May 212012
 

In last week’s post “Do you hear the voices? (Voices Series, Part 1) ” we talked about the different voices that speak throughout the product life cycle and how they relate to Product Cost Management. This week, we’ll talk about some voices give bad advice and expectations. As the diagram to the left shows (click to enlarge), there are at least two typical conversations happening in the product life cycle. The conversation at the top shows the voices that are beneficial to Product Cost Management and help lead to a profitable product. The conversation at the bottom has some of the same voices, but also replaces some of the voices with new, discordant voices, who more often than not, lead to an unprofitable product.

Voices in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

CLICK TO ENLARGE Good and Bad Product Cost Conversations

Hope is Not a Strategy

Organizations have a variety of excuses for why they don’t let the Voice of Reason limit the finance team’s desires for product cost or profit. The same is true for not listening to the Voice of Intent (seriously evaluating alternatives in concept design and costing them), and for having no Voice of Engineering (not doing product cost management in engineering or being lax on cost roll-ups). These voices are replaced by a new voice:  the Voice of Hope!
“Hope” — that sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it? However, as Rick Page taught us in his book, if hope is not a strategy for sales, why would a company think it is a good strategy for its Product Cost Management? The difference between a conversation on product cost with the Voices of Reason / Intent / Engineering vs. a conversation with only the Voice of Hope is the difference between a profitable and unprofitable product.

The Voice of Resignation (…or Eeyore)

Eeyore Voices in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Voice of Resignation

This brings us to the Voice of Partners and the Market, i.e. your suppliers and factory who have to actually deliver your new product. The supplier or plant will determine the price at which they are willing to sell to you.

People often add pernicious voices to the conversation that are manic depressive opposites.   The first is the Voice of Resignation.  If you have kids, or if you ever were a kid, you may know this as the Voice of Eeyore.   Eeyore is the lovable, but chronically dejected donkey in Winnie the Pooh.    This voice says, “I don’t care what your ‘should-cost’ says.  This is what the market will sell for, so I guess that I have to buy at that price.”

The Voice of the Bullying (…800 lbs and growing)

The manic brother of the Voice of Resignation is the Voice of Bullying.  However, instead of Tigger as the opposite of Eeyore, we have another mascot for this voice — the 800 pound gorilla.  After all, Tigger is more of an annoyance than a bully.    The Voice of Bullying

Gorillas in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

The 800 Lbs Customer Purchaser

says:  “We’re the 800 pound gorilla customer, and we’ll use our weight to force some cost reductions with the supplier.”  Is the price requested reasonable?  The 800 pound gorilla doesn’t care, because he needs the price to be what he wants it to be for one of several reasons that are beyond explanation in this post.  I plan to discuss the reasons more fully in a subsequent post, but for now we’ll just list them as the following:

  1. Cost was never targeted properly in the first place (a.k.a. the Voice of Hope was listened to over the Voice of Reason)
  2. Engineering let things get out of control (a.k.a. the Voice of Sound Cost Engineering was replaced with the Voice of Hope… or apathy)
  3. The Voice of the Ghost-of-Product-Costs-Past haunts purchasing (a.k.a. the demand for post-launch cost reductions)
So, how do we silence, or better yet, learn from the Voice of Resignation and the Voice of Bullying, while keeping them in control?  I’ll leave that for next time.
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May 142012
 

Lately, it’s become popular to talk about “voices” in business, e.g. the “Voice of the Customer.”  With all the voices, it is difficult not to wonder if one is listening in on a business meeting, or a group of choral composers arguing over the score’s balance, psychologists trying to diagnose a patient, or a kitschy show with karaoke singers trying to go pro.    I believe that the “voice” nomenclature is the new new way to say “stakeholders,” a term that was the new way to describe the groups of people and forces of the universe that prioritize your product decisions and limit its possibilities.

All frivolity aside, the Voices framework is not a bad one. Instead of arguing over what we call the rose, I’d like to focus on WHO and WHAT those voices are with respect to Product Cost Management. Click on the diagram to the right. In this graphic, I show three categories across the product development cycle:

Voices in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Click to Enlarge! Voices in Product Cost Management

  1. What are the ‘Voices’ in the discussion of product cost and profit
  2. What are the target costs or cost statuses that the voices dictate or influence
  3. What are the ways that people can estimate the cost target or cost

The First Voices in the Discussion Had Better Be Balanced

The first two voices are the Voice of the Customer and the Voice of the Business.  The Voice of the Customer is supposed to tell you what consumers will pay for a certain bucket of product features and attributes based on perceived customer value.  Understanding the weird customer dialects isn’t so easy because customers won’t give you an exact number for the price they expect, such as $44.85.  If customers do give you an exact number, the number should still be considered fuzzy because customers have a hard time conceiving the value of your intended offer.   It is traditionally marketing’s job to read these tea leaves in order to decipher the Voice of the Customer.
The second voice, the Voice of the Business, gives us the Product Target Price and Product (System) Level Cost Target.  To illustrate, the CEO or Group VP comes in and says, “We need X total revenue and Y market share,” and the VP of Finance comes in and says “We need to have Z profit margin on the product.”   Great! Right?  Well, yes, but this is a TOP-DOWN cost target, or as the EE‘s in the room would say, an “open loop” control.  Normal people refer to this as an “estimate” or a “guess” (a.k.a. a hope).
Trade-offs in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Click to Enlarge! Product Fiscal Planning Triangle

The hopeful nature of the top-down product cost target is why the next voice in the discussion is so important:  the Voice of Reason.  What modern businesses don’t like to think about (or have been taught not to by consultants) is that there is a fairly rigid triangle (see the figure to the left) linking the price you must charge (or the customer will pay), the feature set (value) you will deliver in the product, and the product’s cost (margin).  If you set two of the corners of the triangle, the third will move to compensate.  I am not saying that people cannot do better on their product cost, but there are limits.

The key is to ALSO estimate what is theoretically possible for product cost in a BOTTOMS UP way — given REASONABLE assumptions.
The bottoms-up estimate moves you from an open loop control to a closed loop control (with feedback for adjustment), as the EE’s would say.  If the top-down and the bottoms-up costs are too far apart, somebody needs to throw a flag.  The first figure above shows the methods one can use to get an early bottoms-up product cost estimate.  Another voice that is often not heard is the Voice of Intent.  People often just assume a design alternative and immediately launch into full scale engineering.  But the old DARPA study told us that 80% of cost is decided in the first 20% of decision making.  So, the solution is pretty obvious.
Spend significant effort and time in the concept design stage seriously generating, considering, and costing a series of alternatives with your cross-functional team of design, manufacturing, purchasing, etc.
Spend the money needed on comparative teardowns of carryover systems you plan to cost reduce and systems with new features you plan to design versus similar systems of your competitors’ products.  Spend time together in a workshop evaluating your design alternatives and estimating your costs (raw material, manufacturing, shipping, etc.).  You do not need triple point precision — you only need a good enough estimate to allow you to compare one alternative to another.   Then you should give a REVISED Product Cost Target to management and marketing.   Very little cost has been spent up to this point, so if a program needs to be stopped or modified, now is the time!

Keep the Conversation Going

The next voice that should be in the product cost discussion is the Voice of Engineering.  Often, the discussion on product cost just stops for months or years until suppliers send in the first quotes at the end of the detailed design phase.  However, the conversation should continue.  Where is the engineering team in their cost roll-ups?  Have they discovered problems and barriers that will force costly changes, or have they found clever ways to beat the cost target?

Shrink the Triangle with Should-Cost and Spend Analytics

The Voice of Partners and the Market refers to the price your suppliers (or your internal plant) will charge you to produce your design.  If you want to get the best prices, it is important to understand another triangle:  the Purchased Cost Triangle (to the right).   The corners of this triangle are the price the supplier or plant quotes, the final cost you negotiate with the supplier/plant, and your should-cost calculations.  Here’s the secret:  this triangle is much more flexible and stretchy than the product fiscal planning triangle above.   Powered by the number and quality of your should-cost and spend analytics estimates, you want to drive all three vertexes together and converge.   Product cost is a difficult and fuzzy world; it’s even fuzzier when you have no facts (or even well-reasoned estimates) to rely upon.

Triangulating in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Click to Enlarge! Purchased Cost Triangle

If you want your Negotiated Costs to reflect the actual costs of manufacturing plus a reasonable supplier margin, invest heavily in good Should Cost and Spend Analytics.

If that’s too hard or too expensive… well, it’s only your product’s profit anyway, right?

Time to Pay the Piper

For the most part, the final voices settle things.  The Voice of Realization happens when you actually start to make the product and do the formal accounting to see what the product actually costs.  Sadly, this is where most companies spend the lion share of their product cost management effort. This is not to say that there are not opportunities to reduce costs after launch.  However, this is not where companies should be spending a lot of Product Cost Management effort.  Cost is pretty much set at this point, and companies should be working on the NEXT product.

The last voice is the Voice of Regulation / Responsibility.  In general, the Voice of Regulation should be known up front, in regards to disposal fees or other government penalties and taxes for which the company is responsible.  On the other hand, the Voice of Responsibility is trickier. The company should take its warranty predictions very seriously.  Most products, though, tend to have surprises, and they are typically not positive surprises.  Sometimes, the Voice of Responsibility speaks with legal authority (e.g. contractual warranty), but it should also speak to the corporate conscience to do the right thing for the customer, even when the company is not legally bound.

Next week….

This week we talked about how things SHOULD work.  However, the framework and solutions presented are not how many companies DO work.  Next week, we’ll talk the ad hoc and emergent system by which most companies operate, and what problems this causes.

 

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Apr 232012
 

 

Today, I’d like to talk about when it is prudent to poke the tiger, so to speak. During a client visit a few weeks ago, I learned of two situations the company had experienced involving re-quoting parts with the supplier. Although the situations were similar, they resulted in two exactly opposite outcomes – one happy, one sad. The happy situation went like this:

 

We had the big casting on a housing of our product. One day we were talking in passing about how this casting cost us $500. One of our machinists overheard us and his eyes popped open. He exclaimed, ‘$500! That is only about a $100 casting!’ So, we made a very gentle inquiry of the supplier about this casting’s cost, and before we even mentioned shopping the part, they had dropped the part price to $150. On one hand, we were happy, but on the other, we wondered, were these guys cheating us? How many other parts like this were in our bills of materials?

Later that day, I found out about the sad re-quoting situation:

We were trying to find savings on a bucket of parts and thought we had an interesting design change that could lower cost. Our supplier was happy to recalculate based on the design change as time had played a role in the price of parts. He said, “I think that there will be a $14 per part savings for the design change, but this part was quoted five years ago and the material cost and our costs are now higher. The increase is over $20 on old design and $15 on the new design. I’m sorry for this, but we have to ask for a price increase, because we are upside down on this part.”

These situations highlight a lot of latent problems, forcing me to ask:

  • How did a $150 part get through quoting at $500?
  • Why was material cost not indexed on these parts, so that the OEM and the supplier were protected and unsurprised by raw material price changes?
  • Is the spend reviewed on a regular basis by a spend analytics tool that looks for outliers (positive and negative)?
  • Etc. etc.

These answers to these questions are beyond the time that we have today. What this company needed in both situations was a good, speedy, should-cost process and a tool to support their quoting, re-quoting, and re-design processes. However, there are a few things that this company could have asked immediately (without a should-cost tool)? The following five questions are a powerful and fast filter to determine were a company should look deeper into re-quoting or not.

  1. What is the change in raw material price from the time the part was quoted – You know when the part was last quoted, its composition, and mass. It’s even better if you know the portion of the Piece Part Cost that comes from raw material, but you don’t really need it. There are paid sites such as American Metals Market, MetalMiner, London Metal Exchange, and Plastics News that calculate materials pricing. You can also access free data  from the US government at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Look up the price of the materials on the date you last quoted and today. Take the part mass and calculate what the difference would be. Then you will be able to avoid poking the tiger of asking for a re-quote when the cost of the raw material has risen significantly (as we see in the second situation above).
  2. Was the part quoted in a bundle or individually? Parts that are quoted in packages and bundles typically have less precise pricing from the supplier than individual parts. The supplier will want to make money on the bundle and may not put in that much effort to see that they are making appropriate profit (not too high or low) on an individual part. There may be more opportunity on a bundled part than on an individually quoted part. But, beware, you risk ‘cherry picking’ the part with the supplier and damaging your relationship with them. Also, you should check whether your contract on a bundled part even allows you to re-quote an individual part, or only the entire bundle.
  3. What is your buyers relationship with the supplier? – Although business is business, people still buy from people and make decisions in a way that is not always wholly rational, i.e. goodwill and bad will matter. If you are dealing with a supplier whose relationship is rocky with your company, make sure that the amount of money you think you will save on your part is worth potentially souring the relationship. Conversely, your part may become a battlefield where the buyer and the supplier fight out an existing cold war that has been brewing between them. Your part may get punished for reasons that have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

    Cost per mass in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

    Click to Enlarge: Cost per Mass Analysis

  4.  Do a simple cost/mass spend analysis on Piece Part Cost of that commodity – Pricing and cost are not precise sciences, but they do follow general trends. You don’t have to do a full and fancy spend analysis, but you can do a back of the envelop spend analysis that will point out the big opportunities and risks. All you have to do is ask for the costs and masses of 30 -50 parts of same type of commodity that you are interested in re-quoting (e.g. castings, forgings, sheet metal, etc.). You should be able to export this info from your company’s ERP, MRP, SRM, etc. system. Just graph the cost versus mass and graphically consider if there “looks” like there might be an opportunity. This simple method would have prevented the first situation described above.
  5. Do a simple cost/mass spend analysis on the non-raw material costs portion of Piece Part Costs of that commodity– This method is a little more fancy but can highlight outliers a little more accurately. Remember that you already have a raw material cost approximation from the first question. Just calculate the Non_raw Material_Cost = Piece_part_cost – (CostCurrent_Raw_material_price * Part_Mass). Graph the Non_raw Material_Cost versus part mass (like we did in 4). Once again, look to see if your part of interest is or is not an outlier.

    Outliers Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

    Click to Enlarge: Non-Material Cost per Mass Analysis

The great thing about suggestion 4 and 5 is that once you have done the mini-analysis for a commodity, other parts in the that commodity can be compared quickly.

To re-quote or not to re-quote – that is the question. Hopefully, the five considerations explain here today will help you answer that question a little more confidently.

 

 

As an aside… I was having trouble when researching this subject beyond my knowledge on the web. I.E. I could not find other articles on things to consider before asking for a re-quote. Does anyone know of articles that are relevant on the net, or is this only covered in books, or the tribal knowledge of gray haired purchasing agents?

 

 

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Apr 102012
 

 

On the last blog post (Product Cost Management – What is it?), I talked the different ways that my colleagues and I have seen the meaning of Product Cost Management take shape over our careers and PCM’s development.  I offered what I believe is a good operating definition of PCM:

 

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.

This definition can certainly be fleshed out further.  I was at a conference a few weeks ago and heard a great presentation on social media by Overdrive Interactive. Part of the presentation was showing their map of the social media sphere that has become viral on the internet and the de facto standard many people use to orient themselves to the social web. I really liked that idea, and I’m a big believer in 1-page maps that give the reader an overview of a complex subject, as well as a starting point to dig for deeper detail.

What does Product Cost Management look like from a graphical viewpoint?   I believe that it looks like the attached map (click on the diagram to enlarge the map or DOWNLOAD IT IN .PDF FORMAT.

Like any other major discipline that product companies follow, PCM contains four main areas:

  1. Culture, Goals, and Incentives
  2. Processes (tied to the product life cycle)
  3. Team Structure and Participants (tied to the product life cycle)
  4. Tools/Software that can help

    World Map of Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

    CLICK TO ENLARGE!

Culture, Goals, Incentives – before attempting to put in place any process, people, or tools, the organization first has to ask the tough strategic questions.   Where is our organization today in the PCM journey? To where does we hope to get and by when? And the big question: What is the priority of PCM and how much investment (honestly) will we make to close the gap from between today’s state to our goal? Once the company answers these questions, it can talk about the strategic structures that drive behavior (roles, incentives, and leadership support).

The next two continents on the PCM world map  (PCM Processes, and PCM Tools/Software) follow the product lifecycle, and need to integrate with the company’s product development process. Different processes and different participants are appropriate at different points in the cycle.

Finally, we have the PCM Tools available to take on the journey.  They fall into different buckets as follows:  (a) homegrown tools (including Excel), (b) general platforms (e.g. PLM, ERP) that may be customized, and (c) specialty Best-In-Class (BIC) tools that focus on PCM processes. In the PCM World Map, many of the major BIC software systems are shown in a 2×2 diagram. We’ll discuss the 2×2 in more detail in a future post, but I don’t want readers to think there is a “magic [best] quadrant” in this 2×2. It is simply a descriptive conceptual diagram

One important thing for people who are navigating the map to realize is that Culture, Process, Team, and Tools are all interconnected and influence one another (see the top right in the header of the map). For example, if you are at the beginning of the PCM journey, it is likely that your company is not ready for all the processes shown. It also may only use one or two of the tools. The company may not have reached a capability level to benefit from some processes, people, or teams.  Despite the inter-connectivity of the system, the best place to start when beginning the PCM journey is with the Culture (see blue arrows on the left of the map).

Like all high level maps, there are cities and even countries shown on it that have more detailed maps of their own.  However, most companies would do well to focus on understanding the geography at the world level first, before hoping on a plane to a specific city.  We can worry about street maps once we decide which cities we are going to visit!

 

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Apr 092012
 

Product Cost Management (PCM) is tricky to define, although many people talk about it. PCM probably means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I have not yet seen a concise definition of what PCM really means. Some people use PCM to refer a to small set of processes that they use in their companies to help control product cost. Others use PCM to refer to something as broad as a mindset for designing products, and still others define PCM as synonymous with something as narrow as a specific tool.  All them are probably right in some sense.

When I was in undergrad, I would have said PCM was about Design for Manufacturability or Design for Assembly. In grad school, I would have said that it included Parametric Cost Modeling, and by the end of my first masters, I had completed a thesison that subject and invented the first practical commercial prototype for a true automated CAD ‘Feature Based Costing’ tool. During my time in industry, at business school, and through the founding of Feature Based Costing Systems (later, we changed the name to aPriori), ‘Feature Based Costing’ dominated my thoughts. But, as that company grew, we realized that a profitable product came from not only generating accurate cost information, other activities like rolling it up and sharing it. I started talking about “Enterprise Cost Management,” which included not only the product costs (Cost of Goods Sold), but the indirect (e.g. SG&A and R&D) costs of the corporation.  But, even these new understandings were not enough. Some companies were successful at controlling product cost and others were not.  Sometimes the successful and unsuccessful had a similar tool set of PCM tools for both generating and rolling-up costs.  What was the differentiation between success and failure?

Then the blinding flash of the obvious hit me one day: Product Cost Management wasn’t just about creating the ultimate fast and easy-to-use costing software or the right cost modeling method. PCM involved the entire ecosystem around the many tools that one might use to control the product cost. That ecosystem includes changing the culture of the organization to drive PCM, setting up a coherent PCM process aligned with the culture, and having the right team to plan and execute PCM. PCM was not about a specific point in the product lifecycle, but threaded throughout the product lifecycle stages. With this in mind, I submit the following as the definition of PCM.

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.

Such definitions always have the risk of being either too narrow (restricting the definition from important points) or too broad (making them effectively meaningless).  Hopefully, this strikes a balance between the two.  Regardless, I do believe that a picture is worth a thousand words (probably more) so I’ll work on a graphical description of Product Cost Management that is more definitive, detailed, and actionable.

 

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Apr 022012
 

Hello Product Cost Management Aficionados!

I just read a great post by Jim Brown over at Tech Clarity called “Software Intensive Product Survey says More Software in Products means More Problems.”  It heralds another of Jim’s excellent research reports.   This one discusses the role of software in products.  As we all know, electronics (and now software) are making up an increasingly large amount of product cost… and an even larger amount of R&D costs.   I was interested, so I read the full report called Developing Software-Intensive Products: Addressing the Innovation-Complexity Conundrum.

Software Costs More in R&D Costs

What I found really interesting was Figure 5 in Jim’s report which shows the “Negative Business Impacts of Developing Software Intensive Products”.   And, of course what jumped out at me was, you guessed it, COST.  The report shows that 48% of companies integrating more software in products, found that software INCREASES overall Product Development (R&D) costs.   How prevalent is software becoming?  According to page 4 of the report:

“Some people say 60% of innovation in a car is software and others say 90%,.  I am not sure which is true, but it is a high percentage.” — Andre Radon, VP IT Competence Center Engineering Applications, Continental

This made my head bob up and down while laughing.  I was working in product development Ford Motor Company in the late 1990’s and did a rotation in Explorer Calibration.   Ford calls the writing of software “strategy” and the specification of the numbers in the data tables that the software uses “Calibration.”  I am not sure why we didn’t just call it “logic/code” and “data.”  At the time, the Calibrators were setting around 13,000! data points to control the engine computer.  I wonder if it’s double that or more now?    The thing that I remember regarding product software at Ford (both in Calibration and my other assignments) was the question:

“Can we calibrate around that?” — John Q PD Manager, Automotive OEM

Translation:  “Can we write SOFTWARE or change the data tables to get around the problem that we are seeing in analysis or testing, rather than adding or changing HARDWARE?”   This was the default first question to EVERY problem, especially in NVH (noise vibration and harshness).  But, according to Jim’s paper (with which I wholeheartedly agree), software INCREASES product development cost.  So why would Ford managers prudently ask the question above?  That’s simple; it’s because…

Hardware Costs MORE Than Software

How can I know that?  Well, if we look at a Ward’s Auto Report and Ford’s 2010 Annual Report, as a % of Automotive Sales in 2009:

COGS vs. RnD and Engineering Focus in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Click to share! Product Cost vs. R&D Cost and the Focus on Each

  • 4.7% of Sales spent on R&D
  •  95.2% of Sales Spent on COGS (Cost of Goods Sold, which is ~= to Product Cost)

Product cost is over 20x more important to Ford than R&D cost!

So why didn’t the managers answering Jim’s survey think about the effect of software on Product Cost, not just R&D cost?  To be fair, Jim did call this out on page 6, saying that companies increase software to “Reduce product Cost.”  However, on the next page, there is a chart with the top eight reasons that companies use software in products. (I reproduced that data here for your viewing to highlight)  NONE of the catagories say Product Cost, although Jim shrewdly points out that “Enable Platform Design” and “Improve Re-use of Mechanical/Electrical Components” (reasons 6 and 8 respectively) theoretically “can reduce [product] cost.”    I agree, but it’s not a direct correlation and these things, which are often are done for other reasons, and Product Cost.  The telling thing to me is that “Reduce Product Cost” was not explicitly called out in ANY of the top eight reasons.
Product Strategies Driving Software in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates

Click to Share! Prod Strategies Driving Software in Products

I would have like to seen an investigation of this relation between:

  1. Software intensity in a product
  2. R&D cost
  3. Product Cost
I think it would have been very interesting to see a couple questions about the how software drives down product.  Or, is it that at the end of the day, most engineering teams use software in lieu of hardware for other non-product cost reasons… or maybe that they don’t really perceive a strong relation between the use of software in products and the reduction of product cost?  But, we did at Ford, right?
I don’t know, but I look forward to Jim’s next report!

 

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