Jul 122013
 

Today we are reposting the article we wrote this week for ENGINEERING.com.  The original article is here and our announcement of our partnership with ENGINEERING.com is here.  Enjoy!

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One of the most frustrating things for many engineers is understanding the quotes they receive from their suppliers. They want to know how these quotes compare to their own internal estimates. Unfortunately, most engineers are not skilled at getting the right answer.

Strangely, engineers are typically very good at this in their personal lives. Let’s say you’re going to buy a new stereo receiver. In a matter of minutes you have the following options laid out:

  • Option 1 – Amazon ($300) + Shipping ($0) + Squarespace extended Warranty ($50)
  • Option 2 – Amazon vendor ($270) + Shipping ($15) + Squarespace extended Warranty ($50)
  • Option 3 – Stereo Shop ($320) + No Shipping ($0) + Included Extended Warranty ($0)

In your personal life, you not only outline how much costs are, but where they are. That is, in which cost bucket does each dollar reside? So why is this so hard when dealing with a part quote at work? The answer is: it shouldn’t be!

Don’t ask what, ask where

The first step to unraveling quotes is to put the numbers aside – what matters first is to decide into which cost buckets each dollar should go. To illustrate this, let’s consider buying a lightly machined casting.

CastingFirst ask, what resources go into delivering this casting to your shipping dock? Take a look at the figure below. On the top line in orange blocks, we show the various cost buckets for the casting. These include the raw material that is melted, the various processes that are applied, the machining, any painting, and then margin and logistics.

Hiller Associates Matching Estimates and Quotes

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Start with your estimate

We suggest that your starting point should be your own internal cost estimate from your cost expert, your spreadsheet, or from a third party Product Cost Management calculation tool.

It’s likely that the level of detail in your calculation method will be deeper than what you receive from suppliers. Even so, your tool or spreadsheet may not provide a number for each bucket of cost. In our casting example, our initial estimating method did not provide margin and logistics. Becaues these are real costs we will list them, noting that we don’t know what numbers to use for those costs at this point.

 Lay out what you know from the Supplier Quotes

Now, it is time to match up your supplier quotes. We show three different quotes in the casting example. Your purchasing department may give you more quotes or less quotes. However, in our experience, three shall be the number of the quoting, and the number of the quoting shall be three. (If you don’t get that reference, please see the attached video).

The quotes you receive probably won’t line up exactly with your estimates. Suppliers, as in example Quote 3, rarely provide a detailed breakdown. Regardless, it’s important to know which costs are included in the $23.00. Are any costs included missing?

But what if I am missing a cost bucket?

It’s common to not have an estimate for every cost bucket from one single tool or spreadsheet. Thankfully, there are several methods to triangulate to a better estimate.

  • Look at past part quotes for similar parts.
  • Ask an expert. For example, your shipping department may know what it would cost to ship similar casting parts.
  • Use a different estimation tool that does include the missing cost bucket.
  • You can also surgically lift and triangulate cost buckets from the quotes themselves. For example, you could average the cost for logistics between Quote 1 and Quote 2, so your internal estimate of logistics cost becomes $1.50.

The benefits to you and your company

You may think that this exercise is just about whether you should be paying $23.00 for this casting or $20.00. That is an important question, but there are other big benefits to this method.

  1. Missing Buckets – One of the biggest advantages to accounting for cost buckets is to identify any misunderstandings between your company and the supplier. It is better to find out now that the supplier has not included the shipping costs than to find out later.
  2. Your time to shine in front of management – regardless of the final cost that you negotiate, if there is a question later from your management about why you paid what you paid for a part, you have a ready-made, easy-to-understand management slide prepared.
  3. Negotiation power – deep understanding of costs is very useful when talking to the supplier with whom you decide to negotiate. Of course, you cannot show them the numbers from other suppliers’ quotes, but there is nothing wrong with showing your internal should-cost estimates.
  4. Learning by doing – after you go through this exercise several times, you will start to develop an intuitive feel for what drives cost in a commodity class. In our example, you will start to understand the relative magnitude of machining vs. casting cost vs. raw material for lightly machined castings.

They say that “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” The good news is that with part quote evaluation, both the journey has value (as shown by the four points above) and the so does the destination (e.g. paying $20, rather than $23 for a casting). Enjoy both!

Jul 102013
 

 

Hiller Associates has been invited to become an author on ENGINEERING.com.   The Canadian company, headquartered in Ontario, has become one of the most influential voices in engineering worldwide.  ENGINEERING.com reaches thousands of people, who work in the many disciplines of engineering, every day with the freshest and best content on a variety of subjects, including:

 

 

  • Designer Edge
  • Design Software
  • Electronics
  • 3D Printing
  • Education
  • Careers in engineering

Eric Hiller, managing partner of Hiller Associates said,

We are grateful to ENGINEERING.com for the opportunity to share our insights in Product Cost Management and other topics that sit at the nexus between finance and engineering with the readers of ENGINEERING.com.  ENGINEERING.com has a great readership of influential people who are driving the next generation of products around the world and who range from individual contributors to engineering executives.  We look forward to continuing to work with ENGINEERING.com.

Hiller Associates is writing for the ENGINEERING.com feature area called “Designer Edge,” which contains articles on techniques and tools for better design engineering.  HA kicked off it’s authorship with an article focusing on the challenges that engineers face when presented with supplier quotes that the engineers have to understand versus their own internal should-cost estimates.  CLICK on the the title of the article below to read the article at ENGINEERING.com.

engineering.com_logo_new_tagline

 

 

 

Comparing Quote Apples with Estimate Oranges

 

John Hayes, President of ENGINEERING.com, said,

We welcome Eric ‘s authoritative and often humorous voice on the important, yet rarely discussed, topic of product costing.

Hiller Associates will republish the ENGINEERING.com article in its entirety on our own Product Profit and Risk blog later this week.

 

 

Mar 182013
 

There are universalities that seem to cross people and cultures, such as, it’s polite to say “please” and “thank you.” These universalities also occur numerically. For example, designs that follow the Golden Ratiopop up all over the world. Many other aspects of one group versus another may vary, but there are these universal touchstones that pervade the world. The same is true with companies. Granted, one might argue that one company simply is imitating another company and that is why they share a simple practice or the important of a certain number. We believe that this is, indeed, true in most cases. Still, there are a couple of numbers in companies that seem to arise independently in all companies. We are going to talk about some of those universal and independent numbers today with respect to Product Cost Management.

The great universal number in PCM is “10%.” I have met hundreds of companies over the years, both in consulting and when I was the Founder, CEO, and then Chief Product Officer of one of the product cost management software companies. Invariably, a meeting with a company will occur, in which one of the customers will utter the “a” word: accuracy. The dialogue proceeds similar to the following:

CUSTOMER: So, how accurate is your software?
PCM TOOL COMPANY: What do you mean by “accurate?”
CUSTOMER: Uhh, um, well, ya know. How ‘good’ is the number from your software?
PCM TOOL COMPANY: Do you mean do we have miscalculations?
CUSTOMER: No, no, I mean how accurate is your software to the ‘real’ cost?
PCM TOOL COMPANY: What do you consider the real cost?
CUSTOMER: Uhh, um, well, I guess the quotes that I get from my purchasing department from our suppliers.
PCM TOOL COMPANY: Oh, I don’t know, because it depends on how close the quote is to the true cost of manufacturing the part plus reasonable margin.  Are you confident your quotes are correct proxies for the true cost of manufacturing.
CUSTOMER: Hhmmmmmmm… yeah, I think think so
PCM TOOL COMPANY: OK, how close do you expect the costs from our PCM software to be to your quote [or internal factory cost or whatever source the customer believes is truth]?
CUSTOMER: Oh, you know, I think as long as you are +/-10% of the quote, that would be alright.

 

Ding! Ding! Ding! – no more calls, we have a winner! The customer has uttered the universal expectation for all costs produced by a product cost management tool, with respect to the “source of true cost”: +/-10%

The universal expectation of customers of Product Cost Management software is that the PCM tool is accurate to within +/-10% of whatever forecast the customer considers the “true cost.”

This expectation is so common that you would think that every customer in the world had gone to the same university and had been taught the same expectation. Of course, that is not the case, but it is a ubiquitous expectation. How did this universal convergence of expectations come to be? We will probably never know; it’s one of the great mysteries of universe, such as, why do drivers is Boston slow down to 4 mph at the lightest sign of snow or rain?

The more important question is: Is the expectation that the cost from a PCM tool should be +/-10% of a quote realistic? To answer this question, we first have to ask:  How truthful is “the truth?” The truth in this case is supposedly the quote from the purchasing department. The reader may already be objecting (or should be), because there is not just one quote, but multiple quotes. How many quotes does a company get? Well, that depends, but we all know how many quotes a typical company gets: THREE!

The universal number of quotes that purchasing gets is 3, and they believe the “true cost” is within +/-10% of whichever of these 3 quotes they select as truth. 

Three shall be the number of the quoting and the number of the quoting shall be three. Four that shalt not quote; neither shalt they quote two, excepting thou proceedest to three.

Variance Within Supplier Quotes

Do all the  quotes have the same price for the quoted part or assembly? No, of course not. If they were the same, purchasing would only get one quote. So what is the range among these quotes? That is a fascinating question, one that I am currently investigating. So far, my research indicated that the typical range among a set of three quotes is 20-40%. That seems about right from my personal experience.

But, is the “true” price (cost + reasonable margin) contained within the range of the 3 quotes? Not necessarily. If we assume that quotes are normally distributed (another assumption that I am researching), the range would be much bigger in reality. For example, if we had three quotes evenly distributed with the middle being $100 and these quotes had a 30% range, the high quote would be $115 (+15%) and the low, $85 (-15%). This gives us a standard deviation that, conveniently, is $15. At two standard deviations (~95% confidence or “engineering” confidence), we predict that the “true cost” of the part is between a predicted  high quote of $130 and a low of $70. This is a range of 60% (+/-30%). You can see this on Figure 1.

OK, but what about if we  just source a single supplier. Well, there will be variance in this supplier, as well. This variance breaks down into two types: physical noise and commercial noise.

  • Physical noise — the difference in cost that could occur due to physical reasons, such as choosing a different machine (i.e. different overheads) a different routing (sequence of the machines), or even simple human variation from part to part or day to day.
  • Commercial noise – differences in pricing driven by the market, emotions, and transient conditions.
Variance in the Cost Forecast from Quotes Hiller Associates

Figure 1 – Variance in the Cost Forecast from Quotes (click to enlarge)

Physical noise can easily account for a range of 20% (+/-10%) in the quote that a supplier might provide to an OEM. However, physical noise can be quantified and discovered. A supplier can share what routing or machine they are using. The problem is that Commercial noise is very difficult to quantify. How do you quantify when the supplier believes you hurt him in the last negotiation and now he is going to repay you for it, or that he needs your company as a new strategic customer and will underbid to get initial business? Worse yet, Commercial Noise is often LARGER than Physical Noise in the quote! How big is Commercial noise? That is difficult to say, because we can’t measure it very well, but from our discussions with purchasing groups, at minimum, Commercial Noise adds at least another +/-10% .

Physical Noise  Commercial Noise
Comes from selection of different machines, routings. Comes from market conditions, emotions, and transient conditions
Quantifiable in general by understanding the selections. Very difficult quantifiable
+/-10% of the “factory average” +/-20%+ on top of Physical Noise

 

Supplier quotes are just one forecast of true cost. There are other forecasts the organization has.

Cost Estimation Experts

What about those people in the organization with the most manufacturing and product cost knowledge? What is the noise in their estimates compared to a source of alleged truth, such as a quote. We are not sure, but we have asked another question about variance to these experts. When asked the question, “How close are you as a cost estimator to the estimates of other cost estimators in your company, people most often reply, “Probably +/-10-20% depending on the complexity of the part cost estimate or assembly.” So, we might say that the cost estimators have at least a 30% range of quotes themselves.

Historical Costs in ERP

What about the historical costs in ERP? How “accurate” are they? There’s actually at least two problems with data in corporate databases. First, sometimes it is just plain wrong from the beginning of its life in the database. However, even if it is correct initially, it gets out of date very quickly. Material cost, labor rates, efficiency, etc. change. Go ask you purchasing buyer how close a re-quote of a current part that has been in the database for three or four years will be to the original quote. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this problem, consider these findings:

The Accuracy (i.e. variance to quote) of a Product Cost Management Software

Variance in Different Forecasts for Product Cost (click to enlarge)

Variance in Different Forecasts for Product Cost (click to enlarge)

So, after all of the discussion of the variance within other cost forecasts, how “accurate” are the forecasts from a product cost management software? Well, if the internal variance among expert cost estimators independently estimating is 30%, the BEST the PCM tool could do would be +/-15%… IF it is controlled by experts. What happens when non-experts use this software? How much does the range increase? Who knows? Obviously, the more automatic and intelligent the PCM Tool, the less the added variance would theoretically be. But, is this added variance +/-5%, +/-10%, +/-20%?  That is hard to say.

The Reality of Accuracy and Variance in Product Cost Forecasts

Regardless of the answer to the above question, the bigger questions are:

  1. What is your EXPECTATION of how “accurate” your PCM Tool’s cost forecast is to the quote forecast?
  2. Is your expectation reasonable and realistic?

We know the answer to question 1:   Be +/-10% of a my selected quote.

To answer the second question, let’s quickly review what we know:

Source of the Cost Forecast Common Variance Inherent in the Forecast
Range among 3 quotes +/-15%
95% confident interval (engineering confidence in quotes) +/- (15%+15%)
Physical noise within one single supplier +/-10%
Physical noise plus Commercial noise within one single supplier +/- (10%+20%)
Internal range among cost experts +/-30%
Best Case PCM Tool used by experts +/-30%
Non-cost expert using PCM tool +/- (30%+ 5%?)
Common [Universal] expectation of PCM Tool Cost Forecast +/-10%

 

Hhhmmmmmmm… Houston, I think we have a problem.

It just doesn’t seem that +/-10% is a reasonable expectation.

Bringing Sanity Back to Product Cost Management Expectations

What can you do in your company to help reset these unrealistic expectations? There are three things.

  1. First make your colleagues (engineering, purchasing, etc.) aware of the reality of the cost forecasting world. Don’t let them develop uninformed and unrealistic expectations.
  2. Don’t focus exclusively on the end cost, but on the physical and immutable concepts that cost is supposed to quantify: mass, time, tooling.
  3. Start to quantify the internal variance in your own firm’s cost forecasts. Your firm’s internal cost ranges in quotes, internal estimates, etc. may be lower or higher than the numbers presented here. However, you won’t know until you start to investigate this.

Is this a painful realization?  Perhaps, but you are already living with the situation today.  It is not a new problem in the organization.  If you don’t acknowledge the potential problem, you run the risk of misleading yourself.  If you acknowledge the potential problem, you may be able to solve it, or at least make it better.

 

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
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.

 

Jun 182012
 

To continue my thoughts from last week’s blog regarding the article  “Putting it All Together at Harley-Davidson“, I’ve put together some additional insights below.

Keep Your Product Cost Management Promises and Don’t Force Others into Promises They Can’t Keep

I am reminded of a story about, Saint Augustine of Hippo, a brilliant theologian, who meets a young boy along the Mediterranean sea sea shore  one day.  As the story goes, Augustine had gone for a walk to clear his prodigious brain, trying to fathom the Christian mystery of the Trinity.  He sees a little boy running back and forth between the sea and a hole that the boy dug on the beach.  The boy uses a little bucket to transfer water from the sea to the hole.  Augustine asks the little boy what he is doing, and the boy replies that he is draining the ocean.  Augustine laughs at him and tells him that his goal is ludicrous, and he’ll never do it.    At this, the little boy replies to the great Doctor of the Church, “I’ll accomplish MY goal before you get to yours!”

Spiritual implications aside, the secular point is that there are goals that cannot be achieved.  In the article, Schmitz talks about his time at Honda:

“Plus, at Honda we learned to never miss a target, to never make a commitment that we couldn’t keep.”

That is a subtle, but important point.  I don’t believe the bigger problem is people not keeping realistic commitments, but forcing the team for sign up to unrealistic commitments.  The culture of US business has morphed to a state where everyone must accept “stretch” goals, some of which are ridiculous.  In addition, eager managers make assumptions about the execution of projects.  Getting a project authorized is the equivalent to assuming that that the Boston Red Sox will hit 3 home runs per inning for a whole game.  Managers who accept such ludicrous targets are “inspiring leaders with a ‘can-do’ attitude;”  while those who cry foul on silly expectations are “negative” and “not team players.”   The article on Harley seems to say that Honda has at least partially overcome this problem and is a bit more realistic in goal setting and acceptance.

Reality Cannot Be Fooled Repeatedly for Very Long

There are “stretch” goals, and then there are miracles.  For example, consider the picture below.  Boiling the ocean in Product Cost Management Hiller AssociatesThis leads us to ask, how do you know if your goal is too aggressive in Product Cost Management?   I don’t have an exact answer, but I would suggest that people think of goal setting like tolerance stack up.   Managers should remember back to the days when they were engineers.  If a design is so delicate that all parts must have extremely tight tolerances and must be heated/cooled to assemble, would you say this is a design that will ever work in the real world of production?  No.  Alright, so when you are setting your product cost targets, reduction targets, or any other target, consider what intermediate goals must be reached to accomplish the overall target.   It is a lot easier to assess the chance of accomplishing the more narrow intermediate goals than the big longer term goal.  If you need flawless execution on each intermediate goal to achieve the overall goal, you may want to consider whether or not you are boiling the ocean.

Part 3 in this series is coming soon.

Jun 112012
 

I just read the article “Putting it All Together at Harley-Davidson” in the July 2012 [July??] Blue Heron Journal.   The article is a profile on Pete Schmitz, a Honda veteran in Product Cost Management, who now works at Harley-Davidson.    According to the article,:

“[Schmitz] combines procurement, design, manufacturing and cost expertise in a unique job function. Reporting up ultimately to Harley’s CFO, Schmitz describes his ten year Finance Product Cost Manager position as ‘the cat bird’s seat…we are the neutral third party in product development – getting the whole organization to work together.”

That perked up my ears right away.  As many of our readers may know, Harley Davidson is a classic case study in the positive effects of successful Product Cost Management.  It was an exciting article to me for several reasons.  I would like to explore them in the next few days in some shorter posts.  The first insight that I gained from the article is the following:

Finance Must be Involved with Purchasing and Engineering

According to the article, Harley is at the mature stage of Product Cost Management making their efforts truly cross-functional.  Specifically, the finance (maybe accounting too?) people are involved directly with the engineering and purchasing groups.  That is impressive.  If you are familiar with Product Cost Management efforts, you know how difficult it can be just to get engineering and purchasing to work together.  However, getting finance and accounting meaningfully involved is even harder in my experience.  That is unfortunate, because often finance and accounting have so much of the existing data that the cost management team needs to make valid cost models, do spend analytics, etc.

I am not sure why finance and accounting often shy away from participating in PCM efforts.  My own experience is that the finance and accounting people are uncomfortable with the very physical world that includes the Bill of Material (BOM) and purchasing commodities.  Moreover, the PCM team often needs to recalculate overhead and other financial rates to be RELEVANT for cost management analyses.  This recalculation is is very different from the RELIABILITY focused, acceptable financial accounting viewpoint with which the accounting team is comfortable.  That is just a general guess from my experience over the years, but maybe a reader can provide more insight.  Regardless, I would urge more finance and accounting folks to step out of their comfort zone in the financial world to participate in the physical world with engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing.

Translating from the Physical World to the Financial

At the end of the day, isn’t translating the physical into the financial what Product Cost Management is about?   I actually wrote one of my first blog posts in 2007 about this concept for Jason Busch at SpendMatters.Translating Features to Cost in Product Cost Management Hiller Associates  The article is called What’s The Language of Your Business?   It’s very helpful to ensuring a good translation when experts in all languages are present during the translation work.  Ergo, both the people that speak physical (features, functions, BOM, machines, and supplier) and people who speak financial (dollars, overhead rates, internal rate of return, net present value) need to be around the table to make sure nothing is lost in translation.

See you again soon with part 2.

 

 

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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