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.

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