Product Creation (10)
So-called “Waterfall” or “Phase-Gate” product development methodologies often give management the illusion that they are under control of the project, while they are actually just meddling and slowing it down. Each formal gate meeting or project review is an opportunity for every manager to put the project team under scrutiny about what they have accomplished and whether they should continue with the next phase. I have been on both sides of the PC projector for many of these reviews, so I know what I am talking about.
When a gate checkpoint meeting or formal review is approaching, the project slows down. The project manager and key technical contributors view the meeting as an opportunity to show their value or possibly to slip up, which may affect not only their project, but quite possibly their personal ranking and stature. Therefore they spend a lot of time and emotional energy on perfecting slideware – deciding what to emphasize or perhaps what to obfuscate about the progress of the project. These meetings drive other suboptimal behavior as well; for example, in order to show a “quick win” at a review, the team may take on a quick, low-risk piece of the development instead of concentrating their talents on retiring the higher-risk elements as early as possible. These deferred high-risk elements can cause major project problems and delays later.
I have seen such a situation, when a newly-hired manufacturing expert applied lean principles directly according to the theoretical ideals, to a high-tech, high-mix, low-volume operation. The result was a near shut-down of the manufacturing operation for three months while “save-the-company” modifications to processes and tools were made. Thankfully, when the dust settled we had a balance of lean and other manufacturing philosophies that was more appropriate to the business. The same could happen to a product development processes if care is not taken. These roll-outs need to be done carefully, with skill, respecting the past, the company culture, the needs of the customers, and the market and industry, balancing various philosophies to create the best optimization for your business.
Teams that develop new products are challenged to produce a high-quality, valuable solutions in as short a time as possible and within a tight budget. We all know that slippage in time-to-market; decreased functionality, or increased cost can have major negative consequences for the business, and may even determine the success or failure of a new product launch.
One major cause of such slippage is confusion within the team around roles and responsibilities. If nobody on the team knows who is empowered to make a certain decision, the decision can go unmade, wasting valuable time, or be made by the wrong person – the person who does not have the knowledge to make such decisions.
Many new product development (NPD) teams try to prevent this kind of “wheel spinning” by writing extensive Role Descriptions for each member of the team, attempting to make it clear who is “in charge” of each type of decision. Or they may use more generic corporate job descriptions for the same purpose. The problem is that most NPD projects are fluid and dynamic and problems may arise for which there is no clear owner. A common example occurs in deciding the feature set of a product or solution at its launch date. Who can decide? Is it the Project Manager? The Product Manager? The funding Business Leader? A major customer? Indecision in the feature set, or “creeping featurism” is one of the leading causes of project slippage and it’s almost always due to confusion about who can make the call.asd
During this time of economic uncertainty and the likely increase of tax and expense burden on businesses mandated by changes in law, executives are seeking even greater productivity from the workforce in order to maintain bottom-line profitability or even survival. There is a generations-long history of companies achieving progressively greater productivity. Nevertheless, business leaders are seeking new ways to continue this trend.
Many writers have described a wide variety of ways to squeeze the nth degree of output from individuals of all job descriptions. A range of consultants will happily charge tidy sums for 1-day or 2-day workshops on the subject. There is another way, one that costs very little, if anything, and enjoys a high payback. The prerequisite is that an executive needs confident and effective managers and leaders to realize this productivity increase.
Has your business growth flattened or even decayed in your market, and no amount of marketing or sales seems to be able to help it? What do you do? Develop new solutions for this market? Try to enter adjacent markets? Here is a process that we have seen used successfully in a number of different technology companies to recharge growth in revenue and profits.
Start with re-examining the Mission and Vision of your company. Why does your company exist, and what would it look like in 5 years if it was more successful in fulfilling that Mission? Don’t accept some generic statement like “to increase shareholder value.” Your Mission statement should be unique to your company, and not apply just the same to General Motors, Apple Computer, or Mrs. Fields Cookies. What will you NOT do?
The Mission and Vision statements give you the framework to take the next steps, illustrated below:
Statistical demand forecasting techniques have been available to industry for decades, but small- and medium-sized companies rarely use them. There are barriers to implementing these techniques, but these hurdles are quickly becoming lower. In this article, I will discuss statistical forecasting of customer demand and of material demand; and how to start using it quickly and cost effectively.
The key benefit to becoming competent at statistical demand forecasting is significant inventory reduction. The cash preserved from this reduction can be used to finance more value added activities. Plus, judiciously reducing all inventory is one of the fastest ways of converting floor space from inventory storage into space for value added activities, like manufacturing – at very little added expense
It is reported that the US presidential campaign cost $6 billion, with over a million ads. And the election came down to county-by-county results that showed the demographics and votes (blue vs. red) in fine detail.
The question that came to my mind was this: What corporate brand would run a commercial campaign like the ones in this election, with the massive scale of spending and coverage? Would any Chief Executive travel through 4 states per day, meeting people and shaking their hands? And behind the scenes, would analysts look at all points of sales in stores of each county, tune the messaging to the targeted audience, and have forecasts of sales down to the hundreds, tens or single units?
by Scott S Elliott, Principal and Founder
Online Social Networking is for teenagers and geeks - right? Not any more. Many professionals and executives are using social networking to increase their creativity and productivity, to meet peers and experts, to find and make deals, and to enhance their careers.
All executives spend most of their time networking. Networking is what happens in meetings, on teleconferences, at group lunches, visits with customers, doing email or just talking in the hallway. These forms of networking get work done and keep the company going, but they are generally restricted to a relatively small "molecule" of coworkers, suppliers and customers. This "closed" networking group can lead to a stagnation of ideas and behaviors that is not good for the company, or for the careers of individuals.
by Scott S.Elliott, Principal and Founder
How can postponing anything speed development and reduce time to market?
In Supply Chain design, there is a concept known as Postponement Manufacturing. In this concept, work-in-process is stored in a lower value (unfinished) state and as close as practical to the end customer or retailer, with only low-risk, fast processes remaining to complete fabrication and/or add custom touches. This strategy minimizes the cost and maximizes the speed of delivering products to the end user.
A good example is house paint. A few decades ago, paint was manufactured in many hundreds of colors, packaged in cans, and sold to retail shops as finished goods. To buy house paint, painters took their color samples to the paint store and tried to match them with the samples on the labels. This process was expensive because the paint store had to carry a huge inventory, much of which degraded before it could be sold (known as "rottage" in supply chain speak). It was also time consuming and frustrating for the buyer because it took a lot of time to find the appropriate color, and she could never be certain that the color, when dry, would be exactly right.
Now everything has changed. The retailers buy only white paint, plus a limited number of dyes in primary colors. A special scanner with computer software scans and analyzes the customer's color sample (which may be on any material), and reports the mixture of paint and dye quantities that will match the color exactly to satisfy the customer's need. A paint shop employee then adds the specified dyes to the paint and mixes it to the finished product. This process takes only a few minutes - thus it is very fast and very low risk. Storing just one color of (unfinished) paint, the retailer saves significant money in inventory carrying costs and sells everything before it degrades - passing those savings on to the consumer.
to her satisfaction, then try to sync-up the program with other engineers at the review points.
Here are some best practices I have seen that can really speed up projects and lead to true collaborative innovation:
First: Develop a culture of frequent technical group workshops. Train and use workshop facilitators who organize and manage the agenda and draw out all of the contributors, no matter how shy. Try to get to the point where something like half the technical work is done in workshops and the other half at individual workstations.
Next: Encourage people to take risks and make suggestions on the project, technical or otherwise. Make it safe to put forth any idea, no matter how silly, as long as it relates to the project goals. Don't allow personal attacks, ridicule or any kind of bullying.
Recognize and even reward people for their contributions in these meetings. You know that people will behave in ways that correspond to how they are measured, so you should have remarks and metrics in their project plans and performance evaluations to encourage real-time, continuous collaboration.