Do you hear the voices? (Voices Series, Part 1)
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:
- What are the ‘Voices’ in the discussion of product cost and profit
- What are the target costs or cost statuses that the voices dictate or influence
- What are the ways that people can estimate the cost target or cost
The First Voices in the Discussion Had Better Be Balanced
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.
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.
Keep the Conversation Going
Shrink the Triangle with Should-Cost and Spend Analytics
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.
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.
Nice article Eric. I think that one of the biggest reasons we observe companies not spending an appropriate amount of time considering design alternatives is Schedule. There always seems to be this frantic rush to hurry up and get it done. Sadly, this approach may get products to market ahead of, or, at the same time as the competition, but it is at the expense of profitability. I think if these companies knew there was a solution like aPriori that would allow them to very quickly evaluate design alternatives, and understand the cost of each option, they may decide there is a better way to run their business.
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