Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate!

In the movie Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman plays a convict in constant trouble. At one point the warden says to Luke, “What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate!” Trouble continues until the climax when Luke runs and is cornered in a church. He leans out the window and mockingly yells to the warden, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!”, quickly followed by a guard putting a bullet through Luke’s throat. In the corporate world, a failure to communicate is a very common problem, and often results in drastic actions. In this world, however, a bullet through the throat is, thankfully, not a common outcome.

When most projects begin there is great hope and promise for all involved. A terrific product has been defined, complete product requirements have been written (he said optimistically), a thorough project plan has been put in place (also optimistically), and all parties have signed up to deliver what is necessary to successfully bring this wonderful product to market. There is a strong degree of trust among all the many parties from multiple organizations, including product development, product management, sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, senior management, etc (see Does Everyone Really Understand?). All the world is in harmony! J It is virtually impossible for things to be much better from this starting point, so there is really only one direction that things can go – downhill. Along the way, problems will arise, eroding trust and straining relationships (see Trust Me - I'm Not Like The Others!).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Do Your Customers Really Want?

It is critical that your company deliver what your customers really want. But how do you know what the customer really wants?

Most people are familiar with the cartoon on the left showing a tire swing in its various realizations thorough the design process by various groups within a company, versus what the customer really wanted. It is all too easy for the customer’s needs to be subsumed by the desires of others within a company who interpret the customer needs through their own prism. What you often end up with is not what the customer wanted at all.

In sales-driven companies, product requirements often reflect a shopper’s mentality. Sales people see what customers are asking for today, that other companies are already providing, and say that’s what their customers want. This is really like driving by looking only through the rear-view mirror. You see where you’ve been, but have no idea of where you’re going, or should be going. When you deliver what sales has requested, not only is the customer disappointed, because they have already been able to get that product from others for some time, but by the time it’s delivered the sales people themselves are disappointed, because the view through the rear-view mirror has changed by then, and what they asked for is no longer what they want now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!

If you ask a typical engineer, “What is THE GOAL of the company?”, you’ll typically get answers like, “to build the best product”, or “to beat our competitors”, or “to be the best”, or something of the like. If you ask someone in marketing the same question, you typically get answers like, “to provide the best value to our customers”, or “to provide the best product at a great price”, or “to win”. Ask some more idealistic employees and you may get responses like, “to help serve the community”, or “to build environmentally friendly products”. Ask yet others and you’ll generally get similar types of responses. While all of these answers may well be desirable, they are not THE GOAL. Achieving THE GOAL may enable these to happen, but unless THE GOAL is achieved, these other outcomes are really meaningless. What, then, is THE GOAL? 

   THE GOAL of any company IS TO MAKE MONEY! 

If your company doesn’t make money, then, over the long run, you can’t build the best product, you can’t beat your competitors, you can’t be the best, you can’t provide the best value, etc. If you don’t make money, your company won’t be around long enough to achieve any of these outcomes. Instead, your company's doors will get padlocked, and all of your company's employees will find themselves without jobs. This simple fact of life, that a company must make a profit, is, sadly, not obvious to a lot of people. Nor is how they can have an impact on making this happen.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Take the Time to Think!

Things are crazy at work. People are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They’re running in every direction with no semblance of purpose or foresight or understanding. The big picture is unclear; even the little picture is unclear! No one seems to have a clue. They just want something done! Many of the ‘leaders’ in the company appear to be equally confused, and are spouting out directives that are not well thought out and even contradictory, and these just add to the confusion. Their antics are disappointing and undermine confidence in the management team of the company. People are looking to you, as a person with some level of authority who is viewed with respect, demanding that you do something, anything, and do it now! 

What do you do? Adding to the confusion with ill-informed conjecture or unthinking 'actions' will only add to the chaos (see Like Trying to Change Tires On a Fast Moving Car!). The level of respect you have earned did not come by jumping to conclusions without understanding. You need to take the time to think before you act – to gather information, to analyze rationally, to comprehend, to understand – and only then to act responsibly, and not foolishly.

It’s your job to be an island of stability in an ocean of uncertainty. Before reacting, step back, block out all the craziness and distraction, clear your head, and think clearly. There is more than enough unclear thinking going on, enough reaction without any understanding, enough action without planning. Someone has to separate the wheat from the chaff; the important from the minutiae (see also Stop Picking the Flyshit Out of the Pepper!). Someone needs to develop and propose a thoughtful plan of action that recognizes what needs to be done, understands the potential consequences, and proposes a reasonable path to achieve the goal. It’s your job to be that person!

So how do you go about this? How do you ensure that you’ve thought things through carefully but expeditiously; that you’ve taken the right amount of time to think? Different people approach this process in different ways. There is not one right way to approach this, but there are many wrong ways.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Doing Things Right vs. Doing Things Over

How is it that, time after time, people seem to believe they don’t have the time to do things right the first time, yet they will later make the time, usually at the cost of delaying a critical project, to do things over? The reality is that taking the time to do things right the first time will virtually always, in the long run, take significantly less time and result in a higher quality product than it does to do things over. By not doing things right the first time, you will not only inconvenience yourself (and look bad in the eyes of almost everyone), but you will greatly inconvenience and severely disrupt the lives of many others as well.  

Why do people make this mistake in the first place? Clearly they don’t set out intending not to do things right.  They begin with only the very best of intentions, to do their jobs to the best of their abilities in the very best ways possible. They will even often say to themselves, “this time I’ll do it right the first time and not get caught up in downstream problems.” What changes that idealistic desire? Pressure from a variety of sources is typically the cause. Such pressure will often cause people to take “shortcuts”, or “force” them to get “something” out quickly that can be “refined” later. We will examine the sources of pressure and how you can best stand up to these pressures.