Investment. Yes, it’s just one word but one that keeps company owners and management up all night. Especially, when the economy is picking up and companies are positioning themselves for growth. Should we invest now? Should we hold back in case things go south?
Companies often hold back on their engineering investments to constantly align themselves with the ebb and flow of the economy and to cut costs. That seems like the most obvious thing to do. While this may seem prudent in the near term, an unfortunate effect of this in the long term is that companies become reactive and stop innovating. A company content with maintaining status quo almost exclusively focuses on solving immediate problems. Unfortunately, this mindset causes more harm than good and has significant impact on its productivity and capacity to innovate.
As companies become reactive, it no longer spends time updating standards and documentation for evolving processes, validating designs to reduce downstream incompatibilities or standardizing designs for reuse. Productivity loss shows up in a number of ways including, increased time needed to go from concept to prototyping, increased number of physical prototypes and increased cost of sustaining engineering and support services due to product defects.
Innovation slows down as well because companies do not have sufficient time or funding to invest in creative projects. Competitive benchmarking, brainstorming for new ideas, communicating with customers and other such activities that foster innovation, no longer get done.
It’s always a challenge for companies to balance their productivity and innovation needs with budget constraints. One solution is to work with a partner that can bring processes, tools, best practices and experienced engineering knowledge and resources to take on tasks that will quickly increase the internal team's productivity, and free it to focus on innovation. It’s imperative for companies to do some housekeeping periodically and get a measure of chores and seemingly non-productive work to offload to an engineering partner and focus on innovation. That is how smart companies prepare themselves for explosive growth.
The challenge of course is that this needs to be done in a cost-effective manner with local oversight so that it fits the budget, while not compromising on visibility and accountability of your engineering project. Companies must also invest in reliable internet-based tools to monitor engineering projects and ensure timely delivery, especially in an age of collaborative product development using globally dispersed teams.
But all things considered, there’s no denying that if done right, companies can increase their productivity and accelerate innovation manifold by making the right investments. Even when it doesn’t seem like the most obvious thing to do.