Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Product Issues

A new product will never be perfect. It is so complex, that we have teams of people who's jobs it is to support production full time and deal with the long tail of issues and optimization. In other words, look at the picture below.

New Product Issues
I made this chart up based on my experience of a rough number of issues one might encounter in a large new product design and launch, and assuming that for every 10 issues solved, four new ones are created and the cycle time to solve an issue is 6 months. That is much longer than it takes to solve a typical issue, however, not all issues show up immediately, some require months of testing first. However this chart give a very good view of the challenges faced in designing and producing something. The point is, where do you draw the line and go to production?

When some companies meet their durability goals, that's it, they produce it as it is for the next decade without changing. However, as you look at the end of the long tail, those few remaining issues, you might not even know about yet. If companies knew what they were going to have to issue recalls for, they would change it before they launch the product, obviously. However, many other little issues often remain unsolved as cost compromises, things that fail just after the durability goals are met, or things that were not even tested before they were implemented in the final design. These issues are minor the vast majority of the time. They are the compromises that companies make to lower the cost of their product. I mean, if you want an invincible design, it will take a decade of testing, and cost far more than 99% of customers would be willing to pay. That being said, investing in quality is always a good investment because it increases customer loyalty when the product works well for a long time.

The challenge, for the leaders in such a program, is discerning as the program moves along with testing, how it is really doing. What problems are need to fix problems and what problems are nice to fix problems? For example, a car that receives a three star crash test rating out of five stars, is that good enough? If the battery life on an Apple Watch is only 18 hours, is that enough? Is it acceptable to use a new design without physical testing or virtual testing, just to go off of half a sheet of hand calculations done three months before going to production, because it is not feasible to make a prototype and test before production? These are all real discussions that have happened. Although you may never see it, and car companies often struggle to extol the benefits of the new model year car that looks exactly the same as the old model year, inside of those new model years are certainly little updates that improve the quality and reduce the cost. Every problem costs money to solve, which you could say creates the problem of too high of a cost.

The point being, the world could use more engineers. There is a lot of work to do, and as we solve progressively more complex problems, the future problems become even harder to solve, and thus we need more brain power.

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