Archive for the ‘Craftsmanship and Community’ Category

How Ford got its groove back

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

An article this week in CIO reviews how the IT transformation at Ford Motor Company helped drive, and support, the turnaround at that Company.  Before I comment and provide some personal experience from my participation, lets review some of the very impressive news from Ford:

  • Profit is back.  Ford reported its fifth consecutive profitable quarter, and $2.6B for the last period (2Q10)
  • US Marketshare has grown.  In fact, in every month of the last 2 years (except one)
  • US Brand impression is MUCH higher in the US.  For perception of quality and very importantly, innovation
  • US Vehicles now receive high ratings.  As measured by Consumer Reports, and by other consumer testing sources (and Ford’s internal research)
  • US Product Winners abound.  Taurus (especially SHO) is back in a big way and finally sheds the ‘500’ fiasco years.  Fusion continues to do very well. The F-150 is taking share and winning awards (as usual). The revamped Mustang is a hot hit, again.  The new Edge interior with Ford’s new driver UI is gorgeous. The small Fiesta has entered the market to warm reviews.  There really are few duds and perhaps the only complaint is that Lincoln is still not performing as well as one might like (but customer satisfaction, especially with dealer experience, is very high) and some vehicles like Flex are not the runaway hits one might have hoped for.
  • Europe leadership grows.  Ford is #1 or #2 selling brand in Europe (depends on period you select over the last 2 years) and its design leadership there has influenced the Company’s direction, leading to better perception, higher sales, and better US products.  KA, Transit, Focus, C-Max, Mondeo.  Numerous product hits demonstrate a strength and foundation for future success.

The article in CIO talks about IT’s actions relevant to this transformation, and quotes CIO nick Smither, who also gives due credit to the prior CIO Marv Adams.  I was at Ford from 2002 to 2008, worked for both CIO’s, and was fortunate to participate closely in much of the work done to help IT become more effective, and help drive the corporate revitalization.  That effort, which started before Alan Mullaly arrived at Ford, really took hold once he took the reigns.  But the principles were the same.  Here are a few of the key ones.

  • Reduce Complexity.  This was a key IT strategy starting in 2002.  Initially it started in areas IT could control, like infrastructure, and then moved slowly upward, towards business applications and information.  Over time, this effort helped not only shed duplicate assets, but gain greater focus on the assets that remained, so they became better. This occurred in servers, storage, and networks, but also in key enterprise wide application services like collaboration, data warehousing, and application hosting.  This IT strategy bled into the business and took hold in product development, where Ford finally began to take seriously the needless complexity in platforms and components.  The benefits IT saw also occurred in vehicles.  Product engineering costs lowered, quality rose, capability increased.  IT customers saw better service levels.  Ford  customers saw better products.  Complexity kills and focus saves.  Of course, its not just reduction.  You have to design for greater commonality.
  • Be truly Global.  Ford has always acted like a multinational, not single global company.  IT did too.  But over the last few years this balkanization of organizations finally ended.  IT started working to leverage global talent, consolidate facilities, and share best practices.  The business side of Ford has done so too.  While Ford still seems to be very skillful at providing market unique offerings when required, the ‘back office’ of IT and business functions works together much more effectively as a global entity.  But note  importantly that the reduction in complexity and greater commonization of IT and vehicle products makes this all possible.  You can’t maximize global potential if you act like a million separate entities.  You have to redesign your systems and processes to enable globalization.
  • Leverage the Community.  Ford (IT and the business) has moved more towards a model of true teaming, and using methods of enabling that.  This not only builds camraderie, it builds best practices, and it increases momentum.  A single person’s great idea can be absorbed and magnified, instead of possibly resented or ignored.  Team sport is something IT  built with Computing Patterns, Centers of Excellence and Communities of Practice.  Alan Mullaly brought it into Ford executive suite (where it had, ahem, been lacking) with his common Business Plan Review (BPR) process that encouraged open, efficient dialogue of issues, where help was needed, and a fresh attitude of working together.  The lesson here is you have to design enablers and solutions to help leverage the community, not just yell a people to work together more (like many companies often do).
  • Pursue Product Leadership.  Both IT and the Ford business rededicated themselves to building outstanding products (and in IT’s case, services).  In IT Ford led the industry in moving towards utility computing, introduced better methods of developing applications ‘like a product’, and less like one-off order taking, and helped introduce new innovations like Sync.  The business re-energized itself too.  Under Derrick Kuzak, Global VP of Engineering, new methods, along with more ambitious objectives, were employed to better define the key attributes of excellence, and aggressively design for them.

The points above could sound like motherhood and apple pie, but Ford (IT and the business) made them real by designing for them.  It was the perfect example of excellence by design.  Many IT and business leaders can talk the talk, but few have walked the walk as we did at Ford.  It was truly a transformation in leadership, strategy, tactics, and results that Americans should be proud of, I know I am blessed for having been a part of it.  I hope to share more insights soon in my forthcoming book, because the lessons learned in Ford’s successful transformation should be regularly taught in any business, and IT organization.

Science, Society, and Excellence by Design

April 13, 2010 1 comment

Michael Specter does a nice job reminding us of the importance and value of science based understanding and decision making.  I highly agree with his concern that while the world has become more connected and more capable, and science has contributed so many advances, there are many people who are still willing to believe falsehoods or unsubstantiated theories, and confuse issues of facts and science, with policy and politics.

This is important to understand for the Designer, because while good design should be rooted in facts, science, and engineering, it must also face the reality of populism and politics.  Take health care information technology, or genetically modified foods as two good examples.  Both are subjects for which there is a rich and broad potential for designing solutions and improvements that can benefit mankind, yet both are subjected to highly charged debate, filled with both prejudice and confusion.

One must be careful to understand and differentiate between the science/engineering/fact based aspects of the design, and those aspects that are not so grounded.  This does not mean the political/emotional/prejudicial is unimportant.  It simply means be careful to distinguish the two and address each appropriately.

I have found this in many types of design challenges.  When doing process reengineering for example it is easy for an organization to act with fear at the idea of simplifying operations.  The facts/science/engineering may show a far better method of organizing work execution, yet the designer must be cognizant of the potential for the organization to resist the changes for reasons that are factually groundless even if personally very real.  This is a trivial example.

The examples Michael discusses are real and much larger, and as a human race we must become more skilled at dealing with this challenge because, as science capabilities accelerate (and they are/will due in great degree to the advancements in computer technology) the opportunities for improvement…and debate, will increase.

Several hundred years ago the world debated the science that said the world was round. This one argument was one of the few, and went on for many decades.  Today such scientific discoveries happen all the time, and have much greater consequences.  As a society we must become skilled at the process of  learning about, absorbing, accepting, and reacting to, this increasing pace of scientific advancements.

So Excellence by Design should not only include design based on the underlying principles of science/engineering,  must also take into account the very possible and in some cases likely resistance to the design.

Excellence by Design of next generation User Interfaces

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

One trend that is abundantly clear is the dramatic change taking place in user interfaces (UIs) on the web.  This change is driven of course by new technology but even more by a new found comfort with new methods of presenting information and content…and this ‘comfort’ applies not only to designers, and the businesses they work for, but most importantly, to the consumer.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate new trends in Excellence by Design of user interfaces.

  • The first is shown above.  Its a screen shot from  There are several aspects to this site I think are spectacular examples of Excellence by Design.  First I should state that the Editor in Chief Michelle Adams, is rapidly rising in stature and I can see why.  Her eye, as represented by the content of her newly launched magazine, is impressive.  More to the point of this column, the magazine layout itself is one of the best I have seen and represents a much improved way to engage yourself in a magazine, online.  The UI, the ability to click adds and get more info, and the ability to change your navigation are all outstanding.  Note that this magazine is done using the tools provided by the site so the capability demonstrated by Lonnymag is just an example of what is coming from many other self publishers.
  • Another great example is the new New York Times – Times Skimmer. This new UI for reading my favorite newspaper is another great example of what is coming and how it changes the game of designing for, and engaging in, content for the web.
  • Perhaps the most impressive forward looking example however, is now available on YouTube, where Sports Illustrated has posted a video explaining what is to come with their new publishing approach.  It is startling, incredibly exciting, and demonstrates that the future design of user interfaces will be radically different than what is seen today.  Catch it here.
  • Of course I must mention the new Apple iPad, which I believe is the tip of the iceberg in showing how the device side of user interfaces will be changing.  These tablet like, high fidelity devices are certainly the wave of the future and will have seamless communications so you can connect with others, or perhaps move a piece of content (like a picture) over to your HDTV set with a simple swipe.  The end of the Sports Illustrated video shows another great example, where you use the iPad like device to interact with a show you are watching simultaneously on your HDTV.Update: here is another great iPad UI demo from Penguin books.
  • And lastly, I must mention Ford Motor’s new MyTouch upgrade to its Sync platform. It’s a great system that I admit I have a bit of special pride in, given my role at Ford during the time the Sync strategy was being debated.  Sync, soon with the MyTouch extension, is a great example of modern UI Excellence by Design.

Ford MyTouch with Sync

Yes, we are certainly poised for a great leap forward due to technology (sw and devices) and the comfort of users in  accepting these new UI paradigms.  As with other advances, there will be many implementation that are poorly done, but those that really standout and are successful will be Excellent by Design.

Excellence from IWB

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently took the time to catch up on the blog of Irving WladawskyBerger. IWB used to be a favorite of mine near the end of my IBM career because he seemed to well understand both technology itself, and the changing nature of the business (and social) environment that affects its use.  I pulled a couple interesting quotes from some of his recent postings:

  • On the Services economy he writes on Feb 3, 2010 “key differences between research and innovation in the industrial and service economies… I simplified them down to three.  1) Focus: Physical Systems versus People-based, Organizational Systems 2) Design Objectives: Product Quality and Competitive Costs versus Positive Customer Experiences, 3) Organization and Culture:  Hierarchic and Siloed versus Multi-disciplinary and Collaborative”
  • On Dec 23, 2009 on Collaborative Innovation he wrote: “IBM’s 2006 Global CEO Study was the link between external collaboration and innovation.  Over 75% of the 765 CEOs interviewed in the study ranked business partners and customer collaborations as top sources for new ideas.  This is very different from previous organizational models that assumed that innovation was too critical to involve outsiders.”
  • On Jan 28, 2010 he writes about the challenges to successfully capitalizing on Disruptive Innovation: “Many companies fail to adequately embrace a disruptive innovation …because the strategy was essentially rejected by the organization…the institution was not able to stretch enough to be able to implement the needed changes.  This happens even when the very survival of the organization is at stake”.

Across these points is an underpinning truth related to Excellence by Design.  Excellence used to be achievable by a much more narrow focus.  A specific person or existing organization executes on a specific idea and product.  If THEY are capable and THE PRODUCT is great…excellence is achieved.  This is hard enough task and frankly one I think few organizations are strong in anyway.  Often there is more concern about the myriad of other issues at hand from budgets to performance reviews to project deadlines and of course politics, to distract people from the core task of building and delivering a great product.

But in today’s world this has become much more complex for several reasons:

  • Achieving Excellence is a broader challenge.  It is not just related to the product, it is related to services as well.  It is also based on excellence in customer experience.  It must be global and also meet local  expectations.  Excellence simply covers a wider range of factors now than just the core product.  Great ‘design’ for excellence must include this.
  • The participants who contribute to Excellence are much broader as well.  They include partners much more often, and many times customers as well.  Proctor and Gamble made a major and highly successful shift from  internally developed innovation, to an innovation strategy much more engaged with partners and customers.  Monsanto, which is a leader in agricultural biotechnology, has a very robust community they draw from to develop new product ideas as a core part of their pipeline’ process. Your design for excellence must include robust means for cross-functional, cross-company, cross-customer collaboration.
  • Building a culture adept at effectively embracing disruptive innovation is hard…and often seen as threatening, especially in today’s economy.  People are seeking stability and consistency in their jobs at exactly the time that the world is pressuring companies to become better at capitalizing on emergent, disruptive innovation.  Its a big cultural (aka management) challenge to enable a culture that can thrive in chaos, yet stay under control to deliver with consistency.  Designing and establishing organizational values, policies, enablers, and reward systems that reflect this is a critical success factors, yet too many companies ignore this aspect in the Excellence by Design efforts.

My point is the Excellence by Design must include these considerations in order to be effective.  Your ‘design’ for excellence must include ‘Service Excellence’  (principle #8 of the Excellence by Design principles. It must include a comprehensive approach to partnering and effective leverage of your customers (principle #3: Craftsmanship and Community) and it must help build a culture that is  comfortable working in an environment that embraces chaos, yet has effective controls to drive successfully to conclusion. (principle #1: Chaos vs Control).

Taking this broad approach to Excellence by Design will help you achieve success in today’s disruptive world that is more services oriented, collaborative, and innovative.