Like its famed quality philosophy, Japan’s cost-management system stands Western practice on its head. For example, American companies developing a new product typically design it first and then calculate its cost. If the expected unit cost is too high, the product goes back to the drawing board or the company settles for a smaller profit. In a reversal of this typical American process of product development, the Japanese first start with a target cost based on a market price that is likely to appeal to consumers. All else follows from this crucial judgment.
After deducting the desired profit margin from the expected selling price, product managers develop cost estimates for each of the elements that make up total costs: design and engineering, manufacturing, and sales and marketing. Each of these cost categories is first sub divided into the finished product. As a result, all parties involved with the product development process have a precise estimate of the cost implications of each individual product characteristic. Then, designers, engineers, and marketing staff are directed to meet these stringent cost and pricing targets.
Every manufacturing part or function thereby becomes the focus of an intense bargaining process among departments of the manufacturing company, as well as between the company and its outside suppliers. While initial estimates may exceed cost target by 20% or more, the final result of intense bargaining between product designers, process engineers, and marketing specialists often results in final cost projections that are well within the original target. This is in sharp contrast to US companies where roughly 85% of product costs are determined by design specifications. There is often too little feedback between design and engineering personnel on how slight modifications to product design could cut costs without any resulting penalty in terms of product reliability.