Today we have the third in our series of insights from the article “Putting it All Together at Harley-Davidson.”
At the end of the article, Pete Schmitz strikes a chord in my heart when talking about supplier selection:
[Schmitz] Don’t pave a cowpath! We believe in never automating a bad process – first, fix the process, do a solid supplier selection, then automate it. The tools are only so good – at the core it is the philosophy.
I believe this is a brilliant observation. Too often, companies that want to get involved in Product Cost Management kick start their PCM efforts after a particularly painful event where they missed a profit or product cost target on a specific product. Often, their first impulse is, “What tool can help me solve this problem?” That is just human nature, especially in our modern technological society, to look for an instant, easy, off-the-shelf solution to all the things that bring us woe. Isn’t there an app for that? For most complex problems in life, there is not an app for it, and if there is, that app does not work in isolation. To make a tool work well, we have to assume that three other elements are considered:
We talked about these three elements and the fourth (Tools) in our discussion on the PCM World Map before. I would argue that you need to start with Process. Depending on the maturity of your Product Cost Management culture, you may be able to handle a more or less complicated set of PCM processes. However, Pete Schmitz at least takes the focus from Tools up to the Process, which is major progress.
His analogy is interesting. If you have a traffic problem, and the road connecting two places in a winding narrow cowpath, the solution is not to pave the winding road. Cars move faster than cows and are wider. Cows make cowpaths seeking the path of least resistance and not being able to remove inherent natural roadblocks and bottlenecks. But, if you need to move thousands of cars per hour, you would look at the two places and see where the straightest path would be. Within reason and technical ability, you will invest in removing the natural roadblocks first and then lay down a solid foundation, before paving a wide road.
Think of Product Cost Management like this too. Buying the software tools to supercharge your process is the last step in your journey. Consider the diagram to the right.
Most people want to buy tools to speed up an existing PCM process. However, there are usually many inherent problems, including:
- There is NO Product Cost Management process to begin with
- The old PCM process assumes a certain level of tools and roles/team attention
- The old PCM process developed in an emergent way, i.e. no one ever design it; it just happened.
- The old PCM process assumes a much lower priority on profit and product cost and the company wants in the future.
As shown on the diagram, when you focus exclusively on the new tool, the firm will simply move from the existing process on the left to the the upper right diagram. Here, the firm keeps the old byzantine cowpath process that was constructed with more primitive (or no) PCM tools in mind. At best, the firm is just slightly speeding up the wrong process with new tools. However, often the firm will realize no benefit from the new PCM tools, and they may even slow the process down further!
Compare this to the diagram at the bottom right. Here, the process has been re-designed and value streamed with the the availability of newer tools in mind. The firm has removed old process steps that are no longer value added. In the bottom right process, the same PCM tools can much better supercharge a clean straight process.
Don’t pave the cowpath; plan the Product Cost Management autobahn.
Note: there is no PCM Tool today that can handle all of the many varied use cases most firms have for Product Cost Management. You may likely need more than one of them and some of your own internal tools. This is no reason for despair, though. By realizing this and picking the PCM toolset that seamlessly threads into your PCM process, this is your opportunity to out distance your competition.