May 222013
 

As we posted on Monday, Hiller Associates has a new article in IndustryWeek titled:

If Your Company Does Product Cost Reductions, It’s Already Too Late

Here’s the full re-print of the article:

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Refocusing product cost management efforts from cost reduction to cost avoidance is less comfortable but far more profitable.

Executive Summary

  • Product cost is the largest expense for manufacturing and the key to profit.
  • Companies today focus on reducing cost after start of production, rather than meeting their product cost targets initially at launch.
  • A pure cost avoidance strategy is far more profitable than a pure cost reduction strategy.
  • Product cost management teaches us that the most profitable strategy is a combined strategy of both avoidance and reduction, with the majority of resources focused on avoidance.
  • The combined strategy requires culture change and process design, before hiring people or buying software. It is challenging, but the added profit gains are worth the effort

Product cost, which is roughly equivalent to cost of goods sold on the income statement, is the biggest expense for manufacturing companies, typically 70% to 90% of revenue. You can see COGS as a percent of sales for a random sample of companies in the table below.Cost of Goods Sold Hiller Associates

Given the magnitude of product cost, one would think that manufacturing companies would have the process of controlling product cost down to a fine art. Sadly, this is not true, and meeting cost targets at start of production in most companies is black art with the predictability of the stock market.

In this article, we will talk about two different strategies that companies use to control product cost. Let’s call them “cost reduction” and “cost avoidance.”

Cost Reduction vs. Cost Avoidance

Figure 1 shows a graph of product cost over time in the product life cycle. In the cost reduction strategy, the company goes through product development putting little or no effort into controlling product cost. Cost increases as parts are designed and added to the bill of material. The product is almost assured to exceed its product cost targets at the start of production. After start of production, the cost reduction efforts begin in earnest through a variety of techniques, such as lean, value analysis/value engineering, purchasing demanding year over year cost reductions, etc.

Hiller Associates Cost_Avoidance vs Reduction

CLICK TO ENLARGE!

A cost avoidance strategy is exactly the opposite of cost reduction. In cost avoidance, a large amount of effort is spent as early as possible in product development to meet the product’s cost target at launch. However, post launch, little effort is spent on year-over-year savings.

On the graph, we have shown the extremes of the cost reduction vs. cost avoidance strategies. Most companies are doing something in between. However, on which strategy do you think most companies focus? It’s pretty obvious from the graph, correct? Most companies obviously are going to focus on cost avoidance, correct? Right?

Why people reduce cost instead of avoiding it

The sad truth is that most companies focus the majority of the resources they use for product cost control after launch, not before. Why is this? Many who have worked in product development have heard management and others disparage cost avoidance as “not real.” Cost reductions can easily be measured; cost avoidance cannot. For example, I was paying $10 and now I am paying $8. That’s tangible and real. But, if I say, I am paying $7 now, but had I not been careful in my design, sourcing, and manufacturing decisions, I likely would have paid $10, management considers that ephemeral.

This attitude of most management is detrimental to the company’s profit. Can you imagine living your personal lives like this? Let’s say you need to get cable TV service. Would you search around carefully and find the TV channel package you wanted for $60/month? Or, would you do the following: First, do minimal shopping around and take a package for $100/month. Then, a year later, you investigate to find the “low hanging fruit” of a new deal for $90/month. Another year later, you beat on your cable supplier to reduce the price to $80/month. Next year, the “easy wins” are gone, so you really work hard to find a deal for $70/month.

We don’t shop this way in our personal lives, but most companies manage cost in this way. They do it because accountants can measure reductions. Reductions are real. People get rewarded and promoted for reductions.

Why focusing solely on cost reductions doesn’t work

Looking at Figure 2, we can split the difference between the cost reduction line and the cost avoidance line into two parts. The first is the triangular region. Even if, after years of cost reduction efforts, we were able reduce cost to the point at which the cost avoidance line starts at launch, we have still failed. In has taken years to reduce cost, and that triangular region has a name: lost profit.

Cost Avoidance Maximum Profit vs. Cost Reduction Hiller Associates.

CLICK TO ENLARGE!

It is actually worse than this in reality. We will NEVER get down to the same price as the cost avoidance line. We know from the legendary DARPA study from the 1960s that the vast majority of product cost is “locked in” very early in product development. Products are systems, and it’s very hard to extract cost fully without changing the whole system. Furthermore, the cost of making the change is much higher, post launch. Per a 2010 Aberdeen’s study[i], engineering changes made after release to manufacturing cost 75% more than those made before release. These trapped costs that we cannot get out are shown in the rectangular region on Figure 2.

What’s the solution? Do both and flip the focus

So far in the article, we have been talking about a 100% cost reduction strategy vs. a 100% cost avoidance strategy. The field of product cost management would teach us to focus on what practically works and generates maximum profit. In this case, the solution is to do the following two things.

  1. Do BOTH cost avoidance and cost reduction– As shown by the orange line on the graph, the most profit can be made if you meet or come close to your product cost target at start of production and then focus some effort on reduction after launch. Realize that this means that management needs to expect LESS reduction each year in production (e.g. 1% to 2% a year, not 3% to 5% a year).
  2. Flip the focus of the majority of product cost management resources before production begins– Today 70% to 90% of product cost management resources are focused on reduction. Management needs to flip the focus so the majority of effort is on avoidance.

These improvements require cultural changes in how people are incentivized and motivated. Management needs to cast the vision, educate, and walk the walk. This also requires that companies have a solid process for product cost management. Most do not. A common pit that most companies fall into when attempting this transition is to focus first on hiring more resources or buying software tools, rather than first designing a process and starting cultural change. The right people are critical, and tools can greatly enable the process. However, if the cultural and process elements are not in place FIRST, the company will waste a lot of time and money in failed attempts at product cost management and re-starts to the effort.

These are not easy changes to make, but they are worth the effort.

Consider the table at the beginning of the article again. If your company has 80% cost of goods sold and 5% net margin, then reducing COGS to 79% means a 20% increase to profit! What do you think, managers and executives? Is 20% increase in profit worth the effort? We can ponder that question in another article.

In the meantime, the next time someone disparages cost “avoidance,” show them this article and tell them, “You call it ‘cost avoidance’; I call it maximizing profit.”

 

May 202013
 

In the last few weeks, there has been a hearty discussion on this blog about controlling costs before versus after a product launches.  This got us thinking about this situation, we thought that it could be plumbed to greater depth.

Therefore, Hiller Associates is proud to announce its latest article in IndustryWeek, entitled:

If Your Company Does Product Cost Reductions, It’s Already Too Late

If you would like to read the article, click the link above to go to IndustryWeek.com.  Later in the week, we will post the article, in it’s entirety, on this blog.

 

Feb 042013
 

People complain about the profitability of products, especially early in production, but how often do products actually miss their profitability at launch?

According to the latest research by Hiller Associates, most companies miss product cost targets.  We asked almost forty  people from a variety of corporate functions “How often do you meet or beat product cost targets at launch?”   The results follow the familiar 80/20 rule of many business phenomena.  On 17% of respondents said that their companies meet cost targets Often or Very Often.

Product Cost Results goals at launch Hiller Associates

CLICK TO ENLARGE

That is not an impressive showing.  We would not accept 17% as a pass completion percentage from a NFL quarterback.  That’s not even a good batting average in baseball.  So why do we put up with this in our companies?  It’s also interesting that almost the same percentage of respondents (15%) don’t know enough about product profitability to even guess how well their companies are doing.

Companies are understandably careful with releasing actual product profit numbers.  Still, it would be great to have a more in-depth academic study done, in which actual financials were analyzed to answer the same question.

Percent meeting product cost summary Hiller AssociatesHow often does your company meet its product cost targets?  Does anyone know in your company know? These are questions you cannot afford not to ask. Is your firm the 17%… or the 83%.  If you are in the 83%, consider starting or improving your efforts in Product Cost Management.

 

 

Nov 052012
 

 

Last week, Hiller Associates published an article in Tech-Clarity with the title:

PRODUCT COST MANAGEMENT AS A LINK BETWEEN ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS

Here’s an outline of the article:

  • Siemens PLM recently bought Perfect Costing Solutions from Tsetinis & Partner.  What does this mean?
  • To answer this, let’s first ask, what IS Product Cost Management and what does PCM software really “do”?
  • Now that we know what PCM software really does, who would value this in the Enterprise Software world?
  • There are look’s of possible categories of enterprise software that could value PCM software, but the most likely are PLM and ERP.
  • Product Cost Management software  is really a bridge linking the engineering language of physical things to the rest of the organization (purchasing, supply chain, finance, manufacturing, etc.) who primary speak the financial language of dollars.
  • If independent PCM software companies are not bought by a large PLM or ERP player, what are the other possible options for their future?

Here’s a teaser diagram from the article, just because who doesn’t like maps?

Product Cost Management Bridge from PLM to ERP Hiller Associates

Click to Enlarge! The position of PCM Software in the Enterprise World

 

My thanks to Jim Brown and Tech-Clarity for the publishing platform to discuss this subject – Eric Arno Hiller

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.

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