Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Invest Time in Discovery to Realize Compressed Time to Revenue

Having been successful in making the tradeoff between what's important and what's urgent from my previous posting you now you have allocated time to invest in a better tomorrow. How will you be investing this reclaimed time? I am certain you have a list of items in mind that you have wanted to do for a while; a list comprised of the known issues that impact productivity.

There are changes we know that will bring improvement and then there are the deficiencies that are silently stealing away cycle time, the unknowns. If an improvement effort is to realize expected results, both the known and the unknown roadblocks must be addressed. For those that have been reading my newsletters for while, or have attended one of my workshops the concept of an unknown is not new to you, although the definition may still be a bit baffling.

The simplest definition for unknowns in the NPD process is that they are essential activities or deliverables that are largely unknown to the vast majority of the team. By definition they are unplanned and untraceable, even though they are essential to a products success. Essentially they are hidden and unmanaged roadblocks to your NPD flow that will manifest themselves as unexpected surprises, spawning a flurry of activities to "make things right". Interestingly, unknowns also tend to be systemic issues that are repeated project after project; therefore keen detective work is in order to bring them to the surface, where they can be managed.

Investing time on important activities that improve your NPD time to revenue must include time spent on finding the unknown roadblocks in your development process. A formal discovery activity is the best course of action and should be the beginning of any renewal or reengineering effort for your NPD process. The following three links will provide additional insight into the discovery of unknown and unmanaged activities:
Discovery & Solution Newsletter
Improving Project Predictability (Chip Design Magazine)
Enable Predictable Design Execution by Looking Beyond Tools and Flows (Embedded Intel Design Magazine)

Any NPD process re-engineering must begin with formal discovery. Failure to do so will leave your shiny new process with holes in it, leading to continued surprises on your projects and the flurry of activity to "make things right".

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Getting a Handle on Urgent Matters that Run Wild

Here is an example of misplaced urgency I am sure we can all relate to. You are at the store waiting in line to pay and the phone rings. The clerk answers the phone, talks for a bit and then heads off to go find some information for the caller. Here we are, wallets in hand and waiting to improve the stores immediate revenue numbers and the urgency was transferred from taking our money to chasing a possible future opportunity. Was that urgency transfer proper? What was more important here? This is a great example assumed urgency.

How many times in a day are you redirected to something urgent, something that was not on the list when you awoke in the morning? I will place an educated guess that it is easily in the 1-5 range. As soon as an urgent matter comes up we will typically drop what we are doing and tend to it immediately, leaving what we wanted to do drifting off into the land of unimportant stuff. This is repeated each an every day.

At the end of the day we have this nice list of fires that were extinguished, tasks that we had no intention of dealing with when we popped out of bed. The tasks that were on our planned list, the things that mattered most, took a back seat yet again. Items that we were working on to make things better tomorrow, once again did not move forward today. We are drained, yet still lacking a sense of solid accomplishment for the day. Is this a reality for you?

None of us like to operate this way; we all want to do our best job and that means dealing with the unexpected urgent matters as expeditiously as possible. As managers, we take ownership of the urgent matters and drive them to closure. It's our job to make sure these things are dealt with. Let me pose a couple of questions:

  • Is it our sole responsibility to own the urgent matter or would the organization better served by delegating the responsibility, empowering another individual to resolve the urgent matter, freeing you up to work on what matters?
  • Is the urgent matter really more important than the task we were working on, the one that matters most to the organization and ourselves?
  • Should someone else's sense of urgency directly translate to us without any thought as to it's validity?
The truth is we always have a choice to make when an urgent matter comes up. However, we are programmed to react to a sense of urgency by dropping everything and take care of the matter immediately, leaving ourselves with little time to do what's important to the organization; the plans for a better tomorrow that never seem to get completed. It is a choice between feeding a fire-fighting environment or nurturing an empowered environment of continuous improvement. Upon waking tomorrow resolve yourself to working on what's important, not just what's urgent and see how this impacts your effectiveness.