Jun 272013
 

Anyone who has ever heard the famous NPR show the Prairie Home Companion will smile warmly, remembering warm and disarming voice of legendary storyteller Garrison Keilor talking about the fictitious Minnesotan town, Lake Wobegon. Garrison’s sign-off to the show has entered pop culture: “And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

We know of another place called Lake Costbegone.  It’s a magical land of companies tightly clustered around a lake of profit.  Lake Costbegone is the vacation spot of Product Cost Management. Lake Costbegone (and maybe many other corporate disciplines besides Product Cost Management) are similar to Lake Wobegon.

That’s right.  At Lake Costbegone ALL the companies are, at least, average.

The post that we put up a couple days ago (Is the View Worth the Climb in PCM?), showed the effect on a company’s product cost, based on whether a company is best in class, industry average, or a laggard at Product Cost Management. The splitting of the companies into these three categories is almost universal in Aberdeen research reports, and other analyst firms use a similar framework, too.   However, we don’t think we had ever met a client or potential client to that thinks that they are in the laggard category.

Sure, there are people that are more realistic and honest within each firm, who will tell you “off the record” that their organization is doing very badly at Product Cost Management, or whatever corporate initiative we are talking about at the time. However, no one wants to proclaim in the sight of others that their organization is a “laggard.”  Apparently, admitting that your organization is not, at least, average is the corporate equivalent of a stock analyst giving a sell signal. It’s just not done. Stock analysts typically give only three signals: Strong buy, Buy, and Hold. No one really knows what “Hold” means, but we are all pretty sure it means, “You might wanna think about dumping that stock.”

Being “industry average” might mean exactly that, the organization is industry average in whatever technique on which the firm is evaluating themselves. However, they could also be a laggard in need of great improvement, but just don’t want to admit it.

Hiller Associates effect of Product Cost Management

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The funny thing about the post from a couple days ago is that the gap or potential between industry average and best-in-class companies is actually *bigger* than the gap between the laggards and the industry average (see figure to the left).  Therefore, if you are in the industry average, you should be quite excited about getting to best-in-class, because there is a big carrot to do that.

Our opinion is that companies are better off when they mistakenly consider themselves laggards when they are really industry average than when they consider themselves industry average when they are really a laggard. The industry average designation is much more of an invitation to apathy in Product Cost Management. No one wants to be the laggard, and that’s a good thing! What’s the worst thing that can happen, after all? If you misclassify yourself as a laggard and you actually are the industry average, your effort to get out of laggard state will probably move into being best-in-class.

And that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

 

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.

 

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

CLICK TO ENLARGE

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.

 

 

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

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  • 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.” 

 

Oct 292012
 

Last week Hiller Associates published an article on Should-cost in one of the leading online magazines for manufacturing companies, IndustryWeek.com.   Below is a synopsis  of the article.  However, you may want to just read the article here:

Your Should-cost Number is Wrong, But It Doesn’t Matter

Should cost is not perfect, but it does not matter, because its purpose is to be a leverage tool to improve negotiated cost, regardless of the should-cost number’s absolute accuracy.

  • What is should cost?
  • Methods of should cost?
  • Uses of should cost, specifically to reduce the price of products one buys
  • No one expected Peter Lynch to achieve his absolute return predications for a stock
  • How to use should cost as pricing pressure
Sep 052012
 

Yes, you read the title correctly.  It may sound like an oxymoron, but some form of this statement is uttered every day in the world of Product Cost Management (PCM).  Usually, a company, will say, “I don’t have time for profit.” right before it notifies the PCM software vendor that it cannot buy the vendor’s tool at the current time.   Sometimes, the statement is spoken to a PCM consultant who is proposing an engagement to boost the profit of the company.

The customer typically does not convey the thought exactly as the title says.  It is usually more eloquent, such as:

Um, yes well, I’m sorry, but times are pretty bad here.  We just got our quarterly results and sales [or profits] are down.  Our management is having to really tighten their belts, so we have to put the implementation of your software [or your consulting engagement] on hold until times get better.  It’s a shame, because everyone really liked your software and thinks it would significantly benefit our bottom line, but we just can’t invest in anything right now.

Actually, I am a pretty naive guy, so maybe this is the customer’s way of politely telling the vendor that they are not interested in the vendor’s or consultant’s product or service (or that there are better options to increase profit).  Maybe the customer is trying not to hurt the sales guy’s feelings — similar to the girl that makes up legitimate excuses why she can’t go out with you every time you ask her out.  However, I actually believe most customers are very honest about these things, and they are telling the vendor the truth.

Manufacturing companies are really saying:  “This is no time to think about profit! We’re doing badly enough already.”

Paraprosdokians

There is actually a word for a statement such as the title of this post.  It’s called a a paraprosdokian — a statement that leads you to start drawing conclusions in one direction and then finishes in an unexpected (and often humorous) different direction.    Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, and Henny Youngman were all masters of these grammatical zingers.

The difference here is that I don’t think the customers intend the paraprosdokian.

No time for profit right now

I have observed an interesting phenomena during my years in the Product Cost Management.  One would think that the companies in need of Product Cost Management are the ones that are facing a profit problem or a sales decline.  The idea is that the PCM improvements would generate greater profits to make up for sales volume loss.   However, these firms are regularly the ones that will delay buying a PCM tool or seriously engaging a PCM expert.

No time for Product Cost Hiller Associates

This phenomenon reminds me of a cartoon that one of my bosses once showed me (see figure to the right).

Conversely, the companies that are the fastest buyers of PM tools and consulting are those that are doing really well and want to keep on winning. These companies use PCM as a steroid to pump their profits, but in reality, it is the companies having a tough time that truly need the vaccine of Product Cost Management.

I find this an ironic Catch 22.

Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead!

To firms who are facing difficult quarters with sales and profit, I would say, that most of your business brothers sympathize.  We have all been in your position before and may be in it with you right now.  However, now is NOT the time to accept less profit. Now is the time to make more profit, so you can trade-off profit vs. increase sales through market share.

I’m not sure my reasoning will convince all the firms out there that are delaying taking serious action to improve their PCM culture, process, human resources, and tool kits.   However, I do hope that the decision makers in some of the firms that read this article will think twice before summarily delaying the improvements on Product Cost Management.  If you and your fellow managers and executives have already agreed already agreed that PCM is needed, don’t be so quick to casually push off the PCM work until next quarter or next year.  The time for more profit and sales is now.

Jul 232012
 

Last week we began talking about a common problem in many projects, including Product Cost Management: the withholding of needed data for analysis and modeling.  We also talked about the many reasons, some legitimate and some not, why people refuse to share data. Those reasons are summarized in the graph below.

Then I introduced one way of working through the data withholding problem.  I call this technique Habeas Corpus Data.

Excuses for no data in Product Cost Hiller Associates

Reasons people withhold data [CLICK TO ENLARGE}

It’s very simple and works like this:

  • Politely and ardently make your case to the data gatekeeper as to why they should share the data with you.
  • If you are rebuffed, ask your management or project champion to see if he can break the data roadblock.
  • If you are still ignored, simply nod politely and stop asking. Instead, go and make an assumption for what the data should be.
  • Present your findings (based on your assumptions for the withheld data) in the presence of the data prison warden (be it the individual or organization that is withholding).
  • Sit back and watch the chaotic scrambling of the data warden.

This is the typical flow of the Habeas Corpus Data process, but in reality, the result will be slightly different depending on the real reason that the person or organization is guarding the data. In our post today, we are going to go through each reason and talk about the result that Habeas Corpus Data has in each case.

1. Data truly requires confidentiality / conflict of interest

This is the best and, really, the only legitimate reason that data should ever be withheld. Fortunately, it’s also the rarest. Very little data really needs to be kept confidential, especially to another member of the same product program or a consultant who is under a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) already.

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data: The data holder probably feels guilty already for having to withhold the data. If the data is legitimately confidential, he will likely give you an indication of how good your assumptions are saying something such as: “Well, I can’t tell you the exact values, but you’re not making a bad guess.” Or “Well, I can’t tell you the exact values, but I would reconsider your numbers, because they aren’t remotely close.”

The more important effect of Habeas Corpus Data happens when the person or organization is using “confidentiality” as an excuse for one of the other five reasons. This is the common result. In this case, the data warden will start complaining about your results, to which you will politely reply, “Oh, well I had to make an assumption, but if you have actual data that is better, I am happy to redo the analysis with quality assumptions.” This is basically checkmate for you. The data warden will either immediately produce the data, or mumble something vague about having to check with his manager about seeing if he can share the data. This is your permission to promptly follow up a day later to see if that “permission” has been received.

2. Legitimate concern that colleagues / partners understand the sensitivity

Sometimes data is not officially confidential in the sense that it cannot be technically shared with someone of your clearance, but the data warden is personally concerned that you do not understand the sensitivity of the data.

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data:  Habeas Corpus Data will almost always make the data warden reconsider his reservations. He may initiate a discussion with you directly or with your executive champion to re-emphasize the gravity of the data he will now share, but you will get your data.

3. Does not know the data asked for

Sometimes the person you ask does not have the data.

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data:  The question is, “should” he have the data?  If the answer is no or maybe, consider who else might have the data. However, if the data would normally reside in the bailiwick of the person or organization, the organization may welcome your assumptions as the first steps in researching the needed data and may ask you to work with them in refining your assumptions.

4. Too busy or lazy to assemble data

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data:   If the reason that the person or organization does not know the data is because they are busy with other things or the organization is simply negligent, Habeas Corpus Data will force them to prioritize digging out the data that they do have in their organization.  If they do not currently have the data they will typically prioritize the due diligence required to get it. Otherwise, they will be forced to accept your assumptions.

5. Job security / authority protection

Sadly, the two most common reasons people withhold data are the two most illegitimate reasons. First, many people see data and/or knowledge [which is valuable] as one of the biggest contributors to personal job security. This may seem strange to some younger readers, who have grown up in the world of the internet and social media.  In the internet world, sharing (not hoarding) ideas makes one popular and successful. On the other hand, consider the importance of “content” (the fancy internet word for data) ownership and rights. Many people do not want to share the data they have personally appropriated from the organization, believing they will be less important without the data.

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data:   Even if he personally still does not want to share data, if the audience with whom you share results includes the data warden’s colleagues, it is highly likely that one of them will force the Data Warden to relent. They will not want you using incorrect assumptions that produce incorrect results. If these results are used and lead to a bad decision, the executives will start investigating the analysis chain and discover that the Data Warden’s organization had data and were aware of the analysis, but refused to share.  Habeas Corpus Data typically makes the fear of being seen as a data hoarder greater than the fear of losing your job from sharing data.

6. Fear of exposure of mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but some people are more sensitive than others about having their errors exposed. Without the proper data, it is very difficult to prove that a decision was right or wrong in the past. Obviously, you are rarely explicitly looking for mistakes in Product Cost Management. However, with the right data, you may well uncover honest mistakes from the past, or simply new opportunities to re-source, re-route, or re-design a part or product. Many people are uncomfortable with someone finding out that their original decisions were not optimal and/or they just don’t want the hassle of having to deal with a certain part again.

Effect of Habeas Corpus Data:  The effect of Habeas Corpus Data in this case is similar to the effect it has on “5. Job security / authority protection.” Habeas Corpus Data typically makes the fear of being seen as a data hoarder greater than the fear of discovering a past mistake or opportunity discovered.

Is Habeas Corpus Data Too Harsh?

Habeas Corpus product cost data Cost Hiller AssociatesMake no mistake, Habeas Corpos Data is a powerful technique. However, readers should not view it, nor practice it with the attitude of being a “data extortionist.” Much like the martial art of Judo, Habeas Corpus Data is really the “gentle way” compared to your other alternatives, escalating the data withholding in a loud way to the executive ranks of a company.  As I discussed above, Habeas should not be used until you have personally made your case to the data gatekeeper and asked your immediate management or project champion to see if he can break the data roadblock.  Like Judo, Habeas Corpus Data will often allow you to control your data withholding opponent without harming them. It allows them to gracefully back down from their recalcitrant position in a way that will allow them to save face in front of your executives and theirs.

 

Jul 192012
 

Data.

At the end of the day, the data and assumptions that we use in Product Cost Management, specifically in cost models, is as (or more) important than the equations and the approach to modeling itself.  The classic example in cost modeling is raw material rates ($/kg for steel, plastic, etc.). A close second and third in importance are the labor rate ($/man-hour) for work in a given manufacturing activity and direct overhead rates ($/machine-hour).

Good, trustable data can be very hard to find in a company, even when everyone in the company wants to help the cost modeling effort. However, a bigger problem is not the unavailability of data, but the unwillingness of people to share the needed data with you. If you have ever been involved in a Product Cost Management (PCM) effort, especially one involving cost modeling or implementing a PCM tool, you have certainly encountered this problem.  Certain people and whole organizations will be unwilling to share data with other organizations and/or with you personally as the PCM professional who is trying to help the firm.

So, what do you do when you run into this data stonewall? Today, I would like to share a very powerful but simple technique that I discovered years ago. Some may call this technique by another name, but I call it “Habeas Corpus Data.”

Why People Withhold Data

As a young researcher at University of Illinois, I was flabbergasted the first time that I was on an internship and someone became squirrely or delaying regarding data.  At a university, of course, the goal is to freely share and promote good data to advance the common good of learning and research.  However, in organizations this is not the case.  Over the next few years, I realized that withholding data was the norm, not the exception in many organizations.  The natural question one asks when told “no” is “why?”  I have been given a lot of excuses, ranging from the presumably plausible to the outright ludicrous.  However, they mostly break down into the six categories shown in the pie chart below.  Furthermore, in my experience they break down in the proportions shown.

Excuses for no data in Product Cost Hiller Associates

Reasons people withhold data [CLICK TO ENLARGE}

As you can see, the first three categories, are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.  However, you will also note that this is a minor part of the pie.  The lion’s share of the reasons given are simply excuses that should not be tolerated.  The most frustrating thing is that no matter how illegitimate the real reason for withholding data is, the withholder will tell you a covering lie.

So, what do you do when you find the data door locked? Easy! You use Habeas Corpus Data to storm the castle.

Habeas Corpus Data

Many of the readers may remember Habeas Corpus from junior high civics class as the Latin phase meaning “you must present the person in court.”  This legal idea originated in 12th century England and means that you cannot hold someone in detention without first showing sufficient cause.  Or, as William Blackstone explained in 1305 “The King is at all times entitled to have an account, why the liberty of any of his subjects is restrained, wherever that restraint may be inflicted.”  [Maybe that means you are the King and the data are your subjects?… oh, if only Product Cost Management were so glorious!]

Just as the court demands a reason for imprisonment of a citizen, so too you demand a real reason why the data is being held hostage. But, how do you expose the data despot for the unlawful detainment?  Here’s the key to the prison cell:

Make and assumption and present the results from your work.

For example, if purchasing will not cough up a supplier’s labor and overhead rates for the cost model on which you are working, you assume a labor and overhead rate based on your past experience and expertise in PCM.  It does not even matter if your assumption is close to the real numbers.  When you present your results for the costs of the product or part, the warden of the data prison will very likely be present.  You should make sure of it, which will be easy, because he is likely be a key stakeholder in the product cost project.   As this point, you are effectively calling his hand, and he will have to lay down his cards and show the true reason why he is withholding data.

Why does Habeas Corpus Data have this effect on the warden of the data?  First, he will be shocked you were able to proceed with your work without his data.  More importantly, he will get very worried how your results (which are based on your assumptions, not his) will affect his job.  The exact effect that Habeas Corpus Data will have depends on which of the six reasons for withholding data is the real underlying reason the person should have admitted in the first place.

Stay tuned next week, and I will will let you know the specific effect Habeas Corpus Data has based on the true each reason for data withholding.

Jul 092012
 

It’s been a couple of weeks, since we discussed the Voices series, so if this post is interesting to you, you may want to go back and read the first two:

In these first two articles we introduced several of the voices that are always present in the Product Cost Management conversation, including:

  • The Voice of Hopefulness – the Pollyanna voice that assumes product cost will just work itself out in the end.  It is a voice of justification to ignore Product Cost Management, because the team is just too busy at XYZ point in the development process to seriously consider product cost.  Hope is NOT a strategy.
  • The Voice of Resignation – the nihilist voice that assumes that you have to accept high prices because the three suppliers that purchasing quoted gave you pricing far higher than what seems reasonable
  • The Voice of Bullying – the seemingly unreasonable scream of the customer telling you what your product should cost — not based on reality, but based on the customer’s own financial targets.

However, there is another voice in the conversation that can bring some reason to the cacophony.  It is a voices of reason — the Voice of  Should-cost.

Buck-up Cowboy. The Voice of Should-cost Can Help

Should-cost is just what it sounds like, using one or more techniques to provide an independent estimate of what the cost of a part or product “should” be.  The question is, what does “should” really mean?  For many, the definition depends on the type of cost being calculated, as well as personal should-cost calculation preferences.   I will provide my own definition here, mostly targeted at providing a should-cost for a discretely manufactured part.

Should-Cost – The process of providing an independent estimate of cost for a part, assembly, component, etc.  The should-cost is based on a specific design, that is made with a specific manufacturing process, and at a supplier with a specific financial structure.  Or, the should-cost is calculated assuming a fictitious supplier in a given region of the world that uses the best manufacturing technology, efficiency operating at maximum sustainable capacity.

I realize that this is a broad definition, but as I said, it depends what you want to estimate.  For instance, do you know the supplier’s exact manufacturing routing, overhead and labor rates, machine types, etc.?  In this case, do you want to estimate what it “should” cost to manufacture the part under these conditions?  OR… do you want to know what the cost “should” be for a new supplier who is well-suited to manufacture your design and has a healthy but not overheated order book?  Although you could make many other assumptions, the point is:   KNOW YOUR ASSUMPTIONS.  You will note that I said nothing about margin.  Some people call this a “Should-Price,” while others call it a “Should-Cost” referring to what they will pay vs. what the part costs the supplier to make.  The only difference is that you will also make an assumption for a “reasonable” margin for a Should-Price.

The important point is that the team relying on the should-cost information must define the scenario for which they want a should-cost estimate.  There is nothing wrong with wanting an answer for all these scenarios. In fact, it’s preferable. Run the calculation / estimate more than once.

Should-cost, Should Be a Choir, not a Solo Act

Manufacturing cost is a very tricky thing to calculate.  I often say that the true cost of the economic resources to make a part or product is a number known but to God.  Put statistically, you can’t know the true meaning or standard deviation of a population, you can only estimate it from the samples that you take.  People take two common approaches to should-cost.

The Pop Star Solo Act

The popular solution that too many people pursue is the solution pictured at the right.

No Easy Button in Product Cost Hiller Associates

There’s no easy button to should-cost

They want the easy button — the single source of truth.  They want the plasticized overproduced solo pop star version of should cost, i.e. the easy button tool.  There’s nothing wrong with this and there are some really good should-cost solutions available, but none of them are infallible.  In addition, it is not appropriate to put the same should-cost effort into each part or assembly in a problem.  One should focus where the money is.  However, too many people, especially cost management experts, become sycophants of one particular tool to the exclusion of others.

Single estimates in Product Cost Hiller Associates

The Lonely World of a Solo Should-cost Voice

 

Looking at the diagram to the left, you can see what the landscape looks like when you make your comparisons to one point in cost space. It is an uncertain, scary world when you only have one point of reference.  In this case, all one can do is try to force a supplier to match the should-cost output of your favorite tool.

 

 

The Andrews Sisters, Competitive Trio Quoting

The other very popular approach comes from the purchasing department:  three competitive quotes.  If the auto-tuned single pop star should-cost is too uncertain, purchasing will listen to a trio instead.  Why three quotes?

Supplier quotes in Product Cost Hiller Associates

The Trio of Should-cost Quoting

No one seems to know, but in EVERY purchasing department with which I have ever worked, three shall be the number of the quoting, and the number of the quoting shall be three.  [If you are an engineer, you know my allusion.  If not, watch the video to the left!]   The trio of quotes in the diagram to the right do help clarify the picture a little better, but there is still too much uncertainty and what I call “commercial noise” to really believe that the quotes alone bound what the should-cost plus a reasonable margin is in reality.

An Ensemble of Should-Cost Estimates

Returning to our statistics example, one of the first things you learn in statistics is that it takes about 33 samples to characterize a bell curve distribution.  At 33 samples, you can start to approximate the true mean and standard deviation of the actual population.  I am not saying that one needs 33 estimates of should-cost to triangulate on the true cost, but you should get as many as you can within a reasonable time frame.  Have a look at the diagram at the right to see this illustrated.    Instead of the single pop star approach or the Andrews Sisters trio of quotes, hopefully what you get is a well-tuned small chorus of voices who start to drown out the Voices of Resignation, Hope, and Bullying.  The chorus of should-cost estimates start to bound the “true” should-cost of the part or product and can give the team a lot more confidence.

Triangulating on Product Cost Hiller Associates

Chorus of Should Cost [CLICK TO ENLARGE!]

Sometimes the team does not have time to assemble all the voices of should-cost.  Not all parts or products are worth assembling the full choir.  More often than not, the organization is either unaware of the should-cost voices at its disposal, or are just too lazy to assemble them.

Don’t let your organization be lazy or sloppy with respect to should-cost, and remember that the best music is made when groups of instruments and voices work together, not when one person sings in isolation.

 

p.s. Bonus PCM points if you can guess what a cappella group is pictured in the thumb nail to the post

Jun 252012
 

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:

  1. Culture
  2. Process
  3. Roles

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.

Fix the process in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Don’t Pave the Cowpath –> Simply and Supercharge!

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.
Assuming your firm is already clear on your PCM goals, the firm first should lay out the PCM process that will accomplish those goals, which are specific to its corporate culture.

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.

 

Eric

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.

 

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