Scott Menor, a SilSync co-founder, has a striking ability to synthesize knowledge across many disparate domains. Even more impressive is the breadth and depth of this knowledge. With this basis, Scott has been working on making personal robotics a practical reality for several years through our sister company, Roambotics. The problems that need to be solved in the domain of robotics are some of the most complex and vexatious that one could work on.
To bootstrap the development of these personal robots, Scott concluded that he could apply his experience with hardware engineering by helping other businesses with the development of their own products. Through networking, Scott found an engineer at another company who needed help with two business-critical projects and recommended that Scott be brought on-board as a consultant to assist. Thus, the first statement of work from this customer, a Fortune 500 company, was executed on in early 2018.
The scope of these two projects were immense and included teams throughout the world that were responsible for industrial design and firmware and software development. As a first project, this was outside of our capabilities and experience level, but in the words of Richard Branson:
If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes - then learn how to do it later. SilSync said yes. During this engagement, we gained exposure to a number of major problems that drive delays and cost-overruns during the development of a new hardware product.
The data is exceptionally clear: hardware products are rarely delivered on-time or on-budget. Ethan Mollick, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, studied over 48,500 projects and found that
over 75% deliver products later than expected. In our experience, we believe there are three core problems that work against companies that are trying to bring hardware products to market:
Initial scope of work isn't well-defined: Imagine you're working on welding steel together for a 30 foot long boat. During that process you observe that for the first foot you're off by only a fifth of an inch, which means you're within over 98% of your target. This leaves you with a feeling of achievement. However, by the time you finish welding, the foundation of your boat is off by over half a foot and needs to be scrapped. This results in a major loss of time and money. Pun intended, but an event like this can sink a company (especially a young one).
This story also illustrates the importance of carefully defining an initial scope-of-work. While it may not be obvious at the beginning, a poorly defined scope-of-work can result in a project missing its objectives by a wide margin. Thus, we recommend the following three steps be taken as a starting point for defining the scope of a project: First, define the end-user and make sure you thoroughly understand the problem you're solving for them. Second, connect the benefit of each product feature back to the original problem you're attempting to solve. And finally, make sure you understand the product trade-offs (i.e. functionality, size, cost, lead-time, manufacturability, etc.).
Poor communication leads to mis-steps and oversights: Let us be really clear: communication is absolutely critical to the success of every project. In fact, we believe so strongly in the importance of communication that it's one of our core values. Unfortunately, in our experience, we've found that the importance of this
soft-skill is underappreciated and thus frequently overlooked as contributing to the delay or cost-overrun of a project. To counter this, project managers should adhere to the following principles when working on a project:
1) Directness - To practice direct communication a project manager should focus on facts and avoid assumptions and long explanations. This becomes even more critical when there is a challenge with a project. During a challenging period and to enable effective decision-making, a project manager should deliver all of the relevant facts and communicate the most current information as soon as it becomes available.
2) Alignment - Everyone working on a project needs to be clear on their role and timeline and working off of the same information. While communication should occur organically, it also needs to be frequent enough that key decisions aren't made in isolation and missteps can be corrected with only minimal impact to a project.
3) Accessibility - It may seem obvious, but everyone who is contributing to a project should be easily accessible. This ensures that information flows seamlessly and questions are answered as soon as they arise.
Unable to iterate quickly on hardware products: A major problem that plagues hardware development is the inability to iterate quickly on the product. This problem is even more painful in today's global market which values speed above all else. According to a survey conducted by Fictiv, a San Francisco-based manufacturing platform, speed was ranked as the highest priority by product developers. And yet, as we've previously discussed, this is rarely achieved. The limitations that prevent companies from iterating quickly on hardware products are prevalent during both the design and production phase of a product.
Beginning with the design phase, the tools used today by electrical and mechanical engineers feature a very low level of design abstraction. This makes designing hardware products similar to coding in assembly, which in turn creates a more time-consuming process. In addition, the tools that exist today make it difficult for a team to easily collaborate on a product's bill-of-materials and design files.
This brings us to the production phase which has another set of challenges that reduce a company's ability to iterate quickly on their hardware products. Despite the advent of new technologies such as 3D printing, procuring prototype and production components remains a difficult process. The challenge of sourcing suppliers that are able to deliver quality products, while at the same time fulfilling on promised lead-times can not be overstated. This highlights the value of having an individual on your team with expertise in operations and supply chain management.
If you've worked on a hardware project, you've likely experienced the problems highlighted above. In our next blog post, we'll dive deeper into how SilSync is working to solve these problems and dramatically improve the way hardware products are designed. In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter to receive expert hardware advice and stay current on the latest SilSync news.
Footnote 1: Mollick, Ethan R., The Dynamics of Crowdfunding: An Exploratory Study (June 26, 2013). Journal of Business Venturing, Volume 29, Issue 1, January 2014, Pages 1 to 16. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2088298 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2088298
Footnote 2: Fictiv 2018 State of Hardware Report. Available at: https://www.fictiv.com/2018-state-of-hardware-report
Our values guide everything we do as a company, how we treat each other, and engage with customers and suppliers. You'll feel these principals when interacting with our team.
Delivering hardware on-time is challenging. The problem is amplified when communication isn't clear. We don't make assumptions. We do, however, ask questions when needed and address challenges as soon as they arise.
The path to production can be fraught with surprises. Being radically transparent provides certainty when things are uncertain. This is why we always put our cards face-up on the table. We believe this is the key to a trusting relationship.
When an unfavorable outcome arises, we take full responsibility for it no matter who or what else contributed. When a favorable outcome occurs, credit is always assigned elsewhere. This is extreme accountability at work.
Constantly learning enables growth, which in turn drives happiness. This learning also elevates those around you. We unconditionally support any endeavour to learn regardless of how they relate to what one is currently doing.
Every. Full-Time. Employee. Gets. Equity. In-line with our belief in extreme accountability, our success is the product of everyone else's contributions. The spoils of this success should be shared in an equitable manner.
A company created by a homogenous group of people will look very different than one created by a diverse group of people. We don't know what the future looks like, but we know that one built by most the diverse and knowledgable individuals in their field will be stronger.
By our nature we're risk-takers. We aim to redefine an industry. This will only be achieved if we think differently. While many of our investments will fail to deliver a return, the ones that succeed will make the difference. We invite you to come work on the cutting edge with us.
At the end of the day this is a business and results matter. We take a holistic view and believe we need to deliver results for all of our stakeholders - employees, customers, suppliers, investors and our community.
If this sounds like a company you want to work for then check out our open positions.
In our last blog post we discussed some of the problems that cause hardware products to be delayed. We aim to solve these problems by using technology to deliver a transformative customer experience. In solving this massive yet common problem, we'll fulfill on our mission to design and deliver hardware products on-time and revolutionize the way these products are brought to market. While the challenge in front of us is immense, the benefits that will accrue to humanity are equally immense. Our path to solving these problems begins with the following:
The lack of rocket reusability is one of the main reasons why commercial space flight today is not economically feasible. This is the major innovation that SpaceX is currently working to bring to the market. By doing so they'll substantially reduce the cost of flying to space, which will make it much more accessible.
Similar to SpaceX and in contrast to the way hardware design is done today, we're working on capturing and using the data from each project we complete to more accurately define a future project's cost and lead-time. By more accurately defining a project's cost and lead-time, the risk our customers bear when launching a new hardware product is reduced. We believe that by reducing the risk associated with starting a new project customers will be more willing to make investments in product development. In addition, we're able to offer lower prices than our competitors by reducing the risk that a project will take longer than either party expects.
Industry has undergone three revolutions each of which has been separated by approximately one hundred years with the first dating back to the late 1700's. During the first industrial revolution, steam power gave rise to mechanized factories. The second industrial revolution saw the advent of electricity and the assembly line, which enabled mass production. Finally, the third industrial revolution was brought on by the advent of programmable logic control in the late 1960's. Today, manufacturing is undergoing a fourth revolution through the digitization and automation of manual processes and tasks. In addition, 3D printing is enabling a new world of on-demand manufacturing. SilSync is a part of this fourth industrial revolution and is using software to digitize both the front- and back-end of hardware design and development.
As we'll describe below, our software creates a digital thread that brings together the entire process of designing a hardware product from start-to-finish:
1) Automated quoting system - The first part of this digital thread is an online quoting system that enables our customers to receive a quote for a design project within 24 hours. In the future, the online quoting system will be fully-automated and pricing information will be available immediately.
2) Design tools - The second part of this digital thread is a suite of internally-developed tools that sync with both our quoting system and customer portal. For example, a product breakdown structure helps organize the tasks that need to be completed for a particular project, while modern design tools help reduce a hardware product's time-to-market.
3) Customer portal - The final part of this digital thread is a customer portal that provides customers with the status of their design project in real-time. As we discussed in our first blog post, poor communication leads to serious mis-steps and oversights. Thus, we believe our customer portal is a critical component that enables customers to make faster and more insightful business and product decisions. Customers will also be able to access and share their latest design files and bill-of-materials through their portal at any time.
Taking these three parts together, our digital thread provides customers with an unparalleled and transformative experience that hasn't previously been available.
We've created an entirely new way for hardware developers to get their products to market. Our experience and knowledge designing hardware products is used to provide you with a quote that you can trust. Once you begin your project, your customer portal will provide you with all of the insight and information you need to stay in sync and make critical business decisions.
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