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Who are your customers?

Before we can jump into how to start a successful project, I need to remind everyone what I mean by customer.  As a consulting engineering company, we have people and companies pay us to do work who we call customers, so do the companies that you work for, but there are many other customers who are not so obvious.

If you work for a 500-million-dollar a year company, that manufactures their own widgets, you might think you, the design engineer, or engineering director, have no customers, but you would be wrong.   You are literally surround by your customers, many if not all of them will be your co-works and your management.  My point is that even if you don’t interface with the world outside your company this article still applies to you.

A tale of two customers

I want to describe two customers to you.  The first is Hopeful Howard and the second is Prepared Patrick.  Hopeful Howard goes to his service provider and explains he has this project he wants to do.  He is sure he can make money if he has it.  He says it does some things. He needs it cheap (manufacturing costs). Who doesn’t?  Hopeful Howard would like to know how much it will cost and when you will be able to get it to him.  You think I am paraphrasing here to save typing, but I am not. Hopeful Howard does not give you much to work with; no drawings, no description, no power requirements. He does have a lot of vague vagueness. 

Now along comes Prepared Patrick.  Patrick has an idea for a project. He has given this idea a great deal of thought.  He has done some market research to see if the market wants his idea.  He has thought about size, shape and color. He has thought about functionality and has worked up a detailed use case.  He has done some 3-D designs.  Figured out how his widget will fit into other people’s widgets.  Prepared Patrick sat down and make a PowerPoint presentation with all his ideas and explanations. He laid out the use case and the possible problems and their solutions.

Both prospective clients went to their service providers and asked for the project to be worked on.  They both wanted the same thing, a widget that they could sell.  They both wanted to know how much it would cost and how long it would take.

Who are these people?

Now does it matter if Hopeful Howard and Prepared Patrick, represent a dude on the street with an idea and a credit card, your manager, maybe they are the CEO of a company coming to your company to initiate a new project?  The answer is no. You will find both types of people from all possible groups.  Many times, they will say, “Hey, we don’t have to be formal.  We are friends, co-workers. I’ve known you forever. I can just throw you a few ideas and you will create the next great thing for me. Right?”

It happens all the time.  And people will have every excuse in the book for why they did not prepare.  I don’t’ need to waste time preparing, you can ask me any question you want, go ahead.  I have talked to successful CEO’s and just some guy at a cocktail party and seen the same level or preparedness, or lack thereof.

Where is this coming from?

You might think that I am writing this because I am frustrated at people who don’t prepare, but that is not it.  I have become so used to the lack of preparation that I have come to expect it.  I expect to walk into a meeting with a new client and have to tease out the use case, bring to light the problems and pitfalls we are likely to hit if we proceed.  Lay out a step by step approach to reach the goal. I would love to have everyone be a Prepared Patrick, but 9 times out of 10, its Howard I am working with.

No, the prompting for this article was not frustration but pure delight.  I had someone this week, a friend of Patrick, talk to me about an idea they had.  This is not someone in new product design.  They don’t have experience putting together a design team or preparing for a kickoff meeting.  The 10-page power point they sent me was delightful; clear, easy to read.  It led me from point to point easily, logically and methodically.

We were talking about strategies and options, techniques and possibilities.  We have jumped clear over the clutter that usually accompanies the start of a project.  It made me take a step back and wonder at how successful this project would be, and any project could be if the person in charge of the idea took the time to organize their thoughts and prepare a strategic, easy to understand presentation of that idea.

Pyramids then and now

It’s not that there is a right and a wrong way to start a project. There is no – it has to be done like this.   You can build a pyramid with ropes and hammers the hard way, the way they did when, when they built the pyramids.  Or you could build them the way we would today with power saws and cranes.  We could argue about which way is better, but there would be no argument about which way would be faster, safer or require less human blood.

Efficiency.  When you have lots of time, money and slave labor, efficiency is not all that important. But when you have competition and tight margins, when resources are scare, well that is when doing a thing in the most efficient way possible really becomes important.

Sean O’Leary is sometimes known as the Celtic Engineer.  He was involved in putting two missions on the space shuttle.  He has worked at the Smelter’s Biproducts department of Kennecott Utah Copper.  Has helped design ballistic guidance systems for Northrop Grumman.  Worked on various DARPA projects, an anti-RPG system known as Iron-Curtain and has been involved with the downhole oil and gas industry.  He currently is the owner of Celtic Engineering Solutions a consulting Engineering Company in West Jordan and Murray Utah.

Final thoughts

At Celtic Engineering Solutions we understand the need for efficiency. We are happy to work with you if you are as prepared as Patrick or in as much need as Howard.  Give us a call today so we can talk about how we might help you succeed.

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