Friday, August 23, 2013

The Winning System

I love being a designer. I have loved creating things since I was a boy. When I was 10 years old, I designed my first gravity powered go-cart. Technically, the power plant works by changing the potential energy to kinetic energy by starting at the top of a tall hill. Some called these soap box racers. But my "machine" had nothing to do with a soap box. It was a completely open air vehicle. It was a sweet wooden framed structure  with center pivoted foot steering and super smooth, super fast wheels. It was the envy of all my friends and became the base line design for all others. Was it the steering? Maybe the wheels? Perhaps the simplicity? Ah, the questions of youth.

For a 10 year old, it was a great design. There were many great features. But, even with the best wheels, no one would have paid attention to it without good steering. Without a robust frame, the roadster would never have survived the abuse of a wild child. It was the entire system that made the difference. Solid frame, comfortable seat, accurate steering, and robust wheels made the "car". All needed to be considered in the design. It was the system that made it great.

If you want a winning design, you have to start with a winning system. It's the system design that makes the other parts relevant. A winning systems design starts with solid and well defined requirements.

Back to the "hot rod of my youth". Yes, it was a great design for a 10 year old. But, it was not a complete system. Now for the rest of the story.

The initial run was down the steepest hill in our neighborhood. Experience would later teach that one should always start small when beginning the functional test program. The machine was fast and steered perfectly. But, as I reached the bottom of this hill, it was time to "turn off the kinetic energy". But, I failed to design a braking system! This was corrected on the first revision. But, not without a significant personal cost ( lots of scrapes and bruises).

Winning systems. That's where winning designs begin.

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