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Speed to decision making: Doug Smith: as Chief Technology Officer at Timken, Doug Smith focuses on keeping ideas flowing.

Timken has always been a great playground for young, developing engineers. I began my career as a summer intern at the Timken R&D facility while I was working on my education at MIT. I was exposed early on to many of the technical strengths that have differentiated the company over the years. As my career progressed, I expanded my experience beyond R&D and moved from managing technical topics and projects to managing people and processes. I spent three years in Europe as a program manager launching new products, then moved into roles managing our manufacturing systems group and new product development teams.

A turn in operations followed, where I worked in plant management and spent four years in Asia building out the company's local manufacturing footprint, developing organizational capabilities and supply chains--what an invaluable and eye-opening experience! Delivery dates, KPIs, lean thinking, six sigma, variance reports, constraint meetings, fast response meetings, and layered process audits ruled the day. Results were of paramount importance.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Timken's results-oriented manufacturing culture was helping me develop management skills that would pay off on my return to R&D. When Timken launched a strategic transformation, I was asked to assume my current role as Chief Technology Officer. The company was adapting its strategy and approach to an increasingly diverse set of markets, and the technology organization required a similar transformation to align its operating model with the changing needs of the enterprise.

Project management experience taught me the value of understanding the root cause of any problem that needed to be solved. Time spent in management emphasized the value of developing and motivating people, as well as running efficient processes. Experiences in manufacturing drilled home the value of measuring performance and delivering results. My current role as CTO has been an opportunity to put all these experiences together to improve how we innovate at Timken.

I often remind our scientists and engineers that similar to manufacturing--moving widgets through value-adding operations to deliver a product--in technology, we move ideas. Ideas become projects that flow through our Concept-to-Commercialization process.

Without sacrificing quality for speed, we've embraced the concept of speed to decision making. Like most companies, we track project milestone dates to ensure we're not "dieseling" too long in any given phase of our process. We've also instituted a value turnover metric for our innovation portfolio. It focuses attention on the most valuable and impactful projects and drives them to the front of the queue but also forces us to make the tough decisions about slow-moving or low-value projects. We reward people for delivering value, for moving items into commercialization, and for removing stranded items or items that are no longer valued. We also reward people for addressing value that is stuck in the system. The goal is to keep the activity moving forward or get it off the plate so we can work on something else.

It's one thing to design a racehorse of a process and it's another thing to feed it with quality ideas. So where do they come from? In truth, many places, but we've taken particular care to coordinate how we flow market plans into product plans and then into our technology roadmaps, which we use to determine where we'll go prospecting for ideas.

R&D can indeed seem a bit like prospecting. We're heading out in search of gold. We're going to scratch a little here, scratch a little there, and if we find a vein we're going to dig. And if it runs out, we're going to pull our equipment and go somewhere else, and we're going to move quickly. That keeps the ideas moving and greatly improves the chances of delivering value to our customers. Further, it's how Timken contributes to the world and keeps it turning with products and services for the next generation and beyond.

DOI: 10.5437/08956308X5704006
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Publication:Research-Technology Management
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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