Friday, October 29, 2010

Seven Signs of Trouble in New Product Execution

What makes you crazy about NPD (New Product Development) projects? This is easy because there is rarely loss in ability to identify frustrations of dealing with product development. The struggle comes in enabling in an action plan to eliminate key issues, a battle that must overcome a perception that the situation is acceptable for now. It's discouraging for me to hear organizations chanting "we are doing OK " while the team in the trenches is continually bombarded with barriers to getting their job done.

The reasons a circuit is not working properly receives a whole lot more attention and focus than why a new product does not meet the businesses expectations. This attention to the technical details at the expense the operational aspects are natural to the engineering profession. Natural, yes; OK, absolutely not! New product team members are saddled with operational roadblocks every day, some subtle and some highly visible. The impact of these obstructions is typically dismissed under the pretense of an acceptable level of NPD execution, therefore NO immediate need for addressing them.

Reality check - There is a significant difference in execution perceptions between management and team members for NPD. A failure to communicate properly perpetuates an ongoing management illusion of being OK or at least good enough for now. How often do negative surprises crop up in projects? These bombshells are actually signs of execution trouble, an indicator that should bring more reality to any illusions of OKness. To help distinguish illusion from reality, I will share seven signs of trouble in NPD execution.

1) The Team says it's not OK -
In many cases the team is either not being heard, or the input they provide is written off as whining. The gang in the trenches has valuable input and if there is something that they say is a setback for project execution, it's essential to pay attention. Lean principals work in manufacturing because those in the trenches drive change; the same goes for new product development. The illusion is that management knows best.

2) Execution issues are never expressed as a cost -
This is my hot button. Everyone talks about the fact that they can't afford to fix an issue. Interestingly, most have no idea what it costs to NOT fix something. If impact can't be expressed in terms of cost, there is no way to know if things are OK or not, is there? The illusion that ongoing problems have minimal cost is a dangerous one.

3) Timeline slips to production revenue are routinely greater than 6 weeks -
If commitments are not being met, how can things possibly be OK, or even good enough? The source of slips is generally NOT due to the team's lack of motivation to get it done; most teams consistently burn the midnight oil to meet objectives. There is more to this issue than pure motivation. The illusion is that the team is just not giving it their all and that's why products are slipping.

4) Revenue targets are missed on greater than 20% of products -
Things are not OK if too many products fail at producing revenue. The costs associated with an unsuccessful full product development effort must command a full audit. Any findings should be fed back into improving the product approval process. The illusion is that risk is important to winning market; therefore no further action is necessary. The truth is there is always much to be learned from a failed project.

5) Discussions and meetings about a suspected problem for over a year -
When operational problems are not settled within a year it is a clear indicator of indecisiveness. Either it's a problem and it will be fixed, or it's an issue with no plan for resolution. The illusion here is a belief that there is actually action going on to solve it! Identify the cost associated with leaving it alone and the cost of fixing it. Create an ROI, build a case, make a decision and be done with it. Dragging issues out for an extended period of time confirms a problem exists, however sidesteps any real solution.

6) Everything is urgent, except driving change so that everything is no longer urgent -
Does it feel like the people in your organization mimic pinballs, jumping from urgent matter to urgent matter throughout the day? Unchecked urgency is a sign of poor structure and process, not a sign of a team's enthusiasm. Here the illusion is that pinball like activity shows team member engagement.

7) There is a belief that formal project management inherently takes care of execution issues -
Project management is a tactical approach to getting things done and is not inherently a fixer of all things wrong. Assuming everything is OK under the project management umbrella is a trip down fantasy lane, the illusion should be obvious here.

"You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there."
- Edwin Louis Cole

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