Situation: The CEO of a company has a problem. Quality control is an essential part of the company’s success, but ownership of quality control issues is proving difficult. When more than one department is involved, each blames the other for issues or deficiencies. Who owns quality control?
Advice from the CEOs:
At the end of the day the project owner must own this responsibility. This individual can delegate work but not accountability.
QC must be embedded within the company’s systems. In addition, someone has to walk in daily to ask what is wrong with this project? What can be done better? A skeptic.
Put a skeptic in the QC role – the job is to find what’s wrong, not what’s right – a tactical skeptic.
Skeptics are ideal for design reviews.
It isn’t necessary to hire someone for this role if there’s already a productive skeptic on staff.
This person needs to be vocal and will irritate some of the other staff. Coach staff to tolerate this, because the individual is performing an essential role.
It’s impossible to check everything. However, as issues are identified, everything can be documented.
As systems are reviewed, look for patterns of problems.
Develop solutions as problems are identified.
Log issues and solutions on a shared server to facilitate access by project managers.
Institute cross-functional design reviews – representatives from different functions offer different perspectives. Formalize design reviews in the early and start-up stages of projects.
Work on company culture – build anticipation of challenges into the culture.
Build a heuristic of the output of each program. Use this to make sure that inputs, filters and system checks will produce the desired output and the desired level of quality.
Ask: where is QC currently working within the company? Why is it working?
Operations and testers catch the errors.
The issue is distributing the knowledge gained. In complex systems nobody understands the full picture or the impact on the customer.
This becomes the responsibility of the project owner.
Situation: A company has built a strong prototype line capable of handling projected volume for the near-term as they scale up production. Their long-term plan is a fabless model through manufacturing partners. They have solid IP counsel and protection. What are the most critical elements of scale-up? How do you generate scalable manufacturing?
Advice from the CEOs:
The answer will depend on the product strategy, if the near-term focus is on quick tactical wins.
The most critical elements of the scale-up will be:
The planned speed of the scale-up. A tactical approach, which will make limited demands on production near-term supports a prudent scale-up plan.
Having the right business development talent to generate quick wins with smaller volume opportunities to feed the scale-up.
When you are ready for larger volume – and your scale-up capacity can support this – hire an experienced sales professional who is known in the industry and who can bring you some relatively quick higher volume contracts.
Que near-term contracts according to the sales cycle.
Design cycle – build awareness of your capacity among significant market players and focus on quick turn-around to respond to their demand.
Qualification cycle will be longer, perhaps 6 months. As your brand awareness builds push for qualification orders which will be larger, but still within near-term capacity.
Focus business development efforts on building strong awareness across your target companies. Some companies tend to limit early knowledge of vendor capabilities between their divisions until they have confidence in the vendor’s ability to deliver. Optimize customer awareness by:
Cultivating business partners who can facilitate a high-level approach within your target customer companies.
Start creating a small forum of industry savvy individuals who can become your champions. Leverage this forum to spread your message and bring you opportunities.
Situation: A company has clients who are interested in projects for which the company’s partners already have partial designs. There is an opportunity to leverage these partial designs into development of full solutions for their clients. How should the company approach this in a way that satisfies their customers and is fair to their partners? How do you set up co-development partnerships?
Advice from the CEOs:
Given this opportunity it is no longer important who performed what part of the development. As long as your partners have quoted you what they believe to be a fair price for their development pieces, you are free to accept their price, complete development to your clients’ specifications, and sell the full solution to the client at market prices.
What you bring to the table is the opportunity to rapidly monetize the technology. This is something that your partners can’t do, so by filling this role you are acting in the interest of all parties.
What you charge for your work and the full solution depends on the potential value to the client. Time is money, and delivery now is worth a premium price to a client who needs your solution and wants to release their product as soon as possible.
This strategy is particularly applicable to early stage companies who need to release their initial products and start generating revenue.
Take a note from Bill Gates – sell the product for a good price and then buy or acquire the supply.
Situation: A company faces a question branding a new product – what should lead the branding focus: product design or product attributes that will be an eventual part of the branding strategy? Which should lead in building brand focus?
Advice from the CEOs:
There are two areas of focus – each an important part of the overall trademark and branding strategy:
A distinct name or symbol, for example Amazon.com or eBay, will gain the right kind of attention and be easy for potential customers to remember. The prime risk here is stepping on someone else’s mark.
Your overall branding strategy. The point here is not confusing your customers. Marketing people will advise you to KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid! One tack is simplifying the complexity of technology.
It is important to develop a consistent set of product attributes – one that you know through research will resonate with your client base – before your Alpha launch. It is dangerous to conduct an Alpha launch without clarity on this point. Subtleties of the eventual brand do not need to be finalized, but the overall framework of key product attributes should be consistent and clear from the beginning.
Design and the development of important product attributes ideally take place in synch with each other. Positioning will depend on your audience, and the unique needs and expectations of the audience.
The name itself could be important. Being clear and easy to spell may be important. Test alternative names for this trait.
Situation: A company has two businesses in different locations serving different sets of customers in two separate markets. The CEO is evaluating whether it makes more sense to have one umbrella web site with pages for each of the two businesses, or to create two complete web sites with different URLs. How many web sites should a small business have, and why?
Advice from the CEOs:
The first question is whether you call both businesses the same or different names. Many small companies have separate businesses at different sites, and just differentiate the businesses through division names. Moreover, because you use the same company name for both businesses, you want to make it easy for customers to find your web sites. This argues for at least a single splash page, listed under your current company URL.
There are many corporations with diverse, unrelated businesses. Generally, these corporations don’t have any problem having a general web site, with separate links to the individual division web sites where customers and partners can drill down to detail specific to each division. The advantage to this strategy is that by having one corporate site, the larger entity strengthens its own market presence.
Given that the advice of the group is to have a single splash page how do you construct it?
You want to prominently feature your company name on the splash page, but not to include much detail. Maybe just an overall positioning message that expresses your core values or a distinctive visual that shows what you do.
On the splash page, create two links with distinctive pictures and names that enable your customer to easily go to the side of your business that interests them.
Situation: A company is rapidly expanding and is considering the pros and cons of domestic versus off-shore expansion. One of the appeals of off-shore expansion is the availability of good talent at lower costs overseas. However there are appealing counterarguments for domestic expansion. What is your experience, and how would you advise this CEO?
Advice from the CEOs:
This is a challenging question. Based on others’ experience, success off-shoring depends on your ability to be disciplined and rigid in your design specs. If this is the case, then off-shoring can work. However, if either you or the partner changes the spec then delays and difficulties result. You have to make sure that the off-shore labor force possesses the skills that you require to successfully complete your projects and that your specs are sufficiently detailed to overcome challenges of language and understanding of usability.
Tightly specify each job that you want to have done off-shore, and develop performance metrics so that shortfalls will become obvious quickly.
Some large technology companies operate off-shore centers not to save costs, but because they actually find better talent overseas. India and China are producing excellent engineers, and given the size of the populations, the top percentile of talent can product a large number of talented people.
Some companies contract through off-shore entities, and tightly integrate the work of off-shore and domestic engineers. This is a perk for the off-shore engineers and helps to produce value.
One large company sends US Indian employees to India for 2-years stints to oversee their Indian operations.
Maintain strict hiring policies for your off-shore operations. Some companies have encountered difficulties when the managers of off-shore entities hired relatives because of family ties as opposed to talent or qualifications.
Over the past five years, the differential in pay for off-shore and domestic talent has shrunk. A large number of companies have found that domestic talent is easier to manage and in many cases is more productive. Further, there are no language challenges and time zone differences make working with domestic talent easier.
Key Words: Expansion, Domestic, Off-shore, Talent, Cost, Design, Spec, Skills, Integration, Hiring, Policy, Language, Time Zone