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.

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