Organizational Sustentation 53: Engineering

Engineering designs the products that represent a product-based company’s life-blood, as they generate the cash necessary for operations. No company exists without revenue (NO Sale, NO Store), and revenue only comes from the sale of products or services. And those have to be designed by someone, and that someone is typically an engineer. And while Engineers are the top talent in the company, as well as the best educated talent, they can also be stubborn rigid perfectionists.

As per our damnation post, each engineer has a process, a design, a set of approved raw materials, and that is the process, the design, and the set of approved raw materials. Trying to convince them that there is another process, alternate design, or other raw material that could be useable is like trying to force molasses to flow up a glacier, as this would mean that they would have to accept that there are better processes, designs, and raw materials, and that they exist today (despite the engineer’s expensive research and experience).

And even if they are willing to accept there are better processes, design, and approved raw materials — they are perfectionists. The cost model might say that 98% reliability is good enough because, in practice, only 1% of units will break down before the warranty period expires and the cost of flat out replacement will have little impact on profit margin, but Engineering will say otherwise. They will insist on the supplier with 99% reliability even with a 30% cost increase because a good engineer makes the best product they can make, cost be damned.

So how do you deal with this damnation so Procurement can achieve some sustentation? Education.

The first thing you need to educate is that reliability is not the number one concern, safety is. If a laptop, music player, TV, etc. stops working, it doesn’t harm anyone. The buyer might be annoyed, but if you immediately rush out a brand new replacement, the buyer won’t be annoyed for long. As long as the product doesn’t short out and electrocute the user, there’s no issue with a little less reliability.

The second thing you need to educate them is that sustainability trumps supplier longevity. A company has to plan for the future, not rest on past laurels, especially if those past laurels are suppliers that have never been questioned. While every supplier was likely a great choice for one reason or another at the time the supplier was selected, the supplier might not be such a great choice today. All suppliers have to be reviewed at one point in time, and if there are more sustainable suppliers, they have to be investigated.

The third thing you need to do is educate them that you can help them identify suppliers that could have better processes, designs, or raw material formulations and save them a lot of time searching for new alternatives, as you will be scouring the market on their behalf and only bringing them suppliers that might truly have a better, or different, option. As the gate-keeper, you will save them a lot of time.

Engineers are your best allies – they are educated, rational, and want to do the right thing for the organization, like you. So show them how you can help, and be willing to listen (and learn) from them, and you will be able to overcome this organizational damnation.