Buy America? Bye, American Jobs

Here’s the ultimate irony, one with dramatic consequences to US families: a federal policy to stimulate our flagging economy that actually puts more of our jobs at risk. “Buy American” provisions found within this year’s $788 billion stimulus spending package expose US workers in several manufacturing sectors to job loss. It’s that the stipulations of our national and local governments buying only “all-US-sourced goods” places an undue burden on most manufacturers who’ve sourced raw materials and components from foreign suppliers for decades. So – no competitive bids on public works contracts means loss of revenue… and layoffs.

That, coupled with the current administration lurching toward protectionist duck-n-cover, put the US as a whole at risk of losing ground in its export growth. Whose interests in the US are being served, in the long run? Considering that some 80% of Americans work for small to medium-sized manufacturers — all of whom partake of the international business pie — it’s dicey to start tariff wars. This month has produced a costly tit-for-tat between the US and China, having to do with Tires and Chickens. If other industries besides poultry and tires run for cover, then Sino-US upsmanship could tip the balance of world trade badly against our manufacturers. (I’ve written in an earlier blog post about the administration’s perceived double-talk regarding NAFTA-initiated reciprocal trucking rights for Mexico … to date, no satisfaction on either side of the fence)

I’ll be watching how our administration plays both sides of the crowd at this weekend’s gathering of the G20 (the group of big, rich, and emerging economies) in Pittsburgh.

A voice in the wilderness has been the U.S. Chamber, whose president and CEO Tom Donohue cheers from the bleachers for the US worker, while boosting the association’s goal of doubling US exports by 2014. Speaking recently in East Lansing, Michigan, Donohue reminded guests that “it was our free enterprise system and our values of individual initiative, hard work, and innovation that built our great country—and trade has been central to our success.” Read an excellent synopsis of the talk here.

What would I do if I were running the joint? Let the free market reign … remove obstacles to our successful competition and ratify pending free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and others.

Stalemate, or Escalation? American companies have too much at risk right now to get drawn in to this game. Unfettered, they can sustain competitive edge and continue to expand exports… which would make the US Chamber cheer even harder.

Software Product Launch: Where’s True North?

Software developers reach a point, when poised to launch a new-generation product, where The Launch takes on a life of its own. A well-oiled, buttoned-down enterprise with a market-killer under wraps observes one day that no one department or team can objectively step in and lead the product to Launch Day. Girded with its own focused set of agendas, tasks, and perceptions of influence, each hard-working and knowledgeable team with a stake in the launch finds it hard to keep their eye on a common goal. As their focus becomes more task-directed, specific to their unique slice of the enterprise pizza, their focus can shift off the common goal and become redirected.

Companies who do launches correctly recognize this fact just about the time the product nears Alpha Test. They put out the call for an impartial set of eyes to come in and blaze a trail … a modern day Hawkeye (of Fenimore Cooper fame). This launch scout drops into the process and quickly gauges the landscape, analyzing the strengths and challenges facing the enterprise. Once he sees the lay of the land, he put in words and pictures what all the teams know to be true, but haven’t collectively agreed upon: True North. Modern-day trailblazing.

I’m lucky enough to be Hawkeye right now, selected to guide the launch of a unique software solution for a highly-respected developer. Initially, I was slightly bemused as to why I had been hired, given the leadership and talent that was in ready evidence during my first meeting with the leadership team. After a few days of assessing critical factors — market needs vs. product traits, product readiness vs. development milestones, competitive reviews, pricing strategies, brand positioning, and implications for the existing sales channel — I came away smiling. The teams had pulled together a compelling argument for launching what will become a market killer in a highly-specialized B2B space. They dove deeply into well-thought-out rationales for when and where to position said market killer. And they came up with another winner for their company, which has led their market sector for years. Now the fun begins!

What was missing? They have a dynamite team, they’re already dominating their space, and each group seems likely to complete their specific tasks by launch time. What compelled them to put out the SOS? Simply this: The Launch had become a Life Force, bigger than the sum of each team’s task list. The form and function — how the new product is sold, how it reaches its customers — means the simultaneous movement of many pieces of cheese throughout the enterprise, from front line sales reps to back-office accountants. And, while the True North of the product’s value had been generally agreed upon, it was yet to be put down in black and white for all to see and say. There was no shortage of creativity, talent or market chops, but simply not enough time, and no one to keep the groups focused on the trail ahead. That’s where I come in. In the footsteps of Cooper’s frontier scout, Hawkeye, I am tasked with leading the way.

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