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ITEC: How Goodyear created its Assurance TripleTred

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On Thursday, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.´s Sam Landers talked about the development of the Assurance tire family at the International Tire Exposition and Conference (ITEC).

In his speech, "Rubbing the Magic Lamp, Assurance Line Development Protocol," Landers told attendees how Goodyear came together to create a tire that has benefited the company in many ways.

Here is Landers´ speech at ITEC. He is an R&D Fellow and a member of Goodyear´s "Future Technology Development Team."

Background

As Goodyear ended the year in 2002 -- deep in debt, stock price dipping to a 20 year low, and market share declining -- it needed some real magic. This was the situation as Jon Rich took over as president of Goodyear´s North American Tire unit in December.

Jon Rich knew he needed to do something quickly to bring dealers back to Goodyear in a strong way. He envisioned an innovative new product that wouldn´t be just a re-expression of an existing product. It would be a tire developed from the market back by taking what consumers wanted and using that as the blueprint. He wanted a tire designed to excite dealers and their customers and it needed to be ready to be presented at Goodyear´s dealer conference in February of 2004.

That kind of time frame, essentially 12 months for concept to market, represented an enormous challenge especially for such an innovative new product. Typically such a project would have taken at least twice as much time, but Jon Rich´s vision was clear. There was no debating; there was no choice. To succeed it was also clear that we had to do things differently and we had to start immediately.

Jon Rich´s new product became the Assurance TripleTred. It was launched on time and with great fanfare at Goodyear´s 2004 dealer conference in February as planned. It helped create the excitement that Jon Rich had planned and now appears to be on track to more than double the planned first-year sales estimates. The Assurance with TripleTred technology is on track to be Goodyear´s most successful new tire introduction, exceeding even the award-winning Aquatred.

Assurance success factors

When we looked back and analyzed what we did, we identified a number of things that were done differently and done right, but they all were not really surprising taken one at a time. They all seemed to have been the subjects of countless books and articles over the last decade. We found that reading about these factors is one thing and effectively implementing them in your own environment on a crash basis is quite another. What was most interesting (and surprising) was how an impossibly challenging objective – a virtual crisis situation at the time -- seemed to actually enable us.

Some of the key factors for success we found were:

* "rubbing the magic lamp" -- embracing change through innovation.

* working in parallel instead of in series.

* orchestrating an empowered cross-functional team.

* accelerated ideation and uncertainty management.

* fast and adaptable learning tools.

I will describe each of these key factors in a way that might suggest that they were perfectly implemented and flawlessly executed. The reality of course was slightly different. We actually had to learn about these principles as we were executing the project; missteps occurred and corrections were made on the fly. Even with these learning opportunities it was surprising how effective these strategies are.

Rubbing the magic lamp

Aladdin´s genie was a supernatural, magical creature that was imprisoned in a lamp. With a rub of the lamp, Aladdin released the genie to do his bidding. Our magical genie is innovation and innovation means change. An important key to innovation is an acceptance or even a desire for change. Most organizations are designed for control and efficiency. Deviations from standards are to be eliminated. Surprises are to be minimized. At the core of innovation is always a surprise, something that was not previously realized or expected. Innovation will be naturally suppressed unless it is specifically included in the product vision statement and strategy.

Jon Rich rubbed the lamp and let the genie out by specifically challenging us with his bold vision of a new and exciting product that required significant change and innovation to be ready for launch at the 2004 dealer meeting. His request was clear and concise:

* create a tire that is so visually distinctive that consumers would look at someone´s car and know that it is a Goodyear tire.

* create a tire that will generate a "buzz" that will cause consumers to go to a Goodyear store and ask for it by name.

* create a Goodyear flagship product that demonstrates Goodyear´s best technology and quality and becomes a rallying point for Goodyear in its turnaround.

He clearly communicated to the entire company that change, not business as usual, was the objective. This significantly reduced the standard corporate immune system´s resistance to change and allowed the project to move as fast as possible. Rather than resisting the efforts of the team, everyone did what they could to support it. The project was now on everyone´s business plan and they were available to help.

Working in parallel instead of in series

Working on all tasks at the same time in parallel should be faster than working on each one, one at a time, in series. The problem is that almost all of the tasks in a process are dependent on information from another task. This is why we had felt logically forced to do them in series.

But what if we didn’t require the information needed to start a task to be complete and correct before it is started? What if tasks were started as early as possible, making assumptions based on the best available information at the time? It sounds like chaos, like a lot of people will be wasting a lot of time, going in the wrong directions, all at the same time. It would be -- unless they really communicate. Communication is key to learning together.

The new product design process is actually a learning process. A project team starts out with only a definition of a business objective. The details of their final product are at first totally unknown. This is the "fuzzy" front end of the design process. Throughout the design process they learn by gathering bits of data from which they can gain insights that allow them to make decisions about what the new product is and what it is not. At the end of the process the new product is fully defined. The team has learned what it is.

When steps of the design process are in series, there are built-in limits. Learning is limited to only those individuals directly involved. Limited data restricts the insights that can be gained. Working in parallel removes limits and allows everyone to see the big picture and learn together. More people have more information and greater insights to ultimately converge faster and make better decisions. But team members need to behave with a different etiquette when working in parallel. For example:

1. Working in series. When working in series everyone expects (even demands) that the information they receive to do their task is accurate and will not change. This expectation maximizes their efficiency and eliminates wasteful reworks. The communication of inaccurate data prematurely is not tolerated.

2. Working in parallel. When working in parallel it is important that everyone openly communicates his or her "best guesses" at any point in time. Everyone must also accept that in the early stages things will change as the team learns and gains new insights. In the early stages, people must be allowed to change their minds based on new information. As time passes the information will stabilize and the team will converge on the optimum solution. Regular, open, face-to-face, communication meetings (open to all) and flexibility are key to employing this strategy.

It is interesting that this strategy does not seem to work if the project is not moving fast enough. There seems to be a certain "critical mass" of information flow needed before it is effective. An important, fast moving project seems to draw people in and generate an excitement that people want to be a part of. When you reach the critical mass of information flow, you need a bigger meeting room.

A novel extension of the principle of working in parallel was employed to minimize risk. There were actually two design teams working in parallel, an initial concept team and a second, back-up design team. The strategy was to have a lead design team be very aggressive in pursuing exciting new concepts. The role of the second team was to follow and anticipate potential weaknesses in the first team´s strategy and initiate preemptive corrective action programs. Risk was minimized and cycle time shortened by having design solutions in process before potential weaknesses were actually found.

Orchestrating and empowering a cross-functional team

Working in parallel implies the need for a cross-functional team with members from different areas represented. As the program progressed, the working team naturally grew quickly and transformed into a true cross-functional team with representation from key functional areas. This transformation also required an evolution in thinking styles.

Rather than wait for a formal team to be officially formed, we had to get started immediately. We took advantage of an existing advanced development team made up of members with multi-functional experience and insights. This initial team was made up of people who were "innovator" types.

Innovator type: People who are curious and naturally more creative with proven idea generating skills. These are people who like trying new things and challenging rules and paradigms. They are more comfortable with ambiguity and taking risks. They are generally divergent thinkers who are always coming up with more and more great ideas even after the deadline has passed.

In contrast, the type of people needed to be efficient in the final validation and standardization stages are the "protector" type individuals.

Protector type: People who are more highly structured and detail oriented. These people like proven things and following rules. They are driven to create order and minimize risk. They are generally convergent thinkers who want to find the single "right" answer the first day of the project.

Essentially, the team needed to shift from a risk taking thinking style to a risk minimizing one in an unnaturally short period of time. It is difficult, if not impossible, for people to change that fast; so we gradually changed the team members´ roles and the leadership of the project to match the thinking style needed. Innovators made the decisions early on and protectors made decisions as we converged at the end.

The cross-functional team structure did allow us to make better decisions faster because there was cross-functional input, but it is important to point out that decisions were not made cross-functionally. Consensus decisions made by committee are usually unacceptably slow and often overly compromised. The right people still clearly retained the responsibility for making decisions related to their own area.

The decision making was orchestrated to stay on schedule. It was important that the right people make the right decisions at the right time with no time-wasting second-guessing from the others. Everyone from each of the different areas had to have respect for the decisions made by all the others. Like an orchestra performing a symphony with different instruments playing at different times, everyone had their time to perform and their time to keep quiet. Sometimes it was important for two areas to perform together and collaborate closely to jointly arrive at a decision.

The first collaborative decision effort was the identification and selection of product features and benefits. This was done by an iterative collaboration between Market Research and Tire Technology. The answer to the age-old debate about which one drives the process, market pull or technology push, we feel was answered. We found that it is best done together at the same time. Market research determines what customers want and technology determines what can be done. To be successful both conditions must be satisfied at the same time. Like a guided missile the technology effort underwent constant correction in direction through continual feedback from the customer and market research.

There were several other close collaborations that occurred at various times throughout the process in which two areas quickly iterated to a joint decision. By being along for the ride from the beginning of the process, everyone was aware of the decisions made at each point and why the decisions were made the way they were. There was no backtracking or rehashing to get people up to speed. They were more ready to make decisions when it was their turn. In fact, by actually seeing the program evolve over the weeks, they often anticipated their decisions and started work ahead of time.

People on the project, for the most part, assumed the responsibility for making decisions. They did not wait for management to review and approve the decisions for their area. There wasn´t time. Literally, every day counted. All the decisions that were made by the team throughout any week were reviewed once a week with management. Also, approximately every six weeks, the overall strategy and progress were reviewed with the business leadership -- including Jon Rich -- to make sure we were on track to deliver what they wanted. Occasionally there were slight adjustments to the team´s direction.

One of the side benefits of this empowerment was that individuals started to take the initiative in solving problems before being asked. In a couple of cases, problems were solved before the core team was even aware that there was a problem. In a project that has as part of its definition "new and exciting" and "innovative" it is guaranteed that there will be unexpected problems to solve. It is essential that everyone feel that it is their responsibility to help solve problems immediately as they come up.

Accelerated ideation and uncertainty management

It was clear from the start that there wasn´t time to invent something totally new. We had to innovate but move quickly and go with what we had. What we had was an R&D organization with a substantial number of top engineers and scientists working at the leading edge of various areas of tire science. Even though it isn´t always visible or formalized, these people are always working on the next technical breakthrough in their area. The challenge was to quickly tap into this reservoir of emerging ideas.

We formed an "Ideation Team" of about a dozen innovative types who, besides being creative, had good informal networks into the various key R&D technology areas. After an initial briefing and training session, these individuals were sent on an "idea scavenger hunt" to find innovative opportunities consistent with the new product objectives. During the first week, we had a series of brainstorming sessions in which ideas were posted and discussed. These meetings were more about communicating and sharing ideas that the team found than it was about generating new ideas. Each idea represented a design feature that might be incorporated into our new tire. The team then scored each idea according to its relative consumer appeal and consistency with project objectives.

In the second week, each team member was asked to work independently to create a "product scenario" made up of from four to six of the new idea features posted on the board. Each team member’s "product scenario" was to be their entry into a competition. Their objective was to create the most compelling, new and exciting, product scenario they could think of. We found that this integrating process often created many more new ideas that were not on the board. These new ideas could be secretly incorporated into their product scenario and be seen for the first time during their presentation.

The competition occurred during the third week. Team members were given only one minute to present his or her best possible product scenario to a panel of judges. Their concepts had to be presented on only one 8½-inch by 11-inch sheet of paper. These constraints helped team members converge on concepts that could be easily understood and quickly communicated. The panel of judges who scored the product concepts was made up of members of technical and marketing middle managers who were stakeholders in the project.

By the fourth week the formal "ideation process" was completed and the major first step of our learning process was completed. Several basic product concepts were selected for further refinement and testing; our "fuzzy" product definition was beginning to take shape. The next step was to test these early product definitions with customers using market research to verify that they had the potential to excite customers. At the same time, in parallel, the design engineers started the process of reducing the concepts to practice and verifying their technical viability.

As the team moved through the process, we sequentially learned and defined all the aspects of our new product:

* what it was, its features and how it performed.

* what customers value about it and how much they are willing to pay for it.

* how it will be made and how much it will cost to produce.

We started with the fuzzy situation of almost total uncertainty, diverged to many possible product concepts, and then systematically gathered data and made decisions until we converged on a final complete definition. Controlled convergence was how we managed uncertainty and kept the decision making on schedule.

Every new, innovative feature we were considering had some degree of uncertainty. The more we knew about a feature, the lower its uncertainty. In our process, before any new design feature can be released and used in a product, it must pass specific performance validation testing to prove it is ready for consumer use. Our objective is to gather enough data to reduce the uncertainty to a level that is ready for commercialization. Some innovative features converge very fast and others are much slower to develop.

There is a strong tendency for divergent-thinking, inventor types to hang onto new concepts too long, believing that if given just another few days they would figure out how to make them work. In our accelerated development strategy, it didn´t matter how good an idea seemed to be. If its uncertainty was not converging fast enough, it could not be saved and would have to be dropped from consideration. This allowed the team to focus its efforts more and more on the good ideas that were converging on schedule. Periodically the uncertainty level of each new feature was monitored relative to our accelerated schedule and hard choices were forced to maximize our probability for success.

Fast and adaptable learning tools

The cycle time of a project depends upon the rate that uncertainty can be reduced to an acceptable level by gathering data. Building actual tire prototypes is costly and very time consuming. Significant investments have been made to develop computer-modeling tools that would be accurate enough to predict the results from actual tests. Recently the speed of computers had progressed to the point that the complexity of tire constructions and their loading conditions could begin to be realistically modeled.

Fortunately for the success of our project, there were some new innovative techniques in these computer-modeling tools that were in the early stages of being implemented. Initial validation tests were very promising but the new tools had not yet been fully released. We were lucky that some of the people involved in the development of these tools were also part of our project team and they were anxious to try using them on our new designs. Unfortunately, their initial attempt failed.

Computer tools are programmed to model only known design configurations. Innovations cannot be anticipated, so computer tools are often not capable of modeling them. This failed attempt to model our innovative designs gave us new insights into the meaning of "outside the box thinking." The modeling tool programmers quickly responded and attacked the problem. Within a month they had successfully made the necessary modifications to allow us to take advantage of the new tools while still in the design optimization phase. Our design innovations had triggered the need for modeling tool innovations.

True innovations seem to cause a domino effect of other innovations that are required to support the first. These supporting innovations may be in modeling, testing, manufacturing processes, or materials. The speed that any product innovation can be implemented is contingent upon the speed of all of the other support innovations that might be required. An innovation team that is trying to move as fast as possible must try to anticipate and be prepared to rapidly address changes in other areas to be successful. Most often the people needed to respond to these challenges are not immediately available. Because advanced modeling people were part of our team we were able to take advantage of these time saving tools.

Leading edge, innovative projects do not make up the majority of the efforts in a traditional, manufacturing-based company such as Goodyear. Most projects are far more incremental and closely follow traditional standards. Efforts to reduce cost and cycle time are therefore almost always focused on the vast majority of standard projects where they can make the biggest impact. As a result, routine projects that follow standards are automated and benefit the most from these efforts while advanced projects are usually unsupported and must be accomplished through fundamental approaches.

Fast innovation requires that the fast data-generating tools be easily adapted and used on new concepts. This often means having the right people available to quickly respond and make changes. Normally these skilled people would not have been available on short notice because their time would have already been fully committed to other planned business objectives. Our needs might have made their priority list in a year’s time -- if it would be considered important enough. By that time our project would have been over.

The unexpected benefits

The exciting new product was the objective and obvious big payoff, but it appears that there were several other unexpected benefits. Innovations were created not only in the product, but also in the design tools and techniques that supported the innovation. These process innovations are now available to benefit many other future products. The project was also a catalyst for accelerated innovations in the materials and manufacturing areas. Even the way we used market research and how teams worked together will definitely influence all our future projects. It has also been very exciting to see how this special project accelerated the rate of change throughout Goodyear, but we know that it has only raised the bar for the next big thing.

Different success factors exist in every organization. What worked for us may not work for every company. Every organization must find its own magic lamp and determine how to let its genie out.

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