Monday, February 7, 2011

Two Minutes, $1000 and a Car

I often joke that the longest 40 minutes of my day happens while I'm battling the elliptical.  The last two minutes can be like watching paint dry and sometimes, I jump off and create excuses like, "Well I'm walking a mile to meet someone so that will make up for it."  Or I'll say, "Two minutes are nothing in the grand scheme of things."  Or I'll utter this ridiculous gem, "I'll eat a little less today."

It's easy to say the two minutes mean nothing.  But they do mean something.  How willing am I to comply with an exercise schedule that I've set for myself?  If I slack off on these last two minutes regularly, how much does that tendency to slack off affect the overall intensity of the workout?  Does the "good enough" attitude I sometimes have influence the decision to blow off exercising all together?  Does this lackadaisical view of exercise affect how much and what it is I eat?  

When I slack off the pounds come back on.  And it's hard to make them melt away again.  And I end up regretting every minute lost and calorie gained.  It's like torture.

Similarly, what happens when we slack off professionally?  What happens if we don't give our products and our customers our very best?  What happens if we're not willing to be completely thorough in everything we do?  What's the expense if I don't give them my very best but instead say good enough?  What if I set a per unit cost in advance and don't deviate from it when good, quality design costs more than my set per unit cost? 

Thankfully, we don't have to have a theoretical discussion about this.  Thanks to this lovely tidbit I found, we can get a true sizing of financial risk and cost when we're not thorough in product development.  For every $1 spent making sure requirements are error free:
  • You spend $1 making sure everyone has a clear understanding of said requirements; Or
  • You could wait until development has begun and waste $10 if what's been built in early stages doesn't match requirements; Or
  • Stay silent and wait to pay attention at QA phase - for that level of care, you're spending $100; Or
  • Just wait to see if anyone notices after it's released for your customers.  That level of care is $1000 expense.  
Rather expensive.  And it really gives one pause about our commitment to good design as well as thorough attention to detail in the beginning, middle and end of the development process.

Let's talk about the Ford Pinto.  Developed during a time in which Ford was worried about Japanese automakers, it's production mandate was that it couldn't have a retail cost that exceeded $2000.  Trouble was that during design and production testing, it became clear that if you rear ended one of these cars at 30 miles an hour, chances were good that the gas tank would go up in flames and the percentage went up at 40 miles an hour.  Look at this federal crash test:

But they went ahead with production because, according to their cost benefit analysis math, it was cheaper to pay damages to victims than it was to go back to design mode and install a piece that would minimize the risk of catastrophe -- $49.5MM (their payout to victims) versus $137MM (their cost to make the change).

Two famous cases marked the beginning of the end: a California case which awarded victims of a Pinto crash $125MM (later reduced to $3.5MM) and the Indiana case which tried Ford for homicide because documents showed that Ford was aware of defect (later acquitted).  Ford recalled some 1.5MM cars but it went out of production after numerous other suits were filed.

Tbere are numerous other bad product design/development examples: Ford Explorer and Bridgetstone tires, Toyota Camry brake failures, etc.  I wonder when we will realize that it's cheaper to start from the beginning than to "take our chances" in production.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

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