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Tim Lozier


Where’s My Hoverboard?

Real-world product innovation requires more than fancy camera angles

Published: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 12:20

We recently passed a milestone moment in the hearts and minds of fantasy fan boys like myself. October 21, 2015, marked the day that Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown traveled back to the future in the highly successful sequel, Back to the Future II.

When we took our first glimpse into the future, we saw innovations in technology, automation, and small-town charm with big-time gadgetry. We saw flying cars, the Cubs winning the World Series, Jaws 19, and yes, a stylish pink hoverboard. We all wanted one—who wouldn’t?

Well, we’ve all waited 30 years and, unless we see a major change, it doesn’t look like I’ll have my hoverboard anytime soon. Why?

Actually, we’re not all that far off. There’s a great article about some of the things that the film got right for 2015, and it’s a fun read. But what I’m thinking is that it comes down to business manufacturing vs. fantasy manufacturing. It’s not that we can’t make these things; in fact, the hoverboard is currently in development, and the flying car has been toyed with for a few years now.

The reason we aren’t seeing these things is because, in the real-world, changing designs, processes, and manufacturing is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-suspender-held-pants effort. It requires real thought into how we plan, design, and make product changes for the true future.

Change management is complex

Let’s face it: Change is just as hard as it ever was, if not more. When manufacturers want to make a change to a product or process, they must consider more than just what would be cool. It all starts from post-market feedback, whether in the form of a customer concern, an internal assessment, or market introduction. The company then needs to have a way to manage the process of change from all areas of the business. In the case of my hoverboard, the company would need to issue a change control process that goes to R&D to see if taking the wheels off a skateboard is a good idea.

Then they have to figure out the risks associated with a wheel-less skateboard (my guess is that very few change processes made it past this phase). Then they must ensure they have the materials, production processes, suppliers, documented work instructions, specifications, and more. The process involves so many stakeholders that, more often than not, companies look to make more incremental changes that have less impact. That, or they just begin a new process entirely and start from scratch.

The takeaway is that you must have visibility into and control of change management. You need to make sure that there is a centralized system that is not only keeping the workflow of the process going but also ensuring that quality and compliance are put at the forefront of the process. That’s why automated quality management software systems matter so much. Whether you are building the next hoverboard, or just trying to make incremental changes to a traditional skateboard, the system should help you move the change through the process.

Change management is costly

In the fantasy world of film, things are simple. I want a hoverboard, so someone builds it. Sure, I’m hooked up to a wire harness and filmed at aesthetically pleasing angles, but on screen, I have a hoverboard. In the real world, that won’t fly (pun unfortunately intended). You need to invest in new designs, technology, new schematics and specifications, and you might need to change your whole production line. That, all from post-market feedback? The decision to implement change is often driven by factors that identify the risk of not making the change. If there is a quality or compliance issue, then change management is often initiated from that. If the change is from a market trend, then it will have an urgency different from a quality issue.

This is where risk management comes into play.

What is the risk of not making the change? Can we afford not to make a hoverboard? Is the risk one that will put us behind the competition, or is it one where we will incur brand damage due to poor-quality skateboards? The other side to the risk element is how much will it cost to mitigate the risk. If it’s going to cost more money to build a hoverboard and develop a new product than making an existing product safer and “cooler,” then maybe that’s what should be done instead. Cost vs. risk is the age-old struggle between getting my hoverboard and just writing about it on a business blog.

Technology has come a long way in allowing us to make this decision. Using risk management tools connected to post-market feedback solutions allows us to weigh these options and be smart about how we go forward. It’s easy to take a manufacturing scenario and weigh the risk and costs of moving one way or the other. A risk management system helps us to make the decision on which change management process to pull up. This is where we’ve come further than even “Doc” would have imagined.

Change management requires many considerations

So before we all start revolting and zooming through the streets on our antique “wheelboards,” let’s consider these factors. Change is hard, and change is expensive. If we just went off and changed our processes without the proper risk analysis, compliance considerations, and step-by-step analysis of related changes in the workflow, we’d not only have our hoverboards, but we’d also all be bankrupt, humiliated, and probably hurting more people than we’re helping.

Technology has come a long way, in reality. We’ve actually been able to shrink the world through the use of solutions and collaborative tools that make the pace of business faster than ever. Change management is designed to handle complex product and process changes, but it should be done in a way that makes the most sense for the business. It also allows us to build in quality, risk, compliance, and cost into the decisions we make. That is the real “future,” and while it might not be as cool as a hoverboard, it’s what we’re seeing ahead of us... today.


About The Author

Tim Lozier’s picture

Tim Lozier

Tim Lozier is the director of product strategy for EtQ, in Farmingdale, New York. He has extensive experience in the software industry, and has been involved in the creation of leading-edge technologies in user-interface design and development. He began his career in digital marketing before taking a turn into software design and marketing at Quark Inc. Since then, he’s never looked back—helping to foster the development (and blog about) leading quality management software solutions.