I used to drive a taxi. I made a lot of money doing it. I learned very early on to never drive someone to their destination if it was a route they drove themselves, say to their home from the airport, or from their home to work or vice versa. Everyone prides themselves on driving the shortest route but they rarely do. Often people develop a route that is based on need -say going by the day care, or avoiding an intersection where they once had an accident or to avoid driving by an ex’s house or skirting road construction long since resolved- but as they become habituated to it, they fail to reorganize their strategy when their needs change. When I first started driving a cab, I drove the shortest route –always, I’m ethical- but people would accuse me of taking the long way because it wasn’t the way they drove. So, I learned to go their way ending up with a lot less grief and a lot more money. If you’ve ever wondered why a seeming professional cab driver will ask you how to get to your destination, this is why. Going your way means they’ll make more money and they won’t be accused of ripping you off. Not to say that in the beginning, I wasn’t stupid. I’d try to show the customer the route on a map but they’d usually be offended that I was contradicting them. It was to their house, if I’d never been there, how could I possibly know better than they did? In the end, experts they consider themselves to be, people are a tangle of unexamined emotional impulses and illogical responses.
All of this is a preamble to a yet another of my lectures. In the new year, you might want to consider an overhaul to your usual processes with a product review. A lot of this might sound like a whole lot of goobley-gook but a product review should be a fresh perspective on ways you’ve become habituated to working. Sometimes without realizing it, you’ve elevated a temporary workaround you needed to solve a temporary problem into a standard operating procedure. People don’t realize they do this. Besides, why would you? If it saved your butt before, why break something that’s working?
A product review is a structured analysis according to established criteria from an uninterested third party with no axe to grind. Ideally, these are conducted by someone or a team of somebodies who embody various perspectives. Such would include usability, durability (value), materials engineering, manufacturability, allocation (waste reduction) and industrial engineering (elimination of process waste). Like I said, people who are *most experienced* with their own product (the cab example) are often blinded by their own process.
Product reviews are big business, many consultants charge thousands of dollars and some I’ve seen done for apparel companies amount to a huge waste of money because the teams that have been hired don’t even specialize in apparel; few of these guys even know how to turn on a sewing machine. If you don’t have my book, you can’t read the example I wrote of in “The Big Dirty Secret” in which one consultant recommended solutions that cost over ten million dollars. The solution I recommended didn’t cost them a penny and saved them 20% of their sewing costs on every unit they put together and the final result looked better and was of higher quality.
This is the thing that no one understands: For most people at this level, a good product review will save you money. It should not cost you anything in equipment upgrades or whatever. A well targeted review will be pegged at your level, to get you to a higher level without incurring more costs. Of course suggestions should be provided as to how to invest those cost savings for future productivity increases. If someone is saying you need to spend X to get to Z, they are not truly appreciating the constraints of where you are, to get to where you need to be and more likely, have partnered with whatever business they’re recommending you spend money on to get their commission. It is precisely with smaller businesses that the greatest savings are realized.
There are several barriers for entrepreneurs to consider a product review. It’s kind of scary to hire someone to barbecue your product, you’re exposing all your foibles and courage is required to take that step. Then there’s the cost. Some consultancies charge thousands of dollars. I don’t recommend that. Most of you are best served by hiring a pattern maker with a lot of production experience. I can give you some referrals if you like. It could be this could be done via mail, email and phone. If you’re satisfied with the results, you might arrange a more in depth review by having the person visit your work place. I can’t imagine this would take more than a day’s time.
Sometimes people are held back by their investment and commitments to existing service providers who are ostensibly providing this sort of guidance. It’s hard to admit or question that someone you’ve relied upon to help you grow your business could actually be one of your biggest problems. It all seems so …well, disloyal. You have to learn to emotionally separate. Just because they helped you doesn’t mean they can’t learn a thing or two themselves and it doesn’t mean they don’t make errors -often at your expense. I was appalled to see one of our DEs had a photo of her garment on her website made by a pattern maker that was so bad that I wouldn’t have dared to show it to the client, much less allow photos to be taken of it for marketing and selling purposes. Not coincidentally, my estimation of that pattern maker was diminished quite a bit. Just because a client doesn’t know any better, it’s a matter of ethics and integrity to keep their interests first, even if it means you lose money on the job.
Sometimes owners are held back by someone I call an “investment employee” and for intangible reasons, can’t break from it. When I’ve consulted with companies, one of my first steps is to ask who’s been working there the longest and I follow the process to see their influence on the enterprise. Often, through loyalty, they’ve been promoted to their level of incompetence and they’re gumming up the works. At one plant I worked at, the investment employee was put in the least obtrusive position possible -sweeping floors- (management was long wary so kudos for that) but she still had the freedom to go about from station to station to prattle, distracting people (moi) from their tasks of concentration.
At another company (the same one above with the ten million dollar consultant), their investment employee was again, their first employee, a sample maker. Now don’t misread me. She was fastidious but too much so. I don’t mean a crappier stitcher was needed but this woman was a very nervous person and she was terrified at the prospect of moving up to an industrial machine. She resented it. Remind me sometime to rant about how people’s emotional health cause havoc in the workplace. She was an abused woman governed by fear. I felt so bad for her. But anyway, this company was doing 50 million in sales and their big hold up was their one sample maker who sewed on a home sewing machine. As a consultant, you can’t be stupid. Her job meant everything to her, having such a lousy home life, it was the only joy she had. My suggestion was to get her out of the situation and transfer her to another function. It ended up working okay. Officially, they got her an apartment, lent her money for a car and a new start and paid for an attorney to represent her. Unofficially, the corporate body of the company and select spousal units went to visit the stitcher’s husband with baseball bats and shotguns prominently displayed in pick up truck gun racks. And no I’m not kidding, you can still do this in a small Texas town, especially if you bring an off duty Sheriff along with you when you make your social call. The stitcher was moved into a newly created position as supervisor of quality control where she was better suited, and they got two new industrial machines and two new sample makers they’d needed.
Anyway, other than my proclivity for telling stories of people I’ve worked with -small companies are so much more interesting than large ones- you might consider giving your product and process over to someone for a look-see in the new year. Consider a product review. If there’s sufficient interest, I can draw up a list of things you should consider in both simple and more comprehensive reviews.