Looking at outside help for things that (a) are outside of our core competencies or (b) something we simply don’t want to do is pretty commonplace in our personal lives. Think lawn care, snow removal, or pretty much all handyman jobs. In business however this seemingly simple idea is often presented in the garb of heavy sounding jargon like “make or buy” or “strategic outsourcing” decisions.
That said, although it sounds very simple, and probably doesn’t warrant too much deliberation in our personal lives, the same thing has far reaching consequences for a business. So, it’s not for nothing that decisions like these, keep executives awake at night. Ever wondered why? Put very simply, it’s because any executive or decision maker worth their salt knows that they need to get their house in order first before letting others in to help them with whatever they need help with. Especially, if that “something” involves engineering product development. Again, ever wondered why? One, engineering is complicated and collaboration is difficult to begin with. And, two, your company’s future could depend on it! Too dramatic? I don’t think so. Read on.
When you seek and engage an outside partner to help with your engineering, most companies pitch you on the fact that they will act like an “extension of your internal team”. But in reality, they are an outside company helping you out. Period. They don’t know your products or your processes as well as you do. I don’t care what they sell you on, these are the hard facts. So, it’s imperative that you have your internal processes strong enough to share with an outside firm. In the absence of strong internal processes, the presence of an outside firm will simply complicate things and is a sure recipe for disaster.
Besides getting your engineering processes in order, it is important to have and document design best practices or standards. Without that, there is no benchmark for you to compare their work with. And before you know, your internal teams will spend a lot more time than you might have anticipated in correcting the work that has been delivered.
In the clamor for focusing on engineering processes, design standards and best practices, what is often lost is the need to get your communication infrastructure in order. It doesn’t matter whether your engineering partner is 20 or 2000 miles away. Communication (or lack thereof) often is the sole reason that makes or breaks an engagement. Having a strong communication infrastructure, either via proprietary or commercial tools, is not only important for a collaborative engineering/design project but also key for stakeholders to be on top of projects. Engagements that are based on throw-it-over-the-wall mentality hardly ever succeed. All stakeholders need to be able to have completely visibility and control over all the projects, be able to prioritize tasks as required and communicate with people directly involved in the project.
There is also another reason why it makes sense to get our house in order first before getting outside help. It’s the same reason you brush your teeth before visiting the dentist for teeth cleaning or do some cursory level of cleaning before the cleaning lady shows up next time lest your house should look like a war zone. It’s called embarrassment. Enough said.
So, if we all go away remembering just one thing from this article, it should be this. Always get your s** together before seeking outside help. In your personal life or in business. Without that, you only help exacerbate the problem. And worse still, embarrass yourself.