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Jun 242013
 

 

I worked with a colleague once that used the expression: “Is the view worth the climb?”   That’s an interesting expression and a very visceral way of expressing the fear that we all have when undertaking a new project in our companies. New projects always require not only capital in the form of money, but also to human capital in the form of resources, emotion, and hard work. Careers can be made by a successful project… or destroyed by a major project gone awry.  Is the view really worth the climb? Will the rewards be worth the effort?

For example, it’s easy to say that people should work on increasing their profit by reducing their product cost. We all understand that this intuitively seems like a good thing to do. Mathematically, who can argue? If you reduce your product cost, you create profit that drops the bottom line. The question is: how much profit will drop to the bottom line? Is the view worth the climb?

Hiller Associates effect of Product Cost Management

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To answer this question, let’s take a look at a graph we made of data from a 2010 Aberdeen study on product cost. The graph shows the average effect on product cost over two year period for companies. The companies were broken into the standard three Aberdeen categories (Best-in-Class, Industry Average, and Laggards) based on other criteria of how they manage their Product Cost Management efforts.

The results were pretty impressive. In two years, best-in-class practitioners of Product Cost Management reduced the cost of their products on average by 7%, whereas companies that were average practitioners of Product Cost Management were only able to reduce cost by an average of 1% .

Let’s put this in perspective. The table below shows an example company with $10 billion in revenue, 80% product cost (as a percent of sales), and a 5% net margin. On an annualized basis, the difference between best-in-class and the industry average is the difference between $560 million and $80 million, respectively, of extra profit. Note also that the laggard’s product costs increased 3% per year equating to a $240 million profit loss.

Hiller_Associates_profit_from_Product_Cost_Management

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These numbers represent the view (the results), but what about the climb (the investment)?   The Aberdeen study does not investigate this. However, one should ask:  how much money *should* the company be willing to invest to capture an incremental $480 million per year of profit? 100 million? 50 million? $25 million? What about $10 million? Would your company even invest $10 million?

It’s something to think about.

 

 

 

 

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Jun 172013
 

 

We spend a lot of time thinking about how organizations can improve Product Cost Management. After all, it’s our job at Hiller Associates, but we’re also very passionate about it. We’ve often wondered, why is it that there are so many people in Product Cost Management who are very intelligent and hardworking individuals, and yet the field, in most organizations, does not advance.

Why is this?

 

  • We don’t think it’s due to lack of effort.
  • We don’t think it’s due to lack of intelligence.
  • It may be due, in part, because the tools in the area are not that great, at least until recently. However, we don’t think that’s the cause either.

We have concluded that one of the biggest problems is that most Product Cost Management Experts are independent acoustic live performers.

Sing me a song!

What do we mean by that ? Well, if you go into the average product company and meet the Product Cost Management organization, it usually consists of a very small group of experts. They typically are sequestered in some back office.  They appear to be a covert operation of some large organization, such as purchasing. When you meet them, they are almost always hardworking people , who looked frazzled, but still have their noses to the grindstone.  They are busily trying to avoid product cost before launch and wringing cost out after the start of operations.

Traditional PCM experts are like solo classical musicians. They improvise solo (excel spreadsheets) or play an expensive instrument (an expert tool). They play for command performances before the nobles. In this case, the noble is whatever manager is in the most desperate trouble at the time. The PCM guys are always overworked, but their solution to this is to work harder. Just like a classical live musician, they can only be at one place at one time. Their performances are beautiful to listen to, but there is no recording, nor is there a broadcast, so that others in the world can hear the wonderful music they make. They really are a solo act.

We show this on the diagram below by showing the simple sine wave representing the music they sing. Pound for pound, person for person, no one can save more cost than these soloists, singing their song live and alone. However, as with any organizations that relies on people to scale, it can all only scale so large, and it can only scale so fast . That is why professional services companies are typically very small. The growth of the company is limited by the expert resources they can find. Think of this versus a product company, where once the product is designed, it can be replicated very quickly through the magic of manufacturing.

Product Cost Management Rock Star Hiller Associates

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Time to Crossover to Being a Rock Star

It’s time for product cost management groups to stop being solo live classical musicians  and crossover, as they say in the music biz, to be rock stars. On the diagram to the right, look at the traditional path vs. a maximum performance path. It’s time for PCM experts to spend less time playing alone and move to being Rock Stars (and maybe the director of the band). In this arrangement, the musician continues to do a lot of what he does today. He composes and produces the music. The music itself is the technical expertise needed for product cost management, but the expert should be sharing it with the entire organization, not just a few people in solo performances. This requires that he have a *vision* for Product Cost Management. This is not a vision for how to cost model the next part or assembly, but where the organization is today and where he wants it to get to in the future.

This Amp Goes to 11

The key to success is to amplify the music made by the Product Cost Management expert. To do this, you need to find the right management champion. Management is an amplifier, because their job is to receive the good ideas that their people bring them and then boost the signal on the idea to the rest of the organization. Management also parses the signal to the right speakers in the organization that can most beautifully and powerfully and produce that signal. Think about a modern 5.1 or 7.1 home theater system, where the amp or receiver parses the signal and sends the right frequencies to the right speakers.

And, if you’re going to be a Product Cost Management rock star, you want the biggest and highest quality amp you can get. You would be pitching your vision at the VP or C-level. Remember the movie Spinal Tap? You want the amp that goes to 11!

The Recording Industry

Every rock star is going to both tour and record. The management amplifier lets you to play to stadiums full of people. But you also need to record it, so that your fans can hear it over and over. To generate maximum profit for the organization, the fans (engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, etc.) needs to be able to execute on your PCM vision. Many times that music will need to play when you can’t be there. You record by (1) changing the culture and (2) designing a PCM process that the organization can follow.

Money for Nothing and Your Savings for Free

The rewards to the organization when the PCM team moves from live classical performers to rock stars are very enticing. Although the results of the individual product cost manager experts will certainly be smaller, the rest of the organization now is producing results as well. Together, they will produce many more cost savings and far more the cost avoidance than the Product Cost Management expert could do alone.

The Path to Stardom

We realize that moving to the rock star model will initially be uncomfortable for some people who are experts. It’s hard for experts to let go of control, especially on a complex set of activities like Product Cost Management. There will be mistakes by the organization. There will need to be teaching. The system may be chaotic at first. That’s OK. This is the only way to get to a better state. It also means that the individual product cost expert will have to spend LESS time actually producing results on his own. His time needs to be used developing vision, casting vision, teaching, strategizing, and leading the organization. He doesn’t have to compose that vision and record it alone. His executive sponsor can help get him some great song writers and producers, both internal to the organization and through external consulting partners. And the executive champion will also fund these resources.

Therefore, it is critical to find the right management sponsor who understands the benefits of moving from a solo live performance model to the recorded rock star model. The management sponsor needs to have the authority to reduce the individual PCM demands on the expert. The expert must produce less individually so the organization can produce more as a whole.

Product Cost Management – Behind the Music…

Sadly, looking back at my time as a CEO and then the Chief Product Officer at a company that made Product Cost Management software , and in my current roll as a strategic consultant, I have never seen this rock star transition be driven by the musician (the Product Cost Management expert). Every time I’ve seen organization move the needle on Product Cost Management, the impetus for that change was an executive sponsor who had a vision for a better world. The executive sponsor (typically in engineering, purchasing, or a product owner) was poking his nose into the world of product cost, sometimes knowing very little about it. Paradoxically and sadly, often the existing Product Cost Management organization, instead of being grateful for the help and wanting to get made into a rock star, was resistant or even resentful of the help. That’s too bad, because rock stars make a lot more money than classical musicians, and often have far better job security. (People are going to pay to see Aerosmith until they die.)

So, my advice to you is that if you want to become critical to your management, be noticed in the organization, see your organization produce far better results, and get rewarded for doing it, it’s time to stop playing acoustic solos live.

It’s time for you to become a rock star.

 

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Jun 042013
 

If you have ever written a blog, an article for a magazine, or anything else on the Internet in a forum in which people can comment, you’ve probably experienced the following phenomenon. You put a lot of time and effort into writing an article that you feel is insightful on a particular topic or set of topics. You post that article. You distribute it to a variety of media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn groups, etc.  Comments start to arise. You’re very excited that someone is commenting, because it appears that people actually are responding to what you have said. Someone is listening!

But then… you read the comments…

Suddenly, you realize that, apparently, these commenters really don’t care about the subject you wrote about at all. They make comments about totally unrelated topics. This is what I like to call blog remoras and redirects.

What do I mean? Well, have a look at the diagram below. In the middle is an orange circle that represents the subjects about which you wrote. For example, let’s say that you write an article about Product Cost Management. Someone comments on your blog site or on a linkedin group where you share the article, etc. They may write about the same topic as the article, but just a different viewpoint on it. Therefore, they’re still in that orange circle However, other people will comment about other topics that I like to call the ring of the adjacent subset and super set topics (shown in blue). For example, using the Product Cost Management example, someone may talk about target costing, design for manufacturing, design for assembly, feature based costing, etc. These are all subsets of Product Cost Management or maybe some would consider them adjacent topics. Then there’s a third level ring around your topic, shown in brown. It’s not directly related to the topic that you wrote about (e.g. product cost management), but it may be related to that second ring of adjacent subset, or super set topics. Maybe the commentor is talking about manufacturing in general, or product design, lean, etc.

Hiller Associates Blog Remoras

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And then, you finally get to the bizarre unrelated topic redirects.  Let’s call these the “asteroid below of totally unrelated topics about which someone wants to talk.”  For example, you write an article called “XYZ of Product Cost Management.” Someone responds with a comment that starts out with glowing praise, such as, “I found this article really insightful. I totally agree and that reminds me about psychoanalytic trouser sprites.” or about “how see CRM will save the world.”

These redirect topics seem to have no apparent connection to anything that you talked about in the initial article. To be fair, perhaps I am not the smartest bear the forest? Perhaps, there are complex connections that my small brain is just too tiny to understand.

However, I think something else is actually going on here. What you’re picking up is a blog remora. This is a person who wants to get their intellectual ideas out. However, they really don’t have the intellectual property developed, or maybe just don’t have the time to write the intellectual property. Therefore, they will attach to your intellectual property like a remora does to a whale or a shark. Some might say they are even parasitically feeding off your work. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about Product Cost Management or the price of tea in China. These people will redirect the conversation to whatever topic they want to talk about.

This phenomenon is very similar to what you see in political candidate debates. For example, the moderator asks the presidential candidate, “What is your position on the problem of millions of illegal immigrants in the United States?” The candidate smiles, pauses, and says “I’m glad you asked that question, Jim. That’s very important. If in my last four years, I’ve instituted policies to help the economy in order to grow home ownership for good hardworking Americans.” What?! Huh?! What does your home ownership policy remotely have to do with the question that you were asked?  I don’t know if the problem of political candidates not answering the question that was asked and the similar problem of blog remoras, are isolated problems or if it is a sad commentary on our society, in general.

I hope I am not guilty of this problem myself. I mean, I get it. These people want to talk about what ever floats their boat (and, whatever topics are the focus of THEIR product or consulting service) . It’s a goal that we all have. I write articles on Product Cost Management for several reasons. One of those reasons is because I’m just passionate about the topic. But let’s be honest, I also do it because it’s good marketing for my consulting practice. Authors, including people that write blogs, are flattered and glad when people respond with comments to the article’s, even when those comments are disagreements with what the author said. Most authors also are happy to get comments that link the author’s article focus to the blue adjacent topic ring, and even to the brown tertiary adjacent ring, IF the commenter CLEARLY explains the link between the author’s topic and the tertiary ring of subjects. However, it’s really insulting when someone brings up a topic in their commentary to your article that has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic that you talked about and is not adjacent to it.

Shark_and_Remora

Perhaps, it’s not a good idea for me to bring up this problem in the public forum. Perhaps any comment, no matter how unrelated, is a good comment that will help your search engine optimization. However, I don’t see how this helps advance the community knowledge on the topic about with you have written an article, whether that topic is product cost management or anything else. I don’t hang out on LinkedIn groups dedicated to quantum physics and push product cost management.  E.G. “That’s a great point Professor Poindexter on the Higgs Boson. But, what is really important is to subjugate the ideas in your article to Product Cost Management.”  This behavior is just intellectually dishonest and it’s vacuous for me to try to hock my wares in a forum that is completely wrong for the topic.

However, let me pause my rant and open this topic to the general community: I’d like to hear from other people that blog, who write articles on specific topics, and even from those people that are just frequent commenters on blogs or articles.

What do you think about blog remoras and redirects to other topics?

Do you find unrelated commentary useful and interesting, or insulting to the author??

Is there any way to stop blog remoras and redirects?

How do we hold people to a higher standard that helps everybody?

 

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Jun 032013
 

Numbers. They have such a comforting certainty to them, don’t they?

Words can be interpreted. But, numbers, they have that beautiful mathematical ring of truth. I was thinking about this the other day, when I got a number from a friend. I was helping him review a model he had made, and I asked him what the median result was from the model. He told me 16.42%. I ask him, “Do you believe it’s 16.42%?” He responded, “Yes, 16.42%.” This was a very smart guy, with multiple advanced degrees in engineering from a great school. However, the data set from which he was calculating this percentage came from a group of people who are giving him estimates of the money they had spent on certain activities, as well as data from an accounting system. And yet, he was quite positive that the result was 16.42%.  I.e., he thought that the result he calculated from the inputs had enough precision to generate FOUR significant figures.

Now, I’m sure that he would have realized, if he had sat down and thought about it for a second, that expecting this kind of precision when the inputs had virtually no precision of all, at least not the precision of four significant figures, was ludicrous. However, that’s the great thing about computers, especially when using spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel.  They will give you as much precision as you want. In fact, to what does Excel default… two significant digits behind the decimal point.

What I find really funny about this is that most engineers have learned the hard way, over time, that there is this thing called “tolerance stack-up.” In other words, no matter what you specify on a CAD model or drawing, a machine only has so much physical capability to hold that dimension. Therefore, engineers become very proficient at specifying tolerances. In recent years, they have even become much better at understanding the stack up of these tolerances on the final dimensions of a part. In fact, there are very sophisticated software packages dedicated to helping engineers do this.

In more general usage, Monte Carlo modeling became all the rage 10 to 20 years ago. Monte Carlo was an attempt to recognize the inherent noise in numbers that we measure, and how that uncertainty affects the models that we make, especially financial models.  However, the funny thing is that when it comes to calculating product costs, people ignore the precision question, and just assume they have the precision they wish they had.

Take a look at the figure below . Let’s go through a simple product costing in concept. For the part we are looking at, we first need to know the physical quantities that are used in making it. For example, we need to know the mass of the part, but that’s a tricky thing, because we have scrap and varying amounts of mass could be used up in certain processes. So, we might be +/-1-3% in our estimate of how much was used. Similarly, we need to know how much time is actually spent on each machine. However, this varies batch to batch, and measurements aren’t always so accurate. There may be many processes that make up the part, including extra inspections and re-work. Let’s say our measurement of the time it takes has a range of 5 to 15%.

Product Cost Management Ignorance is Bliss

Until this point in the analysis, at least we’ve been dealing with physical quantities, not financial quantities. But, if we move to financial qualities, the problem gets much worse. Even material rates are not such a certain thing. They move around over time with various surcharges for this and that from the different material providers. And, the number depends on what material is sent t0 what lines, etc. Labor rates and overhead rates are far more black magic. Accountants with green eye shades spend endless hours calculating these rates from monstrous ERP systems, using Byzantine Activity Based Costing allocation schemes. We hope that the allocated rates are accurate to the real truth on the floor, but I don’t think we can really expect them to be more than +/- 10-20% from what’s really going on.

Never fear though! At the end of the calculation, we have calculated that this particular part cost is $93.45. Why $93.45? Well, that’s what our spreadsheet model or our product cost management software told us. And, of course, a cost NEEDS to be within 10% of what we think the real cost is.

If the product cost management user actually calculated the tolerance stack-up of the uncertainties of the inputs that went into that cost, they would probably find that the costs are more than +/-10% from the true cost. If they seriously considered the possible precision, would they say the part cost $93.40-93.50? I doubt it. Would they say it costs $92.00-93.00? Nope . They probably would say that the part could cost between $88-$97. But, a range like that is not very comforting . It’s much more fun to hit that little “$” format button on Excel or cut & paste the number from the product cost management software .

It’s $93.45. That’s what it is. Because ignorance is truly bliss in the world of Product Cost Management.

 

 

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May 222013
 

As we posted on Monday, Hiller Associates has a new article in IndustryWeek titled:

If Your Company Does Product Cost Reductions, It’s Already Too Late

Here’s the full re-print of the article:

————————————————————————————————————————————————

Refocusing product cost management efforts from cost reduction to cost avoidance is less comfortable but far more profitable.

Executive Summary

  • Product cost is the largest expense for manufacturing and the key to profit.
  • Companies today focus on reducing cost after start of production, rather than meeting their product cost targets initially at launch.
  • A pure cost avoidance strategy is far more profitable than a pure cost reduction strategy.
  • Product cost management teaches us that the most profitable strategy is a combined strategy of both avoidance and reduction, with the majority of resources focused on avoidance.
  • The combined strategy requires culture change and process design, before hiring people or buying software. It is challenging, but the added profit gains are worth the effort

Product cost, which is roughly equivalent to cost of goods sold on the income statement, is the biggest expense for manufacturing companies, typically 70% to 90% of revenue. You can see COGS as a percent of sales for a random sample of companies in the table below.Cost of Goods Sold Hiller Associates

Given the magnitude of product cost, one would think that manufacturing companies would have the process of controlling product cost down to a fine art. Sadly, this is not true, and meeting cost targets at start of production in most companies is black art with the predictability of the stock market.

In this article, we will talk about two different strategies that companies use to control product cost. Let’s call them “cost reduction” and “cost avoidance.”

Cost Reduction vs. Cost Avoidance

Figure 1 shows a graph of product cost over time in the product life cycle. In the cost reduction strategy, the company goes through product development putting little or no effort into controlling product cost. Cost increases as parts are designed and added to the bill of material. The product is almost assured to exceed its product cost targets at the start of production. After start of production, the cost reduction efforts begin in earnest through a variety of techniques, such as lean, value analysis/value engineering, purchasing demanding year over year cost reductions, etc.

Hiller Associates Cost_Avoidance vs Reduction

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A cost avoidance strategy is exactly the opposite of cost reduction. In cost avoidance, a large amount of effort is spent as early as possible in product development to meet the product’s cost target at launch. However, post launch, little effort is spent on year-over-year savings.

On the graph, we have shown the extremes of the cost reduction vs. cost avoidance strategies. Most companies are doing something in between. However, on which strategy do you think most companies focus? It’s pretty obvious from the graph, correct? Most companies obviously are going to focus on cost avoidance, correct? Right?

Why people reduce cost instead of avoiding it

The sad truth is that most companies focus the majority of the resources they use for product cost control after launch, not before. Why is this? Many who have worked in product development have heard management and others disparage cost avoidance as “not real.” Cost reductions can easily be measured; cost avoidance cannot. For example, I was paying $10 and now I am paying $8. That’s tangible and real. But, if I say, I am paying $7 now, but had I not been careful in my design, sourcing, and manufacturing decisions, I likely would have paid $10, management considers that ephemeral.

This attitude of most management is detrimental to the company’s profit. Can you imagine living your personal lives like this? Let’s say you need to get cable TV service. Would you search around carefully and find the TV channel package you wanted for $60/month? Or, would you do the following: First, do minimal shopping around and take a package for $100/month. Then, a year later, you investigate to find the “low hanging fruit” of a new deal for $90/month. Another year later, you beat on your cable supplier to reduce the price to $80/month. Next year, the “easy wins” are gone, so you really work hard to find a deal for $70/month.

We don’t shop this way in our personal lives, but most companies manage cost in this way. They do it because accountants can measure reductions. Reductions are real. People get rewarded and promoted for reductions.

Why focusing solely on cost reductions doesn’t work

Looking at Figure 2, we can split the difference between the cost reduction line and the cost avoidance line into two parts. The first is the triangular region. Even if, after years of cost reduction efforts, we were able reduce cost to the point at which the cost avoidance line starts at launch, we have still failed. In has taken years to reduce cost, and that triangular region has a name: lost profit.

Cost Avoidance Maximum Profit vs. Cost Reduction Hiller Associates.

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It is actually worse than this in reality. We will NEVER get down to the same price as the cost avoidance line. We know from the legendary DARPA study from the 1960s that the vast majority of product cost is “locked in” very early in product development. Products are systems, and it’s very hard to extract cost fully without changing the whole system. Furthermore, the cost of making the change is much higher, post launch. Per a 2010 Aberdeen’s study[i], engineering changes made after release to manufacturing cost 75% more than those made before release. These trapped costs that we cannot get out are shown in the rectangular region on Figure 2.

What’s the solution? Do both and flip the focus

So far in the article, we have been talking about a 100% cost reduction strategy vs. a 100% cost avoidance strategy. The field of product cost management would teach us to focus on what practically works and generates maximum profit. In this case, the solution is to do the following two things.

  1. Do BOTH cost avoidance and cost reduction– As shown by the orange line on the graph, the most profit can be made if you meet or come close to your product cost target at start of production and then focus some effort on reduction after launch. Realize that this means that management needs to expect LESS reduction each year in production (e.g. 1% to 2% a year, not 3% to 5% a year).
  2. Flip the focus of the majority of product cost management resources before production begins– Today 70% to 90% of product cost management resources are focused on reduction. Management needs to flip the focus so the majority of effort is on avoidance.

These improvements require cultural changes in how people are incentivized and motivated. Management needs to cast the vision, educate, and walk the walk. This also requires that companies have a solid process for product cost management. Most do not. A common pit that most companies fall into when attempting this transition is to focus first on hiring more resources or buying software tools, rather than first designing a process and starting cultural change. The right people are critical, and tools can greatly enable the process. However, if the cultural and process elements are not in place FIRST, the company will waste a lot of time and money in failed attempts at product cost management and re-starts to the effort.

These are not easy changes to make, but they are worth the effort.

Consider the table at the beginning of the article again. If your company has 80% cost of goods sold and 5% net margin, then reducing COGS to 79% means a 20% increase to profit! What do you think, managers and executives? Is 20% increase in profit worth the effort? We can ponder that question in another article.

In the meantime, the next time someone disparages cost “avoidance,” show them this article and tell them, “You call it ‘cost avoidance’; I call it maximizing profit.”

 

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May 202013
 

In the last few weeks, there has been a hearty discussion on this blog about controlling costs before versus after a product launches.  This got us thinking about this situation, we thought that it could be plumbed to greater depth.

Therefore, Hiller Associates is proud to announce its latest article in IndustryWeek, entitled:

If Your Company Does Product Cost Reductions, It’s Already Too Late

If you would like to read the article, click the link above to go to IndustryWeek.com.  Later in the week, we will post the article, in it’s entirety, on this blog.

 

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May 062013
 

In last week’s post we talked about where Product Cost Management sits in the organization . We concluded that Product Cost Management lives in a weird no man’s land between purchasing, engineering, finance, and manufacturing. Because the area is a wilderness, we used the analogy the people seriously pursuing Product Cost Management in companies are similar JRR Tolkien’s legendary Rangers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy . The Rangers go about doing good and benefiting the general public, even when the public does not recognize the good they are doing.  Sometimes, the general public even considers these solitary trackers and warriors as meddling, or even, sinister. We even compared the best product cost management folks to the most famous of all Rangers, Aragorn, son of Arathorn .

Several people wrote us about this article, very pleased with the analogy comparing product cost management people to Tolkien’s Rangers. They also validated our assertion that Product Cost Management in the organization, lives between other major functions.  We must say that EVERYONE was on board with the post and feeling very good about it.

This week we’re going to burn through all that good will and make everybody angry!

We’ll do this by explaining why people from every one of the major functions in a manufacturing company are ill-equipped for Product Cost Management.  Are we doing this for the schadenfreude* of internet lulz? No, we’re doing it because we believe these paradoxes are true. These are the unspoken but often thought, truths that need to come to the light of day.

*For a PG-13 musical definition of schadenfreude from Avenue Q, click here.

It’s unfortunate we have to say this, but we’re not embarrassed of it either.  First, one disclaimer:

The statements below are obviously generalizations of the functions within the organization, as well as of the people of that make up those functions. Throughout our firm’s long experience in industry with Product Cost Management, we have met many individuals within each of these functions that do not fit the stereotypes below. However, the paradox below truths hold in general.  Any resemblances to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Why each major function in a manufacturing company is so poor at Product Cost Management

Engineering

The short answer is, that engineering really doesn’t care about product cost that much. Product cost is a distant second or third , or maybe a fourth priority, compared to other product attributes such as time-to-market, quality , or performance.   We say this despite the fact that we have data of our own, as well as data from other analyst firms, that show that when asked about product cost, product development executives will prioritize it near the top (usually 1st or 2nd). However, our experience in practice is that when the rubber meets the road, product cost is not the first or second priority. On a personal level, the paradoxical thing is that engineering is actually better equipped than almost any other function to do a good job at Product Cost Management.

Product Cost Abilities by Functional Group

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The reason for this is that a major challenge of Product Cost Management is linking the physical characteristics of a part (e.g geometry, features, mass , time to produce the part, etc.) to the financial (dollars and cents). Engineering lives and breathes the physical world. Engineers are trained to understand the physical world and to control it from the very first day they stepped foot into engineering school . They’re not afraid of the physical world . The problem is that product cost, despite the statements of most engineering executives, really is one of the last priorities to address when you’re in the middle of a product development program.

Finance

Finance relationship to PCM is the exact opposite of engineering . Finance DOES have the incentive to control product costs. In fact it, it’s their whole world.  The problem is, most finance people are not from an engineering background, and are, quite frankly, terrified of the physical world of 3D CAD , features , and even if the manufacturing floor.  To them, it is very uncomfortable to leave the safety of dollar numbers on an excel spreadsheet. They are also often hampered by the accounting classes they took in college.  Specifically, Financial Accounting thinking has come to dominate the way they perceive Managerial Accounting in a way that is wholly inappropriate.  Accounting , in reality, has a backwards looking allocation-of-cost viewpoint, rather than the forward looking predictive cost paradigm, which is needed for product cost management . The problems with the current accounting paradigm are certainly worth a future blog post, if not magazine articles or whole books !

Purchasing

Purchasing often suffers from the same malady as finance. They don’t understand the physical world very well. Many buyers also have a bit of a multiple-personality problem when dealing with product cost. On one hand, buyers are suspicious that the supplier is not telling them the truth and charging them too much. On the other hand, if a Product Cost Management person or another should-cost source provides the buyer with a product cost for a part that doesn’t match with the supplier gives them, the buyer often immediately concludes that the should-cost (not the quote) must necessarily be wrong . Riddle me that? They also have a a commodity worldview.  It’s more beneficial for them to focus on large groups of parts within a commodity, as opposed to single parts within a product that is being developed.  Finally, the incentive of RELATIVE cost reductions (i.e. “year over year” cost reductions) sets up a very bad dynamic with Product Cost Management.  PCM is first focused on making sure the product comes to launch AT the right cost, rather than reducing cost year over year later.  All these topics are worthy of extensive articles, in and of themselves, but that must wait.

Manufacturing

In some ways, manufacturing is probably currently better equipped to deal with Product Cost Management than anyone else in the organization .  Manufacturing people are usually comfortable with the physical attributes of the product, just as engineering people are (although they do not have the depth of knowledge in this respect that engineering typically does). Manufacturing does care about cost, just as finance does. They also have a practical nature like purchasing and are quite likely to be comfortable dealing with suppliers.  However, there are PCM challenges and paradoxes for manufacturing, as well.  First of all, due to rampant outsourcing in most organizations, the only manufacturing left in many companies is final assembly. Therefore, the manufacturing guys are often absent from the PCM ballgame. Their concern about how they’re going to assemble the parts together for the final product, not how to make the parts. Secondly, manufacturing is a very busy place, concerned with the here and now and fighting fires, rather than more strategic pursuits such as Product Cost Management.

What to do?

PCM_Funtion_SummarySo, we’re all in a bit of a pickle functionally with Product Cost Management. The table to the right gives a summary of the paradoxes we face functionally. It also adds one global problem that we talked about last week, which is  that PCM doesn’t really fit nicely within any of these functions.

Given these structural problems in the organization’s functional cultures, is it any surprise that most companies struggle with Product Cost Management?

What’s the solution? It’s probably too complex of a problem for one Silver bullet. However, hopefully in the next post we can propose at least one possible way to move beyond the organizational problems and paradoxes discussed today.

 

 

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Apr 292013
 

If you are a Product Cost Management person with an inner nerd like us, then you probably love and the Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien. One of the iconic characters in the book is the king in exile, wondering the wilds as a Robin Hoodesque type of character, a man named Aragorn.  One of the things that makes this character so compelling is the fact that he, and his brothers-in-arms, the Dunedain Rangers, secretly wander the wilds protecting those who are blissfully unaware of the evil all around them.  

Why do we love Aragorn, who goes by the nom de guerre “Strider” so much? It’s because Aragorn is unpretentious, self-sufficient, self-sacrificing, and yet dangerous and mysterious at the same time. Aragorn gets things done, even when those around him don’t realize it.  And when those around him do get to know him, they are astounded at just how powerful, efficient, and clever he is.

Yes, Strider is a misunderstood man, as Mr. Butterbur, the bartender at the Prancing Pony, the inn at Bree says,

He’s one of them rangers. Dangerous folk they are — wandering the wilds. What his right name is I’ve never heard, but around here, he’s known as Strider.

Strider and the rest of the Rangers don’t really have a home, and so it is also with Product Cost Management in most organizations. It’s very rare to find Product Cost Management a department that is not a part of a larger organization. And, it is always seems to be the red-headed stepchild of that organization.  No one really knows exactly who these guys are or what they do, except that “I think they know a lot about cost and manufacturing stuff.”  Product Cost Management never seems to fit in with the organization in which it has been placed, and everyone is always wondering if it really belongs in another organization.

So where does product cost management belong in the organization? That’s a difficult question because Product Cost Management relies so heavily on information from four different organizations. In order to do their work of profit maximization, expert in PCM deep domain knowledge of the following:

  • What is the geometry a part, a subsystem, a product, and how does the geometric features, tolerance, and materials of these physical items relate to their costs?
  • What is the costing structure of the organization, what are its overhead rates, what are its labor rates?
  • What suppliers does the organization have and what are the cost structures of these organizations? What are their manufacturing capabilities?
  • What is the organization’s internal manufacturing capabilities?

Where Product Cost Management lives in the company Hiller Associates

These are very broad pieces of information that are flung across the organization. If we look at the figure above, we see that these pieces of information are hidden in the four main functions of a manufacturing company: engineering, finance, purchasing, and manufacturing. Product cost management, like the Rangers in JRR Tolkien’s trilogy, seems to live in the no man’s land or wilderness between these organizations, where few people from any of the four organizations are comfortable operating.

Why are most people so uncomfortable operating in this nexus? Well, that’s a subject for our next post.

 

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Apr 222013
 

 

Good Morning PCM world,

Another reader sent in questions with respect to the article 2012 revenues of the Product Cost Management market.   However, this question was a little more broad:

 

Is there any difference between Project cost management and Product cost management from your your point of view?

That’s a very simple but good question.  We had not considered addressing it before the question came in.  The short answer is “YES!,” there is a big difference.  The big difference is as simple as the two words:

PRODUCT vs. PROJECT

We have defined Product Cost Management before here as:

Product Cost Management – An agreed, coherent, and publicized system of culture/goals, processes, people, and tools following the product lifecycle, that ensures the product meets its profit (or cost) target on the day that it launches to the customer.

The definition of “Project Cost Management” is more murky.  The wiki entry on Project Cost Management is less than satisfying.  Here is the main definition portion of the entry:

“Project cost management (PCM) is a method which uses technology to measure cost and productivity through the full life cycle of enterprise level projects.[citation needed] PCM encompasses several specific functions of project management that include estimating, job controls, field data collection, scheduling, accounting and design.”

Other resources for a definition are Ecosys EPC, the Project Smart blog, Hard Dollar Software, and TutorialsPoint.  Based on the knowledge from these sources, we would define Project Cost Managemenet as:

Project Cost Management – Project cost management is a group of techniques, including budgeting, forecasting/estimating, change control, field data collection, scheduling, accounting and design, and reporting that are used together to ensure that a project is completed at its target cost and on schedule.  It is most often associated with the construction industry.  In construction projects, it would include tracking of both project costs and the costs of the materials for structure being built.  In the world of manufacturing, it would only include the costs of the project such as R&D and SG&A.

Note that in the definition we make a distinction between two very different industries:  Manufacturing vs. Construction.  In construction, we are most often making one thing — some sort of structure WHILE we are in in the midst of the project itself.  In manufacturing, we are undertaking the project in order that we make many copies of a product in the future (when production begins).  In manufacturing, we call the project, “Product Development,” including sourcing, testing, design, manufacturing planning, etc.   In manufacturing, which is our primary focus on this blog, there is a fundamental difference in Product vs. Project cost management that goes all the way to the income statement itself.

Income Statement and Product Cost Hiller Associates

CLICK TO ENLARGE!

See the figure to above to understand the focus of Product vs. Project Cost Management on an example income statement for a manufacturing company.  The question then probably arises in everyone’s minds:  Do we need both and which one is more important?  That’s beyond this article, but maybe we can talk about it further in the future, if there is interest.  We’ve left you some clues to answer those questions yourself in the figure above.

In the meantime, somebody call the Project Cost Management guys and tell them they are infringing our acronym!  Everyone knows that the *real* PCM stands for PRODUCT Cost Management!

 

 

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Apr 172013
 

 

Hello Internet and Product Cost Management industry! We’ve had strong interest in our latest article on the 2012 revenues of the Product Cost Management market. There have been several good questions that have made us want to clarify some of the assumptions in the analysis, so that people are clear on what is and is NOT included in the estimate.

 

Most importantly, this is an estimate of the REVENUE of the group of included vendors today in 2012. This does NOT represent the Total Addressable Market for Product Cost Management software.

The total addressable market is many times larger than the revenue of the included vendors that are estimated in 2012.  In fact, we plan to write follow-up articles that discuss the total addressable market, as well as the growth rate of the current vendors in reaching that total addressable market  Here’s some of the assumptions we made in the analysis:

  1. Only the Vendors noted are estimated – The uncertainties do not explicitly take into account other vendors. They reflect the fact that most of these are private companies whose numbers are not public and that vary from year to year. Obviously, it matters where one draws the line in the analysis.
  2. Focused on the estimation of manufactured products, not construction – there are many products in the market that focus on construction estimation, for example estimates for building an office building, an oil platform, a refinery, etc.  We consider this a wholly different market. In our own experience we have rarely if ever see the companies that specialize in construction estimation also compete for the same customers for which the companies listed in this Monday’s article compete.
  3. Not focused on job shops – there is also a separate market for software used by small “job shops.” These are small, mostly family owned businesses, that typically manufacture one type of part, for example sheet metal, machined castings, etc.  Some of the included vendors may sell to a few job shops, but there software is capable of being used by bigger enterprises.
  4. Generally Available Software – We only included vendors whose primary business involves selling a legitimate “generally available” software product (not a consulting business with internal tools)

Given these constraints, we believe this group represents over 90% of the revenue in the market today. If you know of other competitors who meet the criteria above and make over $2 million USD a year in revenue, let us know.

Keep the questions coming! We are glad there’s so much interest.

 

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