Concept to Delivery
It’s common to see gaps between the customer’s vision and delivered systems.
On the other side of all the spread sheet build pages and concept meetings where needs are carefully measured, fitted and dressed in tailor-made possibilities, programmers and engineers often deliver something different than the customer’s vision. The more innovative the project, the greater the chance of a tailoring error. And even in the best fit, a few uneven seams may have to be reconfigured later.
Where’s the disconnect?
It’s worth a closer look at the process to determine where, how and why we’re missing the mark.
Blame often goes first to product design. We’re all familiar with this bias about design limitations: Programmers know code but not processes, and engineers are more focused on function than form.
But the truth about the disconnect is that it takes shape long before the project ever makes it to design, and its roots are in elements as simple as personality traits, communication styles and core knowledge deficits.
The disconnect begins with end users.
Industrial facilities in a burgeoning automation age still lack the specific language and product familiarity to easily identify and articulate needs. Production personnel most familiar with plant processes are less likely to be involved in higher level conceptualization efforts — and even when they are invited to the drawing table, they often do not have the exposure or training to identify possibilities or connect strategic elements of the automation project in its early stages.
I see this play out repeatedly after installations. Although detailed employee training sessions are provided, I often find myself with follow up questions days, weeks and once a month afterwards. No matter how thoroughly I cover the topic, operators do not see the information as an important detail until later.
They don’t know enough to ask questions in a way that will give them the answer they need until they have been engaged in the process long enough to know how to ask.
Addressing this issue should be a priority for the industrial robotics market, with both end users and manufacturers asking themselves:
How do we accelerate the learning curve to get the dialogue we need?
Sales vs. Engineering
The disconnect has room to grow as the process continues.
A number of today’s engineering firms use their engineers in field analysis and installation, but not so much in conceptualization. The sale is already made by the time an engineer or programmer has to put the pieces together to “make the magic happen.”
There is a good reason engineers and programmers aren’t invited more often to the sales table. They tend to be technically wired realists, with some difficulty re-stating the concept as here’s what it can do without adding all the but it can’t do this parts.
Sales people tend to be enthusiastic and optimistic, far less precise with interpreting functionality. They trade in making things happen for their customers. Precise measurements and technology beyond iPad apps generally bring them far less satisfaction than being able to say, “We can make your dream happen on time and under budget.”
Both styles are integral to successful sales and installation of industrial workplace robotics, but until we can create a way to make use of both personality styles earlier in the process, the end result may continue to be short of the customer’s vision.
Bridging the gap
Some tough questions need to be addressed in the robotics field as we refine our ability to help customers know what they really need and develop those products.
We are experts at delivering expected volume in a design that the customer has signed off on, but are we really matching their vision? What can we do to reduce the impact of misconception? What question will definitively answer what is needed to bridge the gap? How can we get the customer to know enough to answer the question adequately?
Important tips to consider
Here are my thoughts on what we need to be doing to shore up the process:
- Insert project managers into the sales process.
- Bring customers up to speed with more and better training to know how to ask/answer the right question.
- Ask whether the customer has seen anything similar to the equipment wanted. View it together.
- Ask the right open-ended questions to elicit information.
- Test the answer given in as many ways as possible with qualifying closed end questions.
- Make sure you understand how the project should look as well as the input, process, and output expectations.
- Document the gaps as they occur and implement remedies for future negotiations.
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