10 Years – 10 Biggest Mistakes – Part 1

2008 marked our 10 year anniversary as a company, with all the appropriate celebrations. I also recently noticed another milestone at Key Tech…our 100th client.

Thinking about these two milestones, I found myself strolling down memory lane. As a company, we’ve done lots of things right…and we’ve had our share of really phenomenal screw ups. One the things we recognized early was the value of our mistakes. We didn’t try to hide them, bury them away or ignore them. We put a spotlight on them…not to embarrass or deride, but to leverage a bad thing into something that made us stronger. We collect and document them in a database and regularly make presentations to the company with the message of ‘here is how bad this hurt me…don’t let it happen to you’. Call us weird (and we are), but our engineers really value and appreciate this.

In tribute to our 10 year anniversary, I thought others outside of Key Tech might like to hear some of our more colorful screw ups. So I put together a four-part series of what I think are some of our best. I hope you find something of value.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – John Powell

  1. Keep Critical Members of the Design Team Involved Through Production – We were working on a project for an outside client that had a host of small complicated parts that were going to be injection molded in multi-cavity tools. We had just finished a successful demonstration to management of some one-off prototypes and were starting discussions with the client’s manufacturing people regarding design for manufacturing (DFM). The client’s management team was happy and decided to accelerate the turnover of the design from our external design team to their internal manufacturing group, thus ending our involvement in the project sooner than anticipated. We had formal design reviews and test reports, drawing packages and turnover meetings, but ultimately there are always details that are hard to capture and communicate. After our involvement ended, there were problems with the ramp up, which lead to cost and schedule problems. Ultimately, it reflected poorly on us.

    The lesson we learned is that critical personnel from the design team (whether internal or external) need to stay involved and be accountable through prototyping, design for manufacture, ramp-up, and even into production. The design team needs to know they aren’t done until the production manager is happy.

  2. Manage Expectations and Bad News – Despite the efforts of the best design teams, there will be surprises and bad news during new product development, including a development schedule that sometimes slips. Don’t try to compensate or hide it when it happens. Nobody wants to report bad news, since we feel it reflects poorly on us. Sometimes, we try to sugar coat it or solve the problems off-line or, worse yet, just hope for the best… that the problems will eventually be resolved, that development costs will magically come back down, or the schedule will somehow find a missing four weeks. Rather than resolving, the problems more typically snowball. The younger engineers and PMs are particularly vulnerable to this mistake, but I will admit to falling prey as well.

    Problems will happen…and are even expected to happen. Manage expectations and communicate problems as soon as they manifest themselves. It will be appreciated by everyone.

Remember, this is just the first part of a four-part series. Check back later for more on the topic.

Brian Lipford


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