Jan 312013
 

One of my fellows in the world of product cost and design, Mike Shipulski, just posted the following:

The Middle Term Enigma

 

 

The general synopsis of it is:

  1. Firms focus more and more on the short term
  2. The “short term” is shorter and shorter.
  3. Short term leads to minimization and typically damages long term success
  4. On the other hand, the firms (especially execs) fear the long term plan as expensive and risky
  5. So why not focus on the “medium term”

Our Opinion:

Mike is right.  The short term thinking kills companies and actually wastes a lot of time and money – paradoxically.

I would offer the following addition:  Short, Medium, and Long term all have their places, but there has to a be a thoughtful and maintained plan for each. You just can’t make a plan today and then look at it in a year.  Every 2-3 months, you should be re-assessing and moving the plan accordingly.  However, you should not see whipsawing, but just gentle, organic fine tuning as you gain more information.

I also would like for Mike to define the Short, Medium, and Long term.  I realize that this changes product to product, but a general guideline would be helpful.

 

Jan 292013
 

Hiller Associates recently was the keynote speaker at aPriori’s first customer conference.  It was a great opportunity to both teach and learn from experts that came from a wide range of industries and geographies.

Hiller Associates’ President, Eric Hiller, discussed several topics, of which we’ll mention two here.  The entire presentation can downloaded for FREE.  Just click on the slide below and get the presentation:   Best_Practices_for_Starting Your Procuct Cost Management Journey or Improvement.

Variance in Cost Numbers

One of the main themes discussed was the possibility of getting an “accurate” cost, meaning how possible is it to get a cost that is within a certain percentage of a fixed point of reference, such as a supplier quote.  There are several ways to look at this problem that we may discuss in subsequent weeks on this blog.

Eric Hiller at aPriori STARS 1 2012 product cost Hiller Associates

Eric Hiller presenting the keynote speech at the aPriori Customer Conference

However, in summary, the presentation asked the question:  what cost variance is inherent in your system already?   For example, if your 3 quotes from supplier have a range of 30% from highest to lowest, then is it realistic to expect the cost that you calculate in a product cost management software to be closer than 30% away from a random quote?

It was refreshing to see how open the audience was to these concepts.   The reactions to the variance concept went from wide-eyed amazement from people who were new to the cost management field, to thoughtful reflection from the veterans.  In fact, the veterans reacted like men who had been reminded of a truth that they knew all along.  Often, such common truths are forgotten due to immersion in the day-to-day challenges of keeping a company profitable.  We call this concept having a “blinding flash of the obvious” – a BFO.  Everyone in the room had that BFO, and no one wanted to argue about it.  Instead, there were many comments throughout the conference that further explored this concept.

Culture is the biggest loser

Another theme of the presentation was driven by the latest research in Product Cost Management done by Hiller Associates.  Those who follow us regularly know that we segment problems in our consulting work into four root causes:  Culture, Process, Roles/People, and Tools.

Our latest research shows that cultural problems are the clear bottleneck in most firms’ Product Cost Management journeys.  The respondents overwhelmingly agreed.  When Eric ask the attendees which area was their firm’s biggest PCM bottleneck, the conference participants voted as follows, based on a rough estimate of hands in the air:

Best Practices for Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

CLICK TO GET FULL PRESENTATION

  • Culture 60-70%
  • Process 20-30%
  • People/Roles 0-5%
  • Tools     5-10%

That’s fairly shocking at a conference whose organizers are a Product Cost Management TOOL vendor.  [Next time HA will have to set our honorarium higher for taking the pressure off of any problems with the vendor’s product!]  Joking aside, culture is obviously the  biggest problem and it is not an easy thing to change.  In fact, companies often buy a PCM software tool hoping that it will somehow magically fix their bigger cultural problems.

It reminds one of obesity problems.  Many companies have a culture of binging on product cost during design.  In purchasing & manufacturing they continue with cost obesity denial — not know what the cost calorie count is until the parts arrive at the door with an invoice.  However, instead of changing their cost eating and exercising habits, they look for a magical cure in the form of a software tool.  Let’s call this “the shake-weight approach” to product cost management.

We’re not disparaging the shake-weight, or any other home exercise equipment.  Certainly, all home exercise equipment can help you lose weight, just as we are sure that all of the PCM Tools can help one reduce cost.  But, you have to use these tools regularly and properly.  PCM software tools are too much like home exercise equipment.  People buy them thinking that the tool will magically solve cost obesity.   They use the tool twice and then it sits in the corner unloved, unused, and unmaintained… and, yet, people wonder why they are still product cost obese!  It’s not the tool that the problem, it’s your culture.  Much like changing your eating lifestyle, changing the PCM culture is really hard and tricky to do.  That’s why cultural issues are often at the forefront of most of the engagements that we do with clients at Hiller Associates.

However, it was refreshing to see that the attendees at aPriori’s conference did seem to understand this problem, or at least were very open to the idea.   So, maybe we are making progress on this point.  Or, maybe  HA needs a TV show “The Biggest Cost Loser” in which Hiller Associates works with companies to increase product profit with weekly product cost “weigh-ins.”  What TV viewer wouldn’t watch that kind of riveting drama…

Now, get out there and do some product cost push-ups!

If you would like to see the entire presentation from the conference, just click on the slide image above and get the presentation:  “Best Practices for Starting Your Product Cost Management Journey or Improvement.” 

 

Jan 292013
 

 

If you would like to download the presentation (Best Practices for Starting Your Product Cost Management Journey or Improvement)  for FREE, please fill out the form below and click the button.

A link to the .pdf of the presentation will then appear below that you can click on.


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AFTER you fill out the form and click “Download File” the link to the file WILL BE (IS?) above!

Jan 162013
 

It’s one of the most famous studies in the world of product development and probably the most famous study in the history of Product Cost Management.  It was done in the 1960’s (reportedly) by DARPA (The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Government).  It’s so famous that it is typically referred to as “The DARPA Study.”  Some claim that the entire software category of Product Lifecycle Management has used the study for its primary justification for being.

But, if it is so famous… where is it?

I have searched for the study a couple times on the internet.  It is easy to find The DARPA Study of product cost referenced loosely, but I could not find the original study, or even a formal citation… and as we know, if you can’t find something after thirty minutes of searching on Google, it does not exist, right?

Fortunately, I was able to dust off my engineering masters thesis and find the following studies that corroborate DARPA’s alleged claim.

Cost Committed vs spent in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

CLICK TO ENLARGE

DARPA’s claim what bold and powerful and if we paraphrased it, we would say:

“80% of a product’s cost is determined in the first 20% of activities in design and development”

I have even found a great webpage that lists FOUR PAGES of references to studies, corroborating DARPA’s results:

Design Phase Cost Rational

… but it does not have a reference to the original DARPA Study.

So, can anyone help?  Can someone send me:

  1. A link to “The DARPA Study” on the web? AND/OR
  2. A .pdf of the study? AND/OR
  3. At least the proper academic citation to the study?

Anyone, Anyone, Bueller, Bueller, Bueller…

Cost Committed vs. spent for product cost hiller associates

CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

Jan 022013
 

I was just reading a really interesting article by Matthew Littlefield called Cost of Quality Definition.  I applaud the article for several reasons.  It is straightforward, clear, and short.  I especially like that Matthew acknowledged that Cost of Quality is not only in negative things that are avoided (warranties, recalls, scrap, etc.), but also that there are costs to prevent these negative consequences (cost of appraisal and prevention).

This sounds like a trivial thing, but I remember living through the 1990’s where some academics and practitioners had a cultic obsession with quality.  They would hammer you with the idea of cost of ‘poor’ quality.   As a university student and engineer I would say, “Well, yes, but obviously you pay something to ensure good quality and avoid recalls, customer satisfaction loss, etc., right?  I mean, there is a level of quality that is not worth while attaining, because the customer does not value it and will not pay for it.”  The quality obsessed would look at me like I had just uttered vile heresy and inform me that having good quality NEVER cost the organization anything – only poor quality did.  Mr. Littlefield’s definition makes a lot more sense.

What does not make sense is Mr. Littlefield’s engaging, but definitionless graph in the article.  The axes are not labeled, either with specific financial units, or with general conceptual terms.  Furthermore, in the paragraphs before and after, his discussion is about the trade-off needed to find the minimum between Cost of Good Quality and Cost of Poor Quality… but the graph has three axes?    Maybe on axis Total Cost and the others are Cost of Good Quality and Cost of Poor Quality?

Can  someone explain?

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