AFC: Surviving Transitions

I thought about what would be important to write about this week and it came to me that the changes in a company are so important to understand. Many companies get stuck in one mode or another, particularly if they are successful up to that point.

I want to start this with the state that I found Hardware Engineering when I arrived. I joke that it seemed that every card in the system was in CAD when I got there. Even the little board that simply connected the craft terminal to the system. This really was a triumph of philosophy. The Hardware Engineering group was built for with "Time to Prototype" as the metric. Anything that saved even hours was implemented. It created a development flexibility to respond to issues that was unmatched.

My problem was that nothing was "Done". Now developments will be never be done, but they can be stable for an extended period of time. To me "Done" is a binary state and those who know me have heard me joke about this before. I used to argue with my son about his homework. I would ask if his homework was done. He would say it was almost done. I told him there is is done and not done. Almost done is not done. And that was the state of most of the hardware. But if you are optimizing prototype efficiency this is not an issue.

But at the time, AFC was doing around $80M a quarter in revenue. Greg Steele and I made an agreement that we would we move the philosophy was going to be "Time to Profitable Volume". What this meant is that products would get into production and not change. That the yields that they made were high and field returns were low.

This was a big change for the team and many people resisted it. It meant that our schedules stretched from what people expected. The good news was that over time the Engineers saw that they could quit going back to things that they had already worked on. We could then spend our time on new designs or cost reductions. That made Engineering more top and bottom line productive. This transition took about 12 months and was my focus.

What is important here is not the actual change. What is important is that we were able to recognize that the situation of the company had changed and made the old system obsolete. The old system was good and produced great results. This was especially true during the true startup days of AFC. But a mid-sized company can not operate like a startup. Systems and People have to evolve to meet the new needs of the company.

This is a natural process in a business defined by something called the Sigmoid Curve which is also called the Business Lifecycle. People need to understand where they are on the Lifecycle and figure out what they need to do to move forward. If you are stuck, give me a call.

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
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