Monday, November 23, 2009

The NIH Factor may be Putting your Business in Peril

We are all aware of the existence of the NIH (Not Invented Here) factor, where open-minded judgment is overshadowed by a misguided emotional stance to keep things as they are. It is often talked about it in 3rd person, as if only exhibited “somewhere else” in the organization. Any evidence of its existence is regularly swept under the rug; it’s considered a reality of business in the engineering world. What price is paid when the NIH factor is allowed to routinely guide decisions about products, processes and ideas?

NIH is inversely proportional to an organizations creative ability. The more NIH is allowed to prosper, the less an organization will push the bounds of revolutionary discoveries. Left unchecked, NIH can lead to a stale organization where the imaginative juices stall, eventually leading to creative bankruptcy. Contemplate the US automakers current situation – NIH undoubtedly played a significant role.

The truth is it’s difficult to directly monitor the existence of the NIH factor and it’s impact on a business. However, consider that the same forces that enable an aversion to continuous improvement are also at work to drive up the NIH factor. Evangelize continuous improvement principals as a way of life, and NIH becomes a non-issue. An organization plagued with NIH is certain to have a culture where the status quo is an accepted approach to New Product Development.

As a leader, your teams will follow by example; they will align with your displayed support or opposition of practices that diminish NIH. What do they see? Your true motives will come through load and clear, accordingly it’s essential that you pay close attention to the reasons behind decisions. Stay on the lookout for decisions that were made out of a need to feel comfortable about a path of action. Comfortable usually means a familiar coarse of activity, one that is often repeated and perceived to carry limited risk; one that is also likely brimming with a healthy dose of NIH.

Where is your organization on the NIH culture scale? Not knowing is passive ignorance, not trying to find out is dangerous and not doing something about persistent NIH is disastrous. Once more, contemplate the US auto industries NIH affliction. Too big to fail – think again!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Concepts for Improving New Product Transparency

Transparency - Ensuring everyone has the information that allows them to maximize their contribution and enable informed decisions for the ultimate success of a project. Unpredictability will always be the result of a constriction in information, where transparency has not been a priority. Below are some thoughts on mechanisms that will pump of project transparency.

Visible Milestones
You don't want your team fishing around for key milestones. Take the key dates such as tapeout, 1st Si, characterization and product ramp and post them - BIG. You can see them from across the room size. As a project approaches a key milestone, post it on doors as they enter the area. This stuff is not a secret and there is no excuse for everyone on the team not knowing what the next key project event is.

Workflow Management
There must be an easily accessible mechanism where the team can go to find out where things are at, specifics on deliverables and the best practices for the project. This is not a set of documentation gathering dust on the shelves, or a rarely accessed read only file wasting space on a hard drive. It is an interactive guide for the team's activities where the user is adding value to the content in addition to seeking best practices guidance and deliverable expectations. PIEmatrix is at the top of the list for this application followed by Design Guides.

Bi-Directional Project Meetings
Make sure there is more to routine project meetings than updating status and directing activities. Don't forget to listen - where are the areas of concern from the team and what can you collectively do about them. This is promoting upward transparency from the team to leadership and will only provide continuing results where the team realizes actual benefit. Encourage open communication and problem solving and reap upward transparency rewards on a long-term basis.

There are many other possibilities for improving transparency. Bear in mind that the objective is that no one is ever surprised, from the lower levels all the way to the top. Ponder what can be done to enable this goal. Best of luck and may transparency prosper and deliver the new product development predictability that your business requires.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How Limited Transparency Impacts New Product Efforts

Project transparency - What thoughts do you have about this for your organization? Transparency is a mechanism that facilitates information flow both up and down through the project hierarchy - a means to observe status and decisions while also delivering essential information to the members of the team. Contemplate heightened transparency as an enabler of predicable new product development efforts. If New Product Development (NPD) surprises are common to your business, there are issues with project transparency that must be resolved.

When thinking about transparency for a new product development effort, do you believe it's a problem for your organization? Here's a simple test, pick some in the trenches team members at random and ask them something you believe they should know about a project. Questions like tapeout, characterization or qualification planned dates are simple yet revealing. For a bit more of a challenge you might try a question about inclusion of a specific feature that has recently been in a state of flux and is now resolved. Does the team accurately know the decision of that feature? Odds are high that you will be surprised at what team members should know, but don't. These are a few examples of easier project transparency issues.

How visible is a project when in the early stages of assessment, the period from product concept through a decision to launch or drop a product development effort? Having broad based input on risks, scope and effort is critical for a fully informed decision. This is certainly not the time for a project to be out of view. How many times has a sanctioned product been killed, significantly delayed or has failed to realize financial objectives? An unacceptable success rate is a solid indicator of deficient transparency during the vital new product assessment phases. For failed projects, something largely unknown (invisible) did not have the opportunity to surface during the new product consideration phases.

How often does a completed activity need to be reworked? Yes, you guessed it - rework is another example of inadequate transparency. In this case an individual did not have access to the current information they needed to successfully complete and/or properly deliver their contribution. A high rate of revisiting completed activities should be another flag that there is work to be done for improving transparency of project activities.

Why would an improvement in transparency ever be bad? Maybe when attempting to keep a thorny issue under wraps, typically hiding it from someone who will have an opinion we don't want to deal with. So, how has that worked out in the past? Limiting transparency to avoid conflict rarely leads to a project success story. Full disclosure real time keeps us all honest and ensures that a new product does not end up a victim of unrealistic expectations. If you find that there is an item that you prefer to de-emphasize, that is a flag that it's time examine your motives.

The benefit of expanded transparency is hard to argue. Be open, be honest and be prepared for ideas, concepts and opinions that make you squirm. Hanging out in the comfort zone is not a place where product excellence is nurtured.