Welcome to our “Ask An Engineer” series, where Dan Slaski addresses questions that have you losing sleep or staring off into space during important meetings. Have a question for Dan? Send it in.
Question: Management keeps saying they want us to be the “Apple” of our industry. How can I deliver on that?
Dear Massively Mandated, and Iconically Instructed,
First, I hope you aren’t in the personal computer, smartphone, or watch industries. Most companies I worked for have made the same outlandish decree. And why wouldn’t they? Doesn’t every company want to have a massive loyal following they can upsell to? But wishing doesn’t equate to reality by any means.
I want to be the Dwayne Johnson of muscles and the Paul Rudd of charisma but, alas, I am the Dan of whatever exactly it is I do. What management is essentially saying is that they want to have a reputation of differentiation through things like reliability, simplicity, and appearance. What we are universally learning is that customers are willing to pay significant markups for the added value of devices that reduce frustration or are viewed as a status symbol.
So, let’s chisel down what that means in the context of what we do.
We designers want to make great things that add value. Great. Now we are starting to get somewhere. But how do we deliver on this? A lot of the value in Apple’s products comes from their incredible attention to detail.
The Pareto Principle states that the first 80 percent of a project takes 20 percent of the time and last 20 percent takes 80 percent of the time. Another way of saying that is that “the devil is in the details” or “small details can consume huge resources”.
Is it quality that management wants to deliver on or do they just want to have an enclosure for your products that is a rectangular box with rounded corners? Maybe it is just the enclosure, that’s doable. Ask if improved quality is what your organization is after. This could be for altruistic reasons or because they are tired of the associated cost and time associated with poor quality.
I once had an owner/manager who asked us all at our weekly meeting with a straight face “why don’t we have quality”? As if “quality” wasn’t a concept but a tangible item one could hold like wishing for a roll of toilet paper when you’ve just run out. Quality comes from the top down. It comes from a culture of quality that is disciplined in applying methodologies and necessary resources.
Call a meeting titled the “Apple quality directive brainstorming session”. Encourage all the attendees to arrive with ideas on ways to improve quality. Attendees will show up with lots of ideas because we are all natural problem solvers who want to provide awesomeness. They will have ideas they haven’t been authorized or empowered to act on and are excited to share. Then you will have a huge list and management will realize the staggering effort required to try to retroactively incorporate quality.
So, to answer your question. White rounded rectangular cuboids with minimal ports.