Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Antidote for Terminal Sameness

Everyone has something they would like to see different, some aspect of the development process that they know is causing continuous disruption in new product releases. The frustration is obvious; the major steps to make it go away rarely occur, often smothered by a battery of excuses that keep a complete solution just out of reach. The fact is that a solution that involves significant change enables the most basic instinct – fear. That unchecked fear is keeping significant new product execution improvements from being realized.

Does the following statement reflect your reality? “I want things to be different, but I don’t want to change.” If you are in alignment with the majority of the population then this is indeed a core belief of yours, although one that is definitely not publicly disclosed. This sentiment is the primary reason that new product execution stays pretty much the same. Maintaining an emotional bond to the comfortable known keeps valuable change out of the picture.

New product execution remains in a status quo state not because of technical reasons, but because of a deep-rooted fear based anchor. Organizations are technically brilliant while failing at execution, simply because they are dinosaurs when it comes to engaging real change. If things are to be significantly different, there needs to be significant change! There is no other way; recognize that, deal with it and move forward.

Harsh? Absolutely! Many organizations are perplexed by their inability to significantly improve new product efforts. In reality they have fallen into the pit of terminal sameness and are unable see the situation as anything but one of maintaining the status quo. The execution problems have consumed them. They are unable to get enough of a grasp on the big picture to see the major root issues that are siphoning off the teams productivity. So yes, I am being harsh, only in the hopes of jarring some brave souls to take a realistic view of the fears of change that are holding them back.

To the right is a list of the most likely fear based reasons that keep people from changing. See them for the de-motivating fears that they are and move on. Risk-averse types will see these as solid barriers and continue to thrive on crisis management as the norm. Risk-takers will see these as hurdles to be dealt with, knowing a better way is on the other side. Where are you?

Project execution stagnation is the norm today and the contenders for solutions have been an ever-increasing emphasis on the technical tools and methods for tweaking them to a higher productivity. How’s that been working out? Tweaking keeps the fear of change in check, while also failing to provide solutions that make a substantial impact in time to revenue. When ready to make a real difference it will require a real change, not a tweak.

It’s imperative to honestly ask yourself if you are keeping things the same out of a fear of change. If this is the case you are unknowingly suppressing substantial improvements, so be real in your personal assessment. If you want things to be better, really better, then you along with everyone else will need to embrace change. The new mantra for your organization must be “I want project execution to be significantly better and I am ready to accept substantial change as a solution”. There is no shortcut! Fail to embrace change and your new product execution will continue to be consumed by terminal sameness, expect nothing different.

“Again and again, the impossible problem is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made.” -- Robert H. Schuller

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tools are “a” Solution, not “the” Solution

The tools we have available today for producing chips have advanced a long way over the years. There is no question of the tremendous value they bring to new product development (NPD) teams. Even with all this capability at our disposal there are frequent problems in meeting new product revenue plans. How can this be?

Maybe our expectations have reached an unhealthy dependency on tools for project management, design, verifications, validation and even overall product management. We are a proud family of techno-geeks and it is our nature to depend on technology, a reliance that is blinding us to non-technical root issues. Maybe it is time to consider the possibility of gaps between what technology provides and the needs of the team. When a problem has shown itself during a project, how often is it pinned on the tools or the improper inputs to a tool? How long will we continue blaming tools and then wonder why a predictable path to new product revenue remains out of reach?

If projects have systemic and repeating barriers to predictable execution then there is something missing. There are issues just out of view that are not being addressed. In situations like this consider that the team members are not getting what they need to be individually successful. This unseen gap is rarely about a tool, but a lack in information such as project requirements, individual requirements, and deliverable expectations to name a few. Gaining insight into the individual success deficiencies that are quietly siphoning the teams effectiveness is essential.

How do you find them? Ask each member of your NPD team the following question in a one on one setting: "What changes in deliverables to you or additional information would improve your ability to complete your tasks?" Now learn by listening and “hearing” the answer. Continue digging deeper until you believe the root issue has been uncovered. Address what has been learned. This is an example of “Plain Old Management Style” (POMS) at work; no tool or methodology will provide the wealth of information that can be learned by this simple technique.

New product projects are not only about managing schedules, risk, technology, tools, budgets and data; they must also include management of the most variable, unpredictable and challenging component of all - the people. Recognize this and new product opportunity will flourish, deny this and become a dinosaur entombed in technology. New product execution excellence is a people thing and practicing a “Plain Old Management Style” is certain to produce positive impact, where a pure reliance on tools has not.