Don't ship if you're not ready

By: | Posted on: | Category:

Earth Probiotic, the business I founded with my wife Karen, develops and manufacturers its own automatic composting machines.

Karen and I sit down, have a glass of wine and then chat about stuff. And an idea pops up. So we work out a basic design and then chat to our engineering partner. Who then will be tasked with manufacturing the first machine which, if it works well, we'll sell to a customer.

That's the ideal process. Unfortunately product development is not that easy. We have been struggling to develop a small commercial composter for a few years now - and have spent a lot of money in the development and prototyping process. One of our engineering partners basically liquidated during the process and we ended up with a clump of raw steel and electric motors (which we sold for scrap).

But the biggest mistake we made was sending a unit that was not properly tested to the Seychelles (we ignored our own dictum of "if it works well").

The process was complicated as we appointed a new local manufacturer who, while they said they could do the job, turned out to have very little engineering experience to fabricate the composting machine (and as the process dragged their interest in the job quickly waned).

Even now I have heart palpitations thinking about the machine, the literal shipping deadlines, the regularly missed deliverables, the promises we, and our fabricator, made and couldn't (or didn't) keep.

We did try and delay the shipment (a little push back):

While we are committed to trying to accelerate the composters production time, our initial quotation indicated 8-10 weeks for manufacture. We are now sitting on 6 weeks from date of receipt of deposit. After discussion with my partner we feel that this accelerated timeline leads to too much product reliability risk.
Machines that travel outside of South Africa need to be 100% bullet proof prior to shipping - without the time for proper testing this currently cannot be guaranteed. Unfortunately we thus need to stick to our original 8-10 weeks production timeline (maximum 4 weeks to go).
We really don’t want you to spend money and effort and then end up with a machine that doesn’t work to either of our expectations. If you feel that this is unacceptable we will need to return your deposit. Let us know how you want to proceed?

But our fabricator kept on misssing deadline, after deadline after deadline. And the job pushed pushed and pushed. And we didn't get the chance to properly test the composter. So it shipped.

And, suprrise!, the composter didn't work as envisaged. Couplings broke. Mixing paddles got stuck. The torque setting on the motor was incorrect which caused the machine to trip.

Basically we had shipped a very very expensive piece of junk to a key client.

So we built a new one. Which has been properly tested. And is working really well (it ships this month).

But this new one is free to the client. The piece of shit we sent to the client is being replaced at our cost.

Which is painful.

Don't ship if you're not ready to ship. Rather miss the date. Take that pain.

Because if you don't, you'll have to take a lot more pain (and expense).