Fail and Fix It Fast

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After more than a year in the design phase, ARTeSYN’s Standard TFF skid was finally ready for a test run, and the ARTeSYN team showed their ability to quickly solve unforeseen problems.

The focus of this article is to emphasize the importance of completing the design and build phase of a project as fast as possible. Indecision caused by trying to make things perfect is one thing that typically drags out this critical early project phase. As you read on, challenge yourself to think of ways to complete the design and build project phase quickly while adhering to sound engineering principles. John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, called this skill “Speed under control”. As head coach at UCLA, Wooden won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period including a record seven in a row. The primary thing he looked for when recruiting new players was speed under control.

Now back to our experience testing the new Standard TFF skid. An interesting observation was how the unforeseen problems we faced during testing did not show up during the design phase of the project, making those problems impossible to solve or even think about until we had a system to test. No matter how long designs are analyzed and re-designed in CAD software, moving to the next milestone requires manufacturing the real article and observing the real behavior of what we’ve made. Only then will those inevitable unforeseen problems appear.

Most impressive was the speed with which the ARTeSYN team was able to ideate, design, and test solutions once the equipment was finally available. Problems found on Monday that seemed like showstoppers had feasible solutions by Friday! It’s important to emphasize the value of getting that first system manufactured and available for testing as quickly as possible. If we think about product development in terms of the lean startup principle of build-measure-learn, notice that there is no design phase. The wisdom of build-measure-learn implicitly demands getting the object built as fast as possible because we cannot measure responses and learn from them until the real article is available for testing.

Our stated company value of Fail and Fix it Fast (F3) manifests as completing the build phase as quickly as possible so that our collective engineering prowess can be turned to solving those pesky unforeseen problems that riddle all system designs. Gagne’s Razor, (Michael Gagne, founder of ARTeSYN), proposes that a project will be greater than 99% complete after three F3 cycles. By comparison, a project following a linear path will be only 60% complete after three F3 cycles (see figure 1). In both cases, 60% of the resources dedicated to a project have been consumed. Would you rather a project be 99% or 60% complete after consuming the same amount of company resources?

If we agree that we can’t fix what hasn’t been made, imagine the positive impact on both our company and our customers derived from completing the first F3 cycle as quickly as possible. The second cycle would then be the effort to ideate, design, and test solutions to the unforeseen problems and the third F3 cycle would be the effort to finalize the product for commercial launch.

Whenever I realize I’m getting stuck in Paralysis by Analysis I’m always reminded of this Mark Twain quote:

What gets us into trouble
is not what we don’t know
It’s what we know for sure
that just ain’t so