A couple weeks ago, I argued that instead of hiring new headcount for the CAD team, managers could grow capacity by updating technologies and processes. But the truth is, you should look for more help anyway. Here are three good reasons why.
In their 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Six Myths of Product Development, they write: "In our experience with hundreds of product development teams, we have found that most were significantly overcommitted. To complete all projects on time and on budget, some organizations we worked with would have needed at least 50% more resources than they had."
The problem comes from managers who approach development like manufacturing, the authors say. If a designer has a little free time, you ought to fill that time up with new project work right? But development doesn't work that way. In fact, you could add 5% to the workload of your engineers and end up doubling the time it takes them to complete a project!
Why? Where manufacturing is repetitive and predictable, development work is highly variable and unpredictable. If the whole team works at full capacity, delays become amplified. The feedback loop (think: design reviews) slows down as everyone is too busy with their own projects to attend to others, and it's harder to respond to evolving market needs. Nobody has time to play with different design ideas. And worst of all, with tight schedules, nobody has room to fail. In a major blow to innovation, the team will do what's safe rather than what's innovative.
In short, figuring out ways to get the team to do more work may make you less productive than you are today.
The authors acknowledge that advances in CAD, modeling, and simulation help companies develop better products in less time and at lower cost. At the same time, they advise that for best results, anywhere you see employees working at better than 70% capacity, it's time to get more help.
2. Help doesn't have to be more headcount.
One way to get help quickly is to seek out an engineering services firm or an independent contractor. These consultants specialize in helping companies that have come up short on time, people, or expertise to do a job. And the good news is that you don't have to commit to a long-term relationship (read: no layoffs if the market tanks later). Most are happy to work on a project-by-project basis.
While this solution may seem to cost more than simply hiring a regular employee, the benefits can be profound. A consultant can bring expertise you don’t have in house. I’ve talked to contractors who specialize in government regulations. Others bring deep knowledge of manufacturing methods, while still others offer materials expertise.
Because independents work for multiple companies and often have decades of experience, they can bring industry skills to your project that you can’t easily find or develop within your own walls.
3. Hiring new help is an investment in the future.
No matter your industry, forward-thinking companies need a pipeline of young talent. Recent graduates can bring technical fluency and fresh ideas to the team. And they’re going to fill the vacancies left as older professionals retire.
Where’s the urgency?
An April report from ABC News says that US employment is making a comeback, adding 238,000 jobs in the previous quarter. And, the report adds, “Many employers … can’t find people with the right skills.”
Manufacturing is among those companies that are rebounding. In an interview (pdf) with University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Hal Sorkin of BCG consulting says:
"In 2011 and 2012, we projected manufacturing wouldn’t return to the U.S. in full force until 2015. I’m glad to say that we were wrong. Hundreds of companies [are already bringing] back manufacturing to the U.S. We can identify 300 to 400 different companies that have done this, not for patriotic reasons but because it’s just good business."
Small business blogger Peter S. Cohan offers perhaps the most jarring reason of all to hire new product development help: “If you don’t have 'A players' hired or in the recruiting pipeline, there’s a danger that your competitors do.”
Bottom line: Optimize your technology, and then hire new CAD help. Do it now—while the talent is still out there and before your team is too stressed to work effectively.
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