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 Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 1/6/2005

This is your monthly e-Newsletter from
Effective Engineering Consulting Services (www.effectiveeng.com).  If you would like to receive Effective Engineering e-newsletters as they are published, please send an email to e-newsletter@effectiveeng.com, and we will add you to our distribution list.  Comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged!


Sustaining Engineering: The Care & Feeding of What You’ve Got
  By Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [tdennis@effectiveeng.com]

You’ve finished the long development process.  You’ve released your product to the market, and it is well received.  You’ve delivered quality in your product that you and all involved can be proud of.  Congratulations!  So, are you now done?  Can you move on to other projects and put this one behind you?  Well … no!  If you expect that once your product is released that you can wash your hands of it, you’re simply not facing reality.  There is much more that will need to be done to support and sustain this product, and you need to understand this up front, so you can plan for the ongoing sustaining engineering effort that will be required for this, or any, product.

When your product gets released, unless it is a software product, it will typically be released to manufacturing.  Now manufacturing may be internal to the company, or may be outsourced to an external manufacturing facility.  Regardless, they will need to take your beautiful design and turn it into a manufacturable product.  This means that they must thoroughly understand all of the elements of the product, how each element will be built, how they will go together as an assembled product, how they will be tested, both individually and together as an assembled product, how the product will be programmed (assuming it contains firmware or software), how the product will be packaged, how the product will be shipped, and more.  If you think you can throw your product documentation over the wall to manufacturing and a perfect product will come out the other end, think again.  The manufacturing folks will have questions, and you’re the only one who can answer those questions.  Be prepared to spend time working with manufacturing engineers and other manufacturing personnel to answer their questions.  Ideally, you will have been working with them throughout the development process, so that design for manufacturability and assembly has been incorporated from the outset.  Even if this is the case, you will still need to be involved in getting the product through manufacturing and out the door.  Further, even after the product has been shipping for some time, things change in manufacturing that will require your involvement.  Parts may be discontinued, firmware changes may be required, new interfaces may need to be added, etc.  Remember, you own the product from cradle to grave; it’s your baby!

Next, simply because you have released your product, and you know it is a thing of beauty, this does not mean that the world will beat a path to your door.  The world needs to understand what the product is, why it’s a thing of beauty, and how it will make their lives immensely better.  Marketing and Sales will handle some of this, and Education and Training will handle more.  But guess what?  Who trains Marketing, Sales, Education, and Training?  Why, you do!  Depending upon their involvement throughout the development process, the amount of effort that you’ll need to put in will vary, but clearly no one understands your product better than you do, and in order for the product to be positioned properly, to be presented properly, to be explained properly, and to be used properly, you will need to be involved to ensure these tasks are handled properly and that the product has the best opportunity to get launched successfully.  Then, if things go well, the world may well beat a path to your door, and your company will reach its key goal – to make money! (see eN-030522 – Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!”).

Once customers begin using your product, problems will arise.  Some may be due to “cockpit” problems where the customer simply isn’t using the product the way it’s supposed to be used; once properly explained, these problems often go away.  Other problems may be due to customers using the product in a way that’s perfectly reasonable, but was just not a way that you had considered in developing the product; here you have to see if you can find ways to support the customer usage within the existing capabilities of the product.  Yet other problems may be due to the product simply not functioning the way it is supposed to; here you need to dig in to find the root cause of the problem and what needs to be done to fix it.  Sometimes, a simple fix will get the customer going again.  Other times, firmware or software can be updated to correct the problems.  Other problems may require design changes that may ripple through hardware, software, and physical design changes.  The only thing you can be sure of is that problems will arise, and, while different levels of technical support may be able to handle some of the problems, at some point you will need to get involved.  The fact that you are now deeply involved in the next exciting project does not eliminate your responsibility for the performance of your already existing products.  Again, you own them, at some level, from cradle to grave.

Assuming your product is a success, improvements and enhancements to your products will be requested or even demanded.  Customers will like what your product does, but it would be so much more useful if it also did something else, or did what it does in a slightly different way.  You want to satisfy your customers, particularly larger customers who are willing to commit to buying more product, but only if you can satisfy their most pressing needs.  In the software world, this is why Release 1.0 goes to 2.0 goes to 3.0, etc.  You, as the father/mother of this product, need to be involved in defining and perhaps in developing these improvements and enhancements.  You know the architecture, the capabilities, and the limitations of the design.  You can most quickly assess what can or cannot be done, and the various ways to approach the improvements and enhancements.  Sometimes these needs arise shortly after the product has been released, when the design is fresh in your mind.  Other times, these needs may arise long after product release and after you’ve been involved in numerous other projects, and your memory of this particular product is fading.  Nevertheless, you need to dig back into your memory banks to do what’s required to address the customer need.

If the product is really successful, it may lead to building an entire product family around your product.  In such a case, you may build an entire career around your original product concept.  This can be a good to great thing for both you and your company.  In any event, your involvement will be required.

The bottom line is that the initial launch of a product is not the end, from a developer’s perspective, but the beginning of a product’s life.  The product will need to be cared for and fed and nurtured throughout its lifetime.  New product developments must clearly continue and are essential to a company’s ongoing success.  However, the sustaining engineering effort required for existing products should not be underestimated, and must be included in any planning efforts

Copyright © 2005  Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved 

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