Monday, September 6, 2010

Taking Stock in What We Know

Over the past 40+ years I have been involved with many, many situations where, for want of a better description, chaos reigns.  That has been true of projects with small companies and with large ones, like Microsoft.  It is inevitable in the computer industry.

It is never any fun to be in a chaotic situation where uncertainty reigns.  And, from reading just about every message about the eCraft on the Yahoo group and Craftwell's Facebook page, it's clear that this is true in the situation in which eCraft owners find themselves.  So, for what it's worth I would like to suggest something that has never failed me in W-A-Y worse situations than this one.  (I once felt it necessary to return more than $30,000 to a client because the software I had tried to use was so bad that I felt I could not complete the project.)

In the rural area I grew up in, the method I use is generally called "Taking Stock".  We step back and rather than looking at what we DON'T know, we focus on listing what we DO know.  And, then try to use that to  apply to the things that we don't know.

So, what do we know?

First, we know that the standalone eCraft is able to cut the shapes on an inserted SD card without stuttering.  That tells us the the cutting engine, the firmware inside the machine dedicated to perfoming cutting operations is basically working.  Yes, we've seen evidence that squares are not square.  But, they ARE at least rectangles and not random jittering lines.  So, our first known is this:

KNOWN #1: The basic cutting engine inside the eCraft is working correctly.

We also know that the basic design of the hardware is excellent. While we've had to learn the settings and when to use the blade cover or not, most of us, with a little experience under our belts, can cut most materials including heavy card stock, light papers, cloth and model airplane plywood.  While we haven't had the luxury of seeing how it performs over several years, it certainly seems tough enough to take some erious punishment.  So, our second known is this:

KNOWN #2: The eCraft hardware design is excellent and the build is rugged.

Beyond the machine, we know some things about the company. We know that the harware beta testers have said that the company has been very responsive when it came to hardware changes and that the machine we now have is a vast improvment over the machine they were first give to test. So, to me that is something that we should not and cannot forget when it comes to the current software situation.

KNOWN #3: Craftwell has proven responsive in the past

We now know a bit more about the structure of the organization behind the eCraft. We can visualize this structure as three arms... manufacturing, software and marketing (with support).

KNOWN #4: The Structure behind Craftwell has three arms

The parent company of Craftwell is Asian based and it is a large manufacturing company with what we Americans call "deep pockets". We have been told, and I believe it to be true that they have many years of experience in electronics manufacturing and that they have a large staff of engineers. Since I don't know any more than this about the company, I am going to limit my 'known' factor to one thing.

KNOWN #5: The Manufacturing Arm of eCraft is large and experienced.

The software company is revealed by eCraftShop Pro, itself. As I write this, I do not have the software available. So, I will have to modify this blog entry when I return home from traveling. But, it is an India based company that specializes in writing software for startup ventures. It appears to be a large organization and India has become a center of software development because of their combination of high education and lower wages. You would be very surprised to learn how many large U.S. Game companies rely on programmers and designers from India and China. My only concern about long distance programming is that direct contact is lost and this, I feel, is what happened with eCraftShop Pro. What appears to be a software problem is really a communication and software management problem. Given the size of the campany behind the software and the location where brilliant programmers are readily available, I think once the communication and project management issues are fixed, we will be quite pleased with the end result. But, for now, it is nothing less than disastrous for Craftwell. So, our knowns for this paragraph are three-fold:

KNOWN #6: The software arm of the Craftwell Organization is large

KNOWN #7: Because it was large, Craftwell might not have paid enough attention to managing the software development more directly

KNOWN #8: Fixing the communication and project Management problems will fix the software problems

A lot of people are surprised to hear me call Craftwell a start-up company. After all, the parent company is enormous and has many years of experience in the electronics field. Start-up companies are generally seen as little mom and pop operations working with a shoe string budget. So, how can I call Craftwell, that oblviously is NOT in that category a start-up.

Well, it's because I have been involved in many such start-ups over the years. IBM had been in the mainframe computer business for many, many years when it formed a team to market the PC Junior. The PC Junior team was a start-up within the umbrella organization. Moreoever, the thrust of the marketing of the PC Junior was completely outside the long experience of IBM. IBM knew corporate marketing. They were clueless about consumer marketing and that is why I was brought in by the PC Junior team to explain to their parent organization why their strategy was destined to fail if they did not change quickly. I still have the paper I presented, to no avail, and the PC Junior not only failed; but, failed miserably. What was the missing element in IBM's strategy? Emotion. IBM had opted for practicality and completely missed the emotional aspects of why people felt the strong need to "learn computers" at the time.

But, that is not my only example. Hasbro is the largest toy maker in the world. But, with Nolan Bushnell of Atari fame, they created a little startup video game company called ISIX in the 1980's that had to stand on its own to succeed. Time-Life Software was a startup within the giant Time-Life organization. Astrocade, sold the video game system developed and owned by the Bally empire. Cosmic Blobs was a small startup tean within the giant Dessault orgranization.

I worked with all of these projects that were effectly startups within much larger organizations. One of the things that made them a startup was that they were moving the company into a market into which they had never gone before. So, even though all of these large companies had years of experience, they did NOT have experience in the field in which the startup team was going to be taking them.

And, that is where the Craftwell offices in the U.S. come in. They are the startup team taking their parent company into the new market of digital die cutters and crafting. And, it is obvious that this startup team was more focused on getting the hardware right than on getting the software right. In fact, I believe that they were (and are) a bit naive about the level of sophistication that will be required by the software to satisfy this marketplace.

But, I also think that they will NOT make that mistake in the future. So, my knowns for these last paragraphs are:

KNOWn #9: The Craftwell team can be considered a startup

KNOWN #10: Start-ups by the very nature of moving in new directions, lack some of the operational experience they need.

KNOWN #11: Those gaps in expertise can be filled quickly.

The infrastructure is there. All the elements for total success are there when we take stock of what we know. Naivete is not surprising in a startup team since there are so many unknowns to the team. They are charting new waters. But, those gaps that resulted in the software we see can be easily corrected by better communication and stronger project management. This is a wake-up call and I think the Craftwell management knows this and is now VERY wide awake!

You wait and see. The end result of this current chaos is going to result in a stronger and more dominant product in the future. I LOVE working with people that have experienced some failure. They are the truly wise ones. Nobody knows better then they, what to watch out for in the future.

If you have already purchased an eCraft and are concerned, I think you'd be wiser to keep it than to return it. My experience says this a GOOD thing (although it looks TERRIBLE now) for all of us in the very near future.


Ruthie said...

Hiya TOm - hope everything is going as it should be with family etc. All over tomorrow!

Another couple of Knowns - Craftwell have excellent customer service

SVGs CAN be cut on the machine

I think these two are both really positive factors and they make me very happy!

PS Monkey appears to have been blogging again!

Ruthie said...

When we were first setting the machines up we were told about not starting the machine AFTER we had started the software but to make sure the machine was on before the software was started. I was trying various files today and tried to cut a file having started the software before the machine - it wouldnt cut at all. I tried starting the machine first and it cut fine. I then deliberately went back and did it the "wrong" way again and it wouldnt cut! Another piece for the puzzle!

AND - tried another file and it imported the wrong size!


Tom Meeks said...

It is interesting the the Scallop Circle.SVG that Tina uploaded to the files section of the eCraft_Crafters yahoo Group never fails. And, it's quite complex. But, a very simple one fails with absolute consistency.

So, I'm guessing that the problem is going to be easily located with these consistent examples.

I'm off to check out Monkey, Monkey!