Just buy me a blue dress

That was the last thing my wife said to me as she kissed me goodbye and I settled into the cab bound for the airport. I was departing for a week long business trip to the US and her parting request was for a blue dress. "Sure," I thought. "How hard can that be?"

A day or so after landing, I managed to get my bearings enough to venture out to a local mall in San Jose. We don't have Macy's or Nordstrom's in Australia but we do have stores like them so I felt reasonably confident that any mall that had one of those department stores would most likely have what I was looking for. The hotel concierge suggested Valley Fair and so that's where the cab took me.

When I arrived, it just so happened that blue was one of the current season's colours; I should have expected as much if that was the colour my wife requested. But to my horror, trying to work out which blue dress to buy out of the huge selection quickly became quite overwhelming. The image I had conjured of returning home to joyous accolades from my wife was quickly overwhelmed by the paralysing fear of the consequences of buying the wrong thing. Not wrong because it wasn't blue; but wrong because it showed too much of this, or not enough of that, or didn't sit right, or didn't have enough space in the right places, or was too long, or too short, or was simply plain ugly! Finding a blue dress was the easy bit. But finding the right blue dress felt like a task that was destined to end in tears.

One of the challenges faced by electronics design and manufacturing organisations is how they manage the tenuous link between engineering, parts procurement, and manufacturing. Creating an electronics product requires the careful management of a myriad of constraints; only some of which are technical. If an engineer designs a product that is technically viable but commercially unviable then they have failed in their job; they have failed to design a product that ensures their organisation can remain competitive in the marketplace and in doing so, they not only risk the livelihood of their organisation, but also their longer term employment prospects.

Solving technical constraints is just one facet of effective design and it needs to be carefully balanced against, amongst other things, the financial constraints of the project. To pigeon hole engineering departments into black boxes that are divorced from procurement is a mistake. Somewhere in there, engineering needs visibility into the procurement systems in order to do its job. Engineers need to be able to see the cost implications of the choices they are making and trade those off against the technical merits of a given design solution.

So what does this have to do with blue dresses?

Put simply, whenever you attempt to decouple the source of the requirements from the procurement process, you are bound to come unstuck. Just as finding a blue dress for my wife was a careful balance between her requirements and expectations, and my financial resources, the same is true for electronics design. And just as I was destined to fail on my mission to find a blue dress because I simply had insufficient information to make the correct decision, it is imperative that all pertinent design and procurement data is available at design time so engineers can make educated choices about the components they specify.

And how did I solve my dilemma? I removed the gap between requirements and purchasing and bought her some lingerie instead!

Dr Marty Hauff, Altium Ltd

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I'm with you, and the same issues apply to the world of industrial design. What's the point of creating a great looking design if it's too expensive to manufacture and has no commercial base.

'Great design' should 'create great profits'

Comment Tim Evans, 22/10/2010

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