Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dysfunction Dilemma

I had a conversation with an engineer the other day where he was describing how his company, which made custom machines for people, did a poor job of defining what the customer wanted. They would finish building the machine and then the customer would reject it for some reasons. It turns out that the customer told the sales person, and the sales person may have told the engineering group. That's probably where the communication stopped.

It's sort of like the classic cartoon of designing the tire swing. What the customer described isn't what sales described, and so on, till what is delivered to the customer looks nothing like the tire swing in the first panel of the cartoon.

In this case, because the customer's wants weren't documented, as the build project progressed over the course of a year or two (in some companies, I've seen this happen within the space of a few weeks), the information gets lost and forgotten. If there isn't a good system for documenting this, then there is a potential for ignoring it or not remembering clearly what was wanted. Of course, I'm amazed that the customer remembers what they wanted after so much time...except that they have particular results that they're wanting the machine to fulfill.

There's other dysfunctions that may be occurring too. The level of integration between two organizational functions is important. The level of clear communication, awareness of providing the information in a way that's useful later, and the desire to have the whole organization succeed is extremely important. If people are playing the blame game, sales would say, "I passed on the customer 'wants'; it's engineering's fault that the customer didn't accept the machine and we have to pay for rework, modifications and repairs."

If that's going on in your company, you have dysfunction. If you don't take care of it, then you're faced with the dilemma of putting out the fires, or preventing them in the first place. Maybe you like being the white knight that solves the problems. Maybe you like the feeling that you're perfect and they're not. For whatever reason, if you're not fixing the problem, you must get some benefit from the letting the issues continue.

Make everyone's lives easier. Fix the communication gap.

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