Jun 052014
 

IW_LogoNEW ARTICLE in Industryweek.com by Hiller Associates

Synapsis:  No matter how badly you think you are pinned down in a pricing negotiation, there are always tools for leverage that can help you improve your position. Relative should costing is one of these powerful tools.

To read the article at Industryweek.com, click here.

Or, you can read the full article below

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Relative Cost Power – How to not know the cost of your products and win negotiations, anyway

With product cost accounting for 70 to 90% of every revenue dollar on the income statement, it’s not hard to understand why cost is such a big deal to many companies. In the last decade, there has been a renewed focus on the world of Product Cost Management, including techniques like Design for Manufacturing (DFM), Should-Costing, Spend Analytics, etc. Many of these techniques are used (or are intended to be used) *before* the sourcing phase of the Product Life Cycle. While procurement professionals should be involved up front in product design, a lot of the responsibility for success with these techniques will rest on the design engineering staff.

Regardless of whether your company is best-in-class in Design-To-Cost, or whether you have the most cost-oblivious design staff in the world, your designs must be eventually made or bought. With the dominance of outsourcing, it’s more difficult than ever to know what the should-cost of a product is? Purchasing agents are told that they should know the should-cost of products before they walk into a negotiation with a supplier. However, that is not easy, and the fact is:

Your supplier will typically know more about their costs than you do.

So, how do you precede in a negotiation where your supplier has more and better information? Are you completely at their mercy? And, what if your supplier holds oligopoly, or even monopoly, supplier power? Are you just a price taker?

ANSWER: No, you don’t have to be a price taker, at least in the case of buying multiple variants of a similar spend item.  Recently, I wrote a blog post about how the human brain does not like non-linearity, discontinuity, or non-monotonic functions. This is a fancy way of saying that people are very good at detecting pricing inconsistencies within multiple similar products.

This inconsistency is the key to being able to better control a negotiation, in which you really don’t know what the absolute cost of a product should be, or where you know the should-cost, but have little buyer power. Let’s explain this with an example:

Case Study in Relative Should-cost: Pick-up Truck Driveshafts

Hiller_Associates_Relative_Should_DriveshaftsIn the late nineties, I had the privilege of being the product development owner for the drivelines (axles and drive shafts) used in the full-size pick-up that was best-selling vehicle in the world for over 30 years. This truck made over 100% of the profit for my employer (making up for losses on other vehicle lines). I was very young and inexperienced at the time, so it was a great experience, but a big challenge.

Within the first few weeks in the assignment, I was told that it was time to negotiate the contract for the driveline commodity (over $450 million annually) for the upcoming 2004 vehicle. I was told that this was a very complex process, but that the purchasing group would lead it. However, my first meeting with our purchasing team lasted about 10 minutes… long enough for the purchasing team to say: “Oh, your supplier is *that* supplier? We don’t get involved with them. Have a nice day.” And, they walked out of the room.

After the shell shock of the experience wore off, my manager explained that our supplier was the former components division of our employer (the OEM) and that our CEO had desperately wanted to spin-off the component divisions from the OEM. To do this, our CEO had negotiated a deal with the powerful automotive union, agreeing that the union members would technically work for us (the OEM), but be leased to the newly spun-off supplier. If the OEM did not give enough business to the components supplier to keep the union members employed, the OEM was responsible for paying them a large portion of their wages, while they waited to be deployed somewhere else.

Effectively, this removed almost all negotiation power from us, the OEM. Therefore, our purchasing team had made a decision at the executive level to not participate in negotiations with this particular supplier. Instead, these negotiations were dumped into the laps of the product development team, with some support from finance.

Suppliers with Complete Supplier Power

The product development team had its own problems already. The marketing team were demanding much better performance and quality out of our parts. But, the finance team demanded that those parts be cheaper than the previous generation of parts! And now, we had an AWOL purchasing team. In terms of the old Porter’s Five Forces framework, our supplier had tremendous supplier power! What to do?

I certainly was not an expert in drivelines yet, but I had just completed a master’s thesis focused on product cost. So, I first reached out to the cost estimation team within the OEM. They helped us understand what the absolute cost might be for a driveshaft. We were also able to negotiate with the purchasing to do an “unofficial” price study with other driveline suppliers.

Our first negotiation with our supplier (the OEM’s former component divisions) was pleasant, but utterly futile. I excitedly explained what we thought the absolute part cost of these driveshaft parts should be, and hinted that we had quotes from other suppliers to prove it. Our supplier, being quite shrewd, politely explained why their product was, obviously, so much more valuable, combined with a tangible undercurrent of, “Well that’s nice that you have should-costs and quotes from other suppliers, but we really don’t care, because you have to use as a supplier regardless.”

Relative Should-Cost to the Rescue

Now what were we going to do? These lines of argumentation (absolute should-cost and competitive quoting) were not prevailing on the supplier. So I tried something different: Relative Should-Costing.

Hiller_Associates_Relative_Should_CostA driveshaft is complex in many ways, but in reality, it is a modular part design. It’s constructed mostly of the end yokes coupled with an extruded or seam-welded tube between those yolks. If we had a longer truck we simply extended a tube. (For technical safety reasons, we had three variants: a 1-piece steel driveshaft, 1-piece aluminum, and a 2-piece steel.)   In total, we had over 70 part numbers of these three designs, and we knew the price quote for each variant.

Using a spreadsheet, I simply estimated a reasonable cost for one driveshaft tube for each of the 3 variants. With this estimate, it was easy to calculate a per-inch cost of that tube. By subtracting, I knew what all the other parts in the driveshaft (e.g. end yokes) approximately cost. That was all I needed. I didn’t need to know what the absolute cost of each driveshaft should be.

I just needed to know what each similar part should cost RELATIVE to another part.

In the second negotiation, we politely questioned the supplier on their confidence in their pricing ability. They professed with great certainty that they knew how to price and stood by those prices. Then we coyly pulled out the part numbers for the three drive shafts for which I had estimated the absolute, and asked if they stood by those prices. They eagerly declared they stood by those prices. Gotcha!

At that point, we started asking how Part B that was 5 inches longer of extruded tube than Part A could cost $10.00 more than Part A, when the tube extension was only worth $0.30. The supplier was not sure and asked for time to investigate. We had several more meetings on the topic, but in the end, the supplier could not give any logical reason why their pricing for similar drive shafts varied in bizarrely non-linear ways.

The supplier reduced the cost of the entire driveshaft commodity by about 8%, resulting in about $35 million a year, straight to the bottom line of my employer, the OEM.

Should the discount have been bigger? Yes. Did my calculations show that the supplier should have given us more money? Yes. But, did we get a significant concession from a supplier who held every card in this negotiation? Yes we did!

In reality, the supplier still could have refused to reduce their costs. However, the point of these Relative Should-Cost negotiation techniques is to bring logic and facts to bear to increase leverage in a situation where you seemingly have no leverage.

The win occurred when the supplier just couldn’t answer why their own pricing was internally inconsistent with itself.

This is a good lesson for suppliers to learn, as well. When quoting a basket of similar parts, it’s wise to make sure that you understand your own pricing and reflect the underlying costs in a logical and linear way to your customer. This greatly reduces the risk of your customer casting doubts and driving your pricing down, perhaps unfairly.

Diagnostic vs. Leverage Tools and Absolute vs. Relative Should-Cost

The case study above is an example of the difference between using a Relative Should-Costing technique, versus an Absolute Dollar Should-Costing technique. If this sounds interesting to your company, you may want to read more in my previous article in Industryweek.com, Your Should-cost Number is Wrong, But It Doesn’t Matter. In this article, we talk further about using should-costing, not only as a diagnostic gage to tell you what the cost is, but as a tool for leverage to move the cost down.

Remember, no matter how badly you think you are pinned down in a pricing negotiation, there are always tools for leverage that can help you improve your position. Relative-Should costing is one of these powerful tools that should be in your tool box.

Jan 292014
 

We received the following question about Bills of Material (BOMs) from a product development manager:

QUESTION: “How does one balance the need of a BOM to be expedient and fast for real world use, while still trying to make an investment in a universal and reusable bomb?”

That’s a great question for product development teams. Our answer is a series of steps:

STEP 1 – Admit it’s a problem

It may sound like the trite stuff of a 12-step program, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem! There’s nothing wrong with having a problem, and in fact, solving problems is what we went to engineering school to do, didn’t we? Some people will tell you that you can have it all (usability and re-usability) in your BOM structure instantly and without conflict. That’s delusional, but we can make incremental progress over time.

STEP 2 – Define the problem

Going back to our school days, the first thing we would do in our statics or dynamics homework would be to list the forces that are active. There are at least two forces in play, and for the most part they are directly opposed to one another:

  1. Functional Universality / Re-usability – we would like to have a universal BOM that can be re-used and easily modified to work for each product.
  2. Expediency / Practicality – We have to ship the product out the door on a certain timeline. The BOM has to be easy enough to use that we can modify it quickly so that we can get our “day-job” done.

STEP 3 – Recognize that the equilibrium point is dynamic over time

Where we start out on our journey of practicality vs. universality in the BOM is not where those forces may end up in the future. The equilibrium point between those forces will change over time.

In Figure 1, we see that initially the force of expediency/practicality is stronger. Therefore, at first our BOM will mostly focus on the needs of today, rather than the needs of tomorrow. However, over time we can reduce some of the immediate pressure to ship product, because we have invested in the bill of material. The equilibrium point is driven to the right on Figure 1 toward a more universal BOM, which is still practical and expedient for our daily use.

Figure 1 Balancing BOM Usability vs. RE-usability

Figure 1 Balancing BOM Usability vs. RE-usability
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STEP 4 – Knowing the equilibrium point at any point in time

How do we know how to balance the two forces at any given point in time? The recognition of a third force may actually help us simplify the problem. That force is the needs and goals of our management team in the company.

The management team is certainly interested in shipping the product for immediate revenue and profit. However, they are also responsible for stable growth of the company over time. Management needs are a downward pressure that we can use to our advantage, just like the Romans did with their brilliant discovery of the arch.

Figure 2 represents such an idealized arch. The forces of the needs for universality vs. practicality are pushing against one another. Without a third force, certainly the structure would tumble. However, with the third force of management needs, it’s much easier to balance the two forces and know where that equilibrium point is at a given point in time.

Figure 2 Balancing BOM Usability vs. RE-usability with Management Pressure CLICK to ENLARGE

Figure 2 Balancing BOM Usability vs. RE-usability with Management Pressure
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Figure 2 – The down force of management decision making

STEP 5 – Make sure you have a solid keystone

What is the keystone in the arch? The keystone bears the pressure of all three forces and balances them. The keystone in our process is a thoughtful and dynamic owner of the bill of material structure. This might be a consultant, a specific person who specializes in product lifecycle management, or the product development manager. Whoever it is, this person or team should be able to view the opposing forces not as forces that will crush them, but as forces that will help them balance each other.

 

As with any problem in the real world, unfortunately we’re not dealing with a precise science here. However, hopefully this expansion of our framework will be a way to think about making progress, as you balance usability vs. re-usability in your bill of material structure.

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This post is 3rd in a series of posts on ENGINEERING.com about Bills of Materials (BOMs). The first outlines the importance of managing the BOM: Dr. Strangepart: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BOM. Next is a framework of how to build re-usability into the BOM: Form, Fit, and Function – A Framework for your Bill of Material.

Jan 272014
 

Continuing , the series on the Bill of Material we began with the article Dr. Strangepart: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BOM, here is a full re-print of the next in the series.  You can find the original at ENGINEERING.com here:

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In my post Dr. Strangepart: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BOM, we began talking about the extremely complex process of managing the bill of material (BOM). That discussion focused on intelligent part numbers, but today I want to move to the question of whether the BOM is primarily keyed off of the functional use of a part or the specific part number itself. This is a tension that has existed since bills of material were created, when man married an axle to a wheel.

Why do people care whether the BOM is driven by part numbers or the part’s function? The answer is that each has certain advantages. Driving the BOM by actual part numbers is very useful for purchasing and manufacturing, and when an engineer is focusing on an individual piece of hardware. However, when the engineer or a product manager moves from one product to another, a function driven BOM allows him to compare components more easily.

The ability to compare BOMs has huge implications for the ability of engineering to successfully re-use parts. Re-use lowers both the cost of the hardware itself (by re-using tooling and increasing production volumes) while also reducing the engineering time needed to design a new part. Re-use has been the great white hope of the engineering community from time immemorial, but it is very challenging.

Although Product Lifecycle Management software vendors talk about re-use, most companies do a very poor job. Trying to manage re-use without intelligent part numbers and a functional way to look at the BOM is like searching for a single item in a hoarder’s basement that’s jammed full of boxes with no labels. Eventually you give up, go to the store, and buy a new one! That’s one of the big reasons why re-use has struggled in the engineering community.

So, how do we balance the tension between these two things? Here is a simple framework for thinking about the BOM that I call Form, Fit, and Function.

CLICK to ENLARGE

Figure 1 CLICK to ENLARGE

By function, I mean what the part is actually doing, what its purpose in life is. By form I mean the specific piece of hardware or part that we’re dealing with. In Figure 1 there is a simple example of how function and form relate to each other. Typically, the superset will be function. The function in this case is to provide rear vision to a driver of a vehicle. The function is the result of the part operating correctly. The part itself is the form that “delivers” that function. In this case, we might provide rear vision by designing a mirror, a camera, or some sort of sensor.

The third part of the framework is the fit of the part. However, by fit I don’t mean the actual geometric tolerances or real estate that the part occupies. What I mean is, “What are the unique attributes of the part that make it “fit” the function, i.e. accomplish the function?”

Figure 2 shows another example of a functionally controlled BOM. In this case, we’re using an example of the propulsion of a vehicle, perhaps a jet aircraft. In this case we show propulsion as a top level Function, along with sub-levels of the powerplant, how the power is transferred, and the cooling system.

Hiller Associates Form & Fit Functional BOM

Figure 2 Hiller Associates Form & Fit Functional BOM Example
CLICK to ENLARGE!

 

The coolant is the Form that satisfies the Function of the cooling system. We assign an intelligent part number for the specific coolant. One might ask, when do I move from a Function to a part number (Form)? The answer to that is, whenever it is convenient. It will take a little bit of time for your team to develop a functional BOM that has a manageable level of hierarchy in it.

TIP: Any more than three or four levels of hierarchy can be very difficult to manage.

There is a many-to-many relationship between the Function and the Form (part). Depending on how far down the Function tree we go, we may need to attach more than one Form (part) to satisfy a function. On the other hand, if our functional tree is deeper, on certain products there may be one assembly (Form) that satisfies more than one Function on the functional tree.

Moving to Fit, we see that each Form may have multiple attributes (ways of fitting the function). The coolant “fits” our functional need by the attributes that it has. In general there will be a one-to-many relationship between Form (part) and Fit (attributes) respectively.

Form, Fit, and Function is a simple way to look at how we structure our products. It lends itself well to re-use of parts, but also for the re-use of work break down structures that are used in aerospace and defense.

Some companies are now working on constructing skeleton “Starter” or “Universal” BOMs that they re-use for each new product. The idea is to start with a generic BOM, and then add and delete to match the needs of a new product. The goal is for the company to have one universal BOM, or one for each unique product group.

This is a great idea in theory, but it’s not trivial to execute. To do this in your own company will likely take your engineering team, product management, and a consultant a year or more to find a structure that suits your needs. However, once this is done, the speed and re-use advantages should be significant. Hopefully, the Form, Fit, and Function BOM Framework will give you a simple way to think about it!

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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