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I swear that some younger engineers are absolutely unteachable (unlearnable?). They not only know little of the industries they serve but are ignorant of how and why their industries do things in particular ways. I could of course cite Chesterton’s Fence as one example, but there are plenty more besides.
Over the last few days, I have had a back-and-forth with a younger engineer at a long-time customer, who seems keen to change how his company is doing things, but fails to understand why they are doing what they do in the first place. He’s going to have to learn the hard way, just like all the other younger engineers. What follows is just the condensed transcript of my emails back and forth.
Customer: I want to spec part Y on my vehicles.
Me: Are you sure? It costs more, and just to get up to your volumes will take me 20-24 weeks. It’s an old part with low demand. I don’t keep the parts around any more.
Customer: The lead time is unacceptable. If we buy more, can you shorten the lead time?
Me: No. I don’t have the parts. They take 20-24 weeks to get.
Customer: So you cannot shorten the lead time?
Customer: What do you have on the shelf that is equivalent?
Me: Product X, which you already use.
Customer: Does X have such long lead times?
Me: No. You use thousands a year. It’s always being built.
Customer: So why is part Y so hard to get?
Me: It’s different. It uses a complicated connector instead of spade terminals. Those connectors are not stocked anywhere. They made to order. And they take 20-24 weeks to get.
Customer: The lead time is unacceptable.
Me: It’s not in my hands. I don’t have the connector.
Customer: So if I order Y, it will take 20-24 weeks to get?
Customer: But I can have X now?
Me: You already have X. You use thousands a year.
Customer: So why is the lead time 20-24 weeks on Y?
Me: It’s different, and uses parts I don’t keep around. It’s old and doesn’t sell well. I was planning on dropping it entirely.
Customer: Why isn’t X affected by this?
Me: Because I make thousands a year. I only made 150 of Y last year.
Customer: Can you shorten the lead time of Y?
Me: No. I cannot shorten the lead time. It is not in my control. This is not negotiable.
Customer: So if I understand you right, if order Y, it will take 20-24 weeks to get?
Customer: What can I use in the meantime? I cannot hold up production.
Me: Product X! You already use it! I just shipped you 200 more this week. You’ve been using it since 2003! Why are you so keen on Y?
Customer: It’s smaller than X. We need to reduce space.
Me: X is already very small. And cheaper. You’d have to spec a more complicated harness to use Y.
Customer: Why is Y such a poor seller? Why don’t your other customers use Y? What aren’t you telling me?
Me: Y was made for 1 customer over a decade ago. They don’t use it anymore, we only make Y now to support the repair side. And mechanics hate connectors and break them, so when a vehicle comes in with Y they just cut it all out and install X. You can get spade terminal crimpers at Home Depot, while fixing that connector takes $400 crimpers that take… 20-24 weeks to get.
Customer: …So you cannot shorten that lead time?
Me: [swears profusely under breath]…
It’s never a good sign when you know more about a customer’s vehicle than they do.Published in