Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Failure to plan is a plan to fail.

I have heard that a lot recently. Most importantly, I have listened to the words and their meaning, and have taken action to avoid this common pitfall. It is very easy to ignore the obvious and fail miserably. No doubt I have, and will, fail again at something. It is inevitable. the difference is how you react to that failure, and how you plan differently to avoid the same mistakes.

1. Know what you are trying to accomplish.

For me, knowing what I want as the end result is the first part of the plan. Some may think this is contradictory, or leaping ahead, but it is really the first step in devising your plan. For example, when you are going to buy a car, do you buy a car because of a sleek ad that shiny stuff on it? Or do you think about what the car needs to achieve as a result of your purchase? If you bought based on the former, then you might end up with a Ferrari in lipstick red that goes 722 miles per hour in .06 seconds, but costs you your life savings, marriage, and you can't afford the insurance. Eventually you lost the car because you couldn't afford it and now you're walking to work. Instead, you need to buy a fuel conscious small SUV to take the kids to games and use on the snowy roads around your home. The plan should have been to write down all of your needs (YOUR NEEDS ASSESSMENT) and then target the cars that fit those needs.

2. Thoroughly develop the plan

Spend time with it, and ask others that have insight about what they might consider. Don't try and do it all alone as others have already made the mistakes that you might overlook, and that can be an enormous gain. Don't rush to a conclusion, rather, let it simmer for a while so that you can adequately gauge its performance, and that it is achievable. (PLAN INCUBATION) research is key, so spend time performing it!

3. Make your plan achievable

Too often we all shoot for the stars. I think the moon might be far enough to call it a success! Is the end game a reality, or far out of reach? An important question to ask, and an even tougher one to answer sometimes. If you have ever read Malcolm Gladwell's 'BLINK', you know that your gut might tell you what is right or wrong most of the time. Not that this is a scientific process, this gut check, but it is often a very ominous way of making a decision, and often times accurate. If you develop a plan that is so complex, so unmanageable, you will most likely fail. TOO MUCH PLAN, NOT ENOUGH ACTION)

4. Stick to the plan, man

That shiny vehicle just drove by again, and guess what, you're distracted. You lost sight of the original goal, and the plan became derailed. Now you're driving down the wrong side of the street, banking on luck and karma to bail you out. Good luck with that. Sticking to it can be difficult, and opinions are like noses - everybody's got one. Stick to what is working and move ahead. Minor tweaks are normal, but switching course midstream often ends up with a capsized boat.

5. Accept little failure, understand successes

You will make mistakes in your planning stages. When I write a 5 year plan, often times the assumptions I make are off, and you have to accept that. If I could go to Trina the crystal ball reader and know the future, well then I would be doing something else right now, and you wouldn't be half asleep reading this, because I would have known all the answers. When things work in the plan, give praise and be thankful, and when things are off, realize that you are human and can't win them all. Just make the adjustment, learn from your mistakes, and move forward.

All in all, a simplified plan always works best for us. We try not to complicate things, we make sure that every goal is attainable, but not necessarily easy, and we follow through with the plans and review against them to measure success. If you follow some basic principles like I have suggested, I am sure you will find some success, however big or small. Overall, without it, you do set yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bluebirds and Manufacturing

I will get to my planning blog by EOW...

Do you ever get back to something you hadn't done in, say, 20 years? You realize how quickly the body, and mind, remembers the activity without pause. While there is a slight readjustment period, overall you fall right back into a groove and move forward. Like anything, repetition builds skill and familiarity that eventually makes you competent and proficient.

I spent Saturday with my son, 13, on the slopes on Mt. Hood. Well, technically, not on the slopes of Hood but close enough. You get the picture. This event was his first skiing, and I remembered all too well how difficult the first day can be. The frustration, the anger, etc. all build until you either throw your skis down the hill and pay the $800 rental deposit to rid your life of this mess, or end up bombing a run and realizing 'huh, not so bad.' For him, it took about 3 hours of saying 'I don't think I can' to eventually skiing a full mile down a run with an occasional spill, but more often a controlled cruise into the lodge. I am not sure where the tipping point for him was, but I can confidently tell you that he's been bit by the bug. Season passes, here we come...

For me, it was like visiting an old friend. We had both gotten older, perhaps the skis had progressed and I had gone backwards, but none the less, I courted the old sport for about a half an hour before I remembered all the nuances of the sport I abandoned some time ago. It wasn't long before my skis were parallel and my turns smooth.

This is very similar to our manufacturing processes as well. When we first begin a project, the thorns are all evident and the production is somewhat impaired by unfamiliarity. Getting through that challenge, and reaching the tipping point, is critical. You have to push through it and learn what you can in the process as it will eventually be the root of your success. Similar to what my son experienced, the best laid plans do not mean immediate success, rather, they give you the foundation for success later on. Lessons behind him, he found success after only three hours, much less than I remember my first experience on skis. In the manufacturing world, we live a very similar event history. We begin with a plan and goal, and then begin the process of pushing the plan through the course. We will inevitably make alterations to that plan based on incorrect assumptions, etc., but overall the desire and need to get to the goal will override the issues we experience and get us to the promised land.

In addition, when we have run through production on a project and eventually ended that production, we have to reacquaint ourselves, our equipment, and our staff with the nuances of that project. Things we learned in the initial development are not always remembered, and our ability to recollect those details can sometimes be difficult or slow. This is why we build a strong plan during our initial run so we have our foundation when we need it. Just like my weekend skiing, it usually comes back to us quickly and without much uncertainty.

So, I'll begin the planning talk shortly...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Product Development

Every day the phone rings with an aspiring designer looking for a way to build his or her product. The first, and foremost, point I stress to them is to be prepared for a long haul. While a skilled team can, and will, deliver a proto and samples quickly, the reality of 'quick-to-market' is rarely successful for a number of reasons.

First, designs need refinement. Often times the best laid plans don't end up being the best laid plans. Not a bad thing, just that after using the item for a while the designer found some useful additions, and subtractions, from the original form. Maybe the design itself sounded great, but functioned poorly. Or maybe, it just needed to be tested for durability.

Second, launch dates are great motivators, but often times they enforce the old adage that 'haste makes waste.' I believe it is good to have a goal, but more often than not folks rush to the finish line prematurely. In our opinion, the product will be mature for the market after it it is properly developed.

Third, be prepared. Prepare your vendors for your upcoming plans. Prepare your family members for your mood swings. Take copious notes, and record conversations for future reference. It will help making life easier knowing what can and can't be done. Keep production time lines in order, and remember that when everything is an emergency, it usually turns into an actual emergency, and will need a doctor to fix it.

Next week I'll lay out some planning tips for developing products that should shed some light on why good planning makes for good companies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A US Bag Maker

We are a US manufacturer of bags. We also have an office in China. Some people ask us, in fact more than some, if we are in conflict with ourselves and our clever name. Well, yes, and no, and sort of. You see, 'globalization' has created a world market for our raw materials, requiring us to seek those things that is still made overseas, in small factories and large alike, where the humidity is stifling and the hours are long. I want to bring bag makers back to the US. I want to see the US recover the market it shed and the jobs it lost. Textiles may be down, but we are not out. Until such time as we rebuild our infrastructure in the US, we struggle to find a balance between building stateside bags and importing others. I can tell you this - We employ about 20 folks. If we lost our import arm, we would reduce that number to half. If we continue to find some sort of balance, we can continue to grow and hopefully grow the company to 30 people. It makes more sense to continue the growth, contribute to the economy, and continue to be The Last US Bag Company.