My father is one of those few remaining American heroes who can build and/or fix pretty much anything. A masterful engineer without the degree. A man of necessity, not of waste. I remember distinctly as a child when my dad was planning to replace his 15-year-old truck with a new one. I remember the excitement surrounding the new ride, and the disappointment when he came home with a functional, but by no means fancy, new truck. In particular, I was underwhelmed with the stereo.
In his calm, deep, southern drawl, Dad stated, “Son, you don’t buy a truck for the stereo, you buy it for the engine. Don’t let the bells and whistles distract you from what’s most important. What good is a fancy radio if you can’t haul what you need from point A to point B.” I knew better than to argue. Not because he was tough (which he is), but because I knew he was right (he usually is).
Lately, this lesson and its implication on today’s product complexity has continued to resurface in my mind. Would you use the same truck to move your buddy’s TV across town that you would to move his entire house across town? Not if you wanted the move to be fast and efficient. Yet many organizations today are using the same engine to haul dramatically different types of loads – and it’s weighing them down.
The first step to effectively moving your load is to understand how heavy it is. A product with 10 variants bears a much lighter load than a product with 10,000,000,000,000 variants (1012). For example, a pencil has very few variants (color, lead type, width, eraser type) and therefore would be an easy load for a 4-cylinder truck. A globally-sold luxury SUV, however, could have 1021 buildable variants. The load of the SUV is going to need something substantially stronger than a 4-cylinder engine truck. Once you’ve determined your load size, it’s time to evaluate the engine.