How to Handle Short Development Cycles

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I have always wanted to write and share my experiences with others, and now I have been fortunate enough to have a friend introduce me to this opportunity. I hope that it will help you be successful. Without all the great people I have worked with, I would not be in a career that I enjoy every day. My first few columns will focus on the challenges of short development cycles in the automotive industry. In this first column, I will introduce three concepts: developing relationships, delegating, and stopping mistakes, which can all help you survive the issues in short development cycles. Future columns will expand in detail on these three concepts and illustrate how to specifically realize the improvements.

Automotive is a segment that any market can learn from. In past years, we had a saying: “You can have cheap, on-time or high quality; pick two.” Going back five years, this was the response to short development cycles. In looking at the last two years, however, we have the reality of the short development cycle. Mix this with the recent recalls and safety issues, and it is now an unwritten requirement to deliver low cost, high quality and on time. It is not uncommon to go from idea to series production in only 14 months.

As a senior engineering manager responsible for electrical, software and mechanical engineering, I have run into many topics that created challenges for my team. In the end, the solutions for the many challenges were relatively simple and carried over to all other projects. Interestingly, the most effective solutions did not have any technical relation to the challenge—it was simply a change in process or culture. My focus is keeping it simple. The most elegant solutions to problems are often the simplest ones.

Concept 1: Develop Relationships

As companies grow, with more resources being added, the supplier relationship is often forgotten. Mix in turnover in an organization and soon, the relationship your company has no longer includes people—just transactions. As your company grows, never forget who helped you get there. Keep track of what makes a good supplier and ensure your organization is aware of this. When turnover occurs, take the time to introduce new resources to your suppliers so that they understand how they helped you grow. Make clear you expect them to continue to build on the relationship. All too often, competitively bidding erodes relationships. After all, it is the environment that we live in. As a company, you must involve your suppliers in the challenges you have as well as the risk you are trying to avoid. There is a positive way to competitively bid so that everyone wins. Good suppliers will adapt to changing environments with you. Do not make the mistake of taking the lowest price and forget that you need to invest in building the relationship.

Additionally, make sure you understand what role each supplier plays in your project. If we look to PCBs, your production supplier is not the critical supplier. At this stage you are sourcing something developed to a company that specializes in this. In design, your critical supplier is your prototype supplier. A good prototype supplier is essentially a team member. They help you to produce a solid design by working directly with your engineering resources. They can help you design in a way that avoids problems in production.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the September issue of The PCB Magazine, click here.


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