Success is measured in many ways especially when it comes to a high-tech company. In part, the success of a company depends on the differentiating factors and the value of the technology, goods, or services that it offers. Just as critically though, it relies on the company’s management practices—how well its executives manage lower-level managers and employees as well as partnerships and customer relationships. This is a lesson that managers at Agilent Technologies have learned over its many years of successful operation, and it’s one that has yielded valuable management strategies which can be used by any engineering, section, or program manager to do a better job.
• Stay close to your customer.
• Make a differentiated contribution.
• Leverage the global ecosystem.
• Execute effectively.
• Demonstrate leadership at all levels.
• Use emerging communications technology effectively.
These strategies may seem straightforward and sound overly simple. But when used effectively, they can help you realize success.
Stay Close to the Customer
In today’s high-tech industry, the boundaries of research are continually changing. As a result, it is all the more critical to stay as close as possible to your customers. Doing so will ensure you have the information you need to spot the direction of future technological breakthroughs. Successful managers and companies are the ones that not only can spot these potential technology advances early on but also have the ability to adapt their business strategies quickly in response.
Make a Differentiated Contribution
Developing a technology or product simply because it can be done is no guarantee of success these days. Instead, the goal you should truly be striving for is to do something that no one else can do or something that has not been done before. In other words, ensure you are making a fully differentiated contribution to the industry.
Leverage the Global Ecosystem
Despite the global economic downturn, the electronics industry is moving faster and faster. To succeed in this environment, companies have to be nimble. Moreover, you must leverage those external partners that can help you be more nimble and move faster in this market.
At Agilent, as with other vertically integrated companies, it is a continuing challenge to keep up with the pace of technology. In the past, vertically integrated companies used to do things in-house because certain capabilities simply did not exist externally. Today, contract manufacturers and solutions partners offer an array of capabilities, making outsourcing a much more viable proposition.
Like other companies who opted to outsource, Agilent had to learn to do a much better job of leveraging the global electronics ecosystem to its benefit. That meant learning to pick partners that we wanted to do business with for a long period of time and establishing a win-win relationship much like we have with our customers.
Typically when companies move to contract manufacturers, they look at them as a convenience rather than as a true partner. At Agilent, we have found that we are most successful when we work with contract manufacturers on a long-term basis. By doing so, our partners build an understanding of how our business works and what our needs are as well as an understanding of the needs of our customers.
Utilizing outside resources is important, as is creating a reliable partnership. As you put in the effort to establish that partnership, you naturally will get to know your partner’s capabilities, and inherently—since you already know your own core values and competencies—you can decide what’s appropriate to outsource. The bottom line is clear: By truly getting to know your partner, you can leverage the highest value back to your customer and your business.
Good ideas are important, but making money requires execution. Consequently, another key strategy for success is the ability to execute, putting a plan in place that delivers the intended customer benefits.
A prime example of effective execution at Agilent is the FieldFox RF Analyzer. By conducting research, we discovered engineers had a number of unspoken requests that were not being met by existing solutions in the marketplace, including:
• A fully environmentally enclosed package in compliance with MIL-PRF-28800F Class 2 that did not use fans or vents.
• An instrument that is easy to use and has an intuitive interface and fast response.
• Elimination of any mechanical external calibration.
• A longer battery life.
• An instrument in a small package capable of accommodating multiple functionality.
By staying close to our customers and listening to them carefully, we were able to identify a gap between what our customers wanted and what the measurement industry was delivering. We then began executing a plan that would allow us to deliver the capabilities our customers wanted.
The FieldFox RF Analyzer was the result of that plan. Its QuickCal calibration, for example, eliminates the need for mechanical external calibration. It also provides the multiple capabilities our customers requested, including a cable and antenna analyzer, network analyzer, spectrum analyzer, power meter, and vector voltmeter in one instrument.
Another example of effective execution can be seen with Agilent’s RF and microwave electromechanical switches. Our customers repeatedly told us that they value quality and reliability as much as they do performance. They wanted performance but at the same time were unable to take their test system apart to replace worn out switches. The process was simply too time- and cost-prohibitive. We listened closely to these customer comments, which led to the development of switches with guaranteed operating times of 10 million cycles.
Demonstrate Leadership at All Levels
Effective leadership does not begin and end at the top. Instead, success stems from ensuring that every manager at every level of the company is doing his or her part.
Use Emerging Communications Technology Effectively
Over the years, emerging communications technology has played an important role in successful management. The advent of the Internet and program management software that runs on it, for example, has helped make it possible for vertically integrated companies to effectively outsource work to contract manufacturers.
But not all emerging communications technology offers such a key benefit. Social media such as twitter is a prime example of this point. While it might be able to complement good management practices, it should not be used to make up for poor management. There is simply no substitute for meeting people, getting to know them, and sharing their excitement about their business. Simply put, use emerging communications as a complement rather than a replacement for traditional forms of management communications.
Success depends on many factors. While it is true that what works for one manager or company might not always work for another, there are key strategies that can be used to aid in this pursuit. At Agilent, these strategies have been as integral in helping us launch innovative new products and technology as they have been in establishing mutually beneficial long-term partnerships and win-win relationships with our customers.
About the Author
G. P. Peters is vice president and general manager of the Component Test Division, part of the Electronic Measurement Group at Agilent Technologies. Mr. Peters has 24 years of experience in a variety of design, test, and measurement fields as an engineer and manager at Hewlett-Packard and Agilent Technologies. He holds a B.S.E.E. from Iowa State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado and has completed classes through Harvard’s Executive Education Program. e-mail: [email protected]