Monday, January 25, 2010

What are the Incentives for Improving the Development Process?

A truth – project execution today has many of the same symptoms we have been dealing with for many years. We are still routinely facing delays; projects are riddled with unpredictability and there is a lacking sense of urgency in affecting changes that result in execution improvements. Everyone will have a reason for this progress plateau - likely to revolve around a lack of time/money, a lack of ownership or limited jurisdiction to bring about change. All of these mask the core reason - a lack of incentive to do more. There really is no substantial motivation to improve. The reward system in place today firmly establishes the status quo as an acceptable means of chip project delivery.

A new product success or failure can significantly impact a business, however has little financial effect on the resources responsible for delivering the product. Sure, there are bonus programs in place to reward success, however they typically provide a level of potential income that is considered “expendable”. So I ask again, where is the motivation for a team to continually drive sustainable improvements in the way projects are executed? The system we have today is not enabling the essential synergistic energy that results from strong alignment to a common personal objective.

Maybe we need to emphasize more reward for meeting success objectives and less for just putting in time. Essentially sharing in both the wins and the losses. I am sure the thought of tampering with the sacred “pay for time” model makes the hair stand up on the back your neck. Radical – oh yes, but then the alternative is new product delivery staying pretty much the same as it is, the same as it has been for a long time. It may be time to consider alternatives to the current financial incentive system, an area that has traditionally been hands off. How much money is wasted on unsuccessful and delayed products? This figure can help quantify the pool available for success sharing.

Think about the possibilities for objectives, collaboration, planning, productivity, execution, decision-making and product approvals where notable financial rewards are at stake. The “not my responsibility” claims will be replaced with a self-managing mentality of working smarter together towards product success. Listen to the thoughts going through your mind as to why this will not work; reasons such as “I have no impact outside my functional area” or “It’s not my job” or “That’s not my decision” probably cross your mind. These are the very same items that have been keeping things as they are; the self-imposed boundaries of responsibility for project delivery.

Everyone has a jurisdictional border; the safe zone that allows localized success, even in the face of project failure. Product launch decisions, specifications, tool deployment, tapeout, characterization and qualification are all examples of localized success within a safe zone. These borders have existed forever, methodologies and tools have had minimal impact on them because it’s a people thing; technology simply does not solve emotional people things. For new product execution to accelerate beyond the current plateau state, the age-old safe zones must be eliminated. A synergistic “common cause” mentality must rule project decisions and direction. If a change to the financial reward model would not do this, then what would?