
effective manner and very few understand the subtleties that make this
of the ways to go wrong is to confuse a guideline with a policy. Policies
have the connotation of a "thou shalt" type of document. With that comes
the burden of the commandments being correct and the need for extensive
review before a new commandment is added. Using the information as a guideline
and trusting people to determine what is applicable at the time of use
allows much more freedom in the process of adding to "corporate memory."
suppose that in the later stages of a new product design, we discover that
we have overlooked the need to get regulatory agency approval for the product.
Having missed this requirement during product definition, we now have to
redo some of the development work. These late-in-the-game discoveries are
painful lessons that cause budget and schedule overruns. Life is full of
lessons and, unfortunately, they keep being presented to us until we learn
them. In the business world, they keep being presented until we "corporate
way to "corporate learn" the lesson is to put a reminder in the design
guidelines to consider regulatory issues during the definition of new products.
If the document is only a guideline, these reminders can be added without
much review or administrative overhead. This greatly simplifies the process.
The bottom line is when the process is simple people will participate.
Conversely, if we make the process difficult, people won't participate.
works for a snack food company. Let's look at a design guideline she has
provided. The guideline is to "use one of the standard webs for film."
Film is the material used to make snack food bags. One way Abby's company
stays ahead of the competition is to use standard web widths and materials
for the film. That way, the film supplier can count on building up standard
web stock and then printing the required image on the film at the last
minute. This practice provides some economies for the film supplier and
also shortens the film lead time. Problem is, without the reminder, new
people or even some old hands forget to use the established standard webs.
This leads to either a custom web with longer lead times and higher costs
or a redesign in the middle of the project. Since Abby has outlined the
standard webs in the design guidelines, the product development process
has gone a lot smoother and she doesn't have to attend every new product
development meeting to make it happen.
technique works in any industry. Consider the electronics business. A useful
design guideline here is to standardize on the drill sizes that are used
to make circuit boards. All too often, circuit board designers use a wide
variety of hole sizes in circuit boards. This causes manufacturing -- inside
the company or in a supplier's organization -- to have to buy a wide variety
of drills. It also complicates and lengthens the setup process on the drilling
machine. In actual practice, a very limited number, say 14, drill sizes
will cover most all circuit board needs. However, without an effective
memory tool like design guidelines, the learning is lost and the practice
drifts back to using an excessive number of drill sizes, which increases
the cost and stretches out the lead time. Used as a guideline, this won't
unnecessarily reduce the designer's flexibility when a non-standard drill
size is actually required.
corporate memory tools to enhance corporate learning doesn't require a
large project and expensive software. It's just common sense. Maybe it's
too simple to get people's attention. Want to conduct a sobering test?
Ask for your company's design guidelines and see when the last time they
were updated. There is an interesting saying that sums it up, "If we don't
learn from history, that's alright, we'll get another chance." The best
alternative is to "corporate learn" -- starting today!