Friday, May 27, 2011

It's not what you know; It's what you do

Do you know how many times I hear "We already know that" when I am discussing the topic of improving new product delivery? I hear this in almost conversation I have on productivity. A considerable gap typically exists between what we know and what we do, and in the semiconductor new product development space the disparity is glaring. The harsh reality is that if productivity knowledge is not being applied, then you don't really know it. Without the application wisdom of successfully putting an improvement concept into operation, a claim of knowing is nothing but smoke.

Throughout our career we have been presented with techniques, tools, strategies and methodologies that are recognized as a means to improve the way our organization executes on new products. We are all loaded with improvement knowledge, however the odds are that most never get around to implementing and validating those that seem to carry a positive benefit. This calculated procrastination is replayed for weeks, months and years while still claiming that we know how to do this. Implementing and making a change that provides the desired results is the hard part. It's time to put the empty justifications for inaction behind and move forward.

Honestly there will never be a "good time" to kick-off productivity improvement activities. That ideal point in time where everything is just right will always be safely off at some point in the future; securely substantiated with a list of reasons for inaction today. The lack of knowledge in the application of techniques that enable positive changes coupled with a fear of failure is the real barrier here.
Everything that holds back progress is pure FUDD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt and Disinformation).

The following section is the complete list of the "false" reasons that promote inaction. These are the self-imposed barriers to implementing what we know about improving execution. Use these to check your motives. Once you understand your own barriers you can begin the process to migrate from a book smart knower to a successful implementer of change.

There will never be enough time unless you make it. This is only a convenient excuse, nothing more. Make time in future plans to enable the time to work on what you know will improve capabilities. Any improvement effort must be a sanctioned project with plans, resources and traceability. Never assume a behind the scenes and spare time effort will be successful; such assumptions lead to failure and further justify inaction.

People do not want change, however they do want things to be different. Change is something imposed upon them, whereas enthusiasm mounts when they can be a part of making things different in a way that will benefit them. Involve people and solutions grow, exclude people and the barriers grow.

This one never ceases to amaze me. "It's not in my budget" is simply an easy way to avoid the hard work to apply what you know will create a positive change. All problems have a cost; embrace that reality and turn the solution into a positive investment. If you can't define a problem cost, then it's not a real issue, is it?

Not my Area or Problem
Essentially this reason is exploited to justify the source of a problem rests somewhere else. This is really simple - If something is impacting your ability to efficiently add greater value to new product development then it is your area, and definitely your problem.

Check your motives. Are decisions based on comfort or reality? Yes, just like anyone else you can be a barrier in applying steps that are certain to improve productivity. Recognize that possibility and move forward. Get honest with yourself!

When you can change your response on productivity approaches from "I already know that" to "I have already done that", real progress has occurred. Anything other than implementation is pure FUDD! I know that, others know that and you probably know that. The choice is to either keep looking over your shoulder, or take a shot at making a difference. It's not what you know; it's what you do.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

It's Always a Failure to Communicate

A failure to communicate is the root of any issue with new product execution; yes ANY issue! Problems with tools, schedules, requirements and predictability to name a few are purely a symptom of a breakdown in the communication conduit. Any execution problem is directly related to the inability of individuals to relay information, debate trade-offs or properly convey a position.

It's not the schedule that's broken; a lack in communication during schedule development is the problem. It's not that the requirements are wrong; it's the lack in quality communication during requirements development that misdirected the product scope. It's not that something unexpected came up; it's a failure in bubble up communications that allowed an underdeveloped plan to proceed. It's not a problem with the tool; it's a capability expectation that was not properly communicated, debated, verified and agreed upon.

At any point in a project there are exchanges of information required to enable progression of a new product from its earliest concept to the generation of production revenue. These exchanges must add value to the quality, predictability and profitable revenue aspects of a new product, or failure(s) of the plan will result. Although very simple in concept, this is often difficult in implementation. Success at adding true value along the path results from accurately communicating throughout development.

How would you define successful communication? Below is my list of attributes that are essential for high quality communication:

  • Communication is two way, meaning there must be a mechanism for ensuring proper transmission; always full duplex mode.
  • Effective communication must provide a forum for debate to allow hidden issues or concerns to bubble up.
  • A high quality communication strategy never assumes physical proximity will be "the" solution to interaction issues.
  • An ideal communication implementation will remove barriers that inhibit contact between any two individuals.
  • The sources of specific information are singular, explicit and electronic for enablement of clarity in communication.
If projects are going smoothly and predictably then there is a fairly solid communication methodology in place. However, beware if projects are riddled with surprises, delays and missed revenue expectations. A flag should also be raised if your meetings include conversations that frequently begin with the phrases in the above picture. In these cases I suggest looking carefully at how your organization communicates.

The only way to find out where interaction may be lacking is to ask individuals for both specific instances and their perceived solution. Listen, learn, confirm and then solve. Based on these findings decide what constitutes quality communication and find ways to apply more of the excellent technology that's available today to help. As is always the case with change, persistence and leadership will be essential for success.
So I sign-off with the famous clip from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke - "What we have here is (a) failure to communicate".

Monday, January 03, 2011

2011 - Concepts for Really Making a Difference

A fresh year is upon us, the economy is looking up and there is energizing opportunity in the air. This is an ideal time to jettison the organizational baggage that has been holding back new product execution for a long time. This is the year to eliminate a belief system that supports the ongoing systemic issues that keep cropping up product after product, year after year. This first blog of 2011 will provide some fresh perspective on bringing about positive changes in new product execution for your organization.

Current Situation
Interestingly, there are far more similarities in new product execution issues than there are differences. Most organizations have very similar stories to tell about the frustrations of getting new products from concept to production, as per the business case projections. Requirements closure, scope control (feature creep), cost/schedule overruns and missed revenue targets are some of the typical themes for product development teams.

Another common trait is the inability to effectively address systemic issues such as these. From my perspective the reasons for this include limited focus, a lack of assigning individual ownership, a smokescreen of unavailable funding and a limited understanding of the full financial impact of the current situation. Organizations have latched up and are stuck in a loop of purely addressing issues within functional silos, unable to fully visualize the full New Product Development ecosystem.

The widely used matrix approach has left a huge gap in the ability to address obstacles that span multiple functional boundaries. Collaboration is working well on project specific topics and failing when the subject is more abstract, as in resolving broad coverage systemic execution issues. Get the picture? Take a step back and take a good honest look at what is happening, or actually not happening, when the subject is new product execution.

A common definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results. How about making 2011 the year of fading insanity by doing things differently, really differently?

Delivering Change in 2011
The following concepts outline the typical gaps that I have noted in addressing long term new product execution issues.

Solution by committee is ineffective because there is no ownership of the problem. Assign the problem, give this individual the proper cross silo power, set clear objectives and measurement and then get out of the way. This role is not a "in your spare time" activity!

Cost of Current Situation
There MUST be a recurring cost identified with any systemic issue that requires a solution. Failing to identify a cost of staying the same allows the "unavailable funding" smokescreen to continue. If there is not a significant cost then it is simply not a substantial issue, real or perceived.

Involve the Team
Solutions that do not include the team members that are experiencing the full impact of a problem are a just a management band-aid. Never forget that real solutions come from those that are experiencing the pain, not from conference room sessions.

Seek Perspective
Be aware that being too close to the problem will shade objectivity. It's human nature to both knowingly and unknowingly substantiate a position that will have minimal impact on us. Strive to always seek out an objective perspective to keep self-serving motives in check.

Avoid Tool Exclusivity
Tools bring significant advances in productivity. However, don't fall into the trap of assuming that the solution to all systemic issues lies in tools. New product execution strategies must include people management, individual communication and the maintenance of personal objectives.

2011 will be the year of positive change only if you enthusiastically seek it. It is too easy to assume the source of change will originate elsewhere, a common misconception that allows terminal sameness to prevail. That assumption is dangerously easy!

"Have you ever watched a fly bouncing off a window pane, even with an open door a few feet away? Many times the fly keeps crashing into the glass until it finally dies. There are many companies in today's world doing exactly the same thing. They continue down 'today's path,' wearing blinders to the possibility of change... until they die."
-- Mac Anderson

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matrix Organizations Fail at Fixing Broad Systemic Execution Issues

A matrix approach for sourcing projects has been in use for years and is a common practice that is given little thought these days. In concert with formal project management it has been proven to be both an effective and efficient approach for tactical project execution. However, utilizing this same approach in a strategic improvement setting frequently leads organizations down an extended path of disappointing results. This is essentially a "solution by committee" approach that lacks focus on solutions. There is a more effective means for creating solutions to systemic New Product Execution (NPE) issues.

Dealing with issues that are completely self-contained within a single organizational silo is a fairly straightforward activity. All the inputs and outputs, the receivables and deliverables are totally within the grasp of the functional unit. The silo leadership can successfully manage these localized improvement activities without the need for information and/or decisions from outside their area of direct influence. This is the easy stuff!

Taking on systemic issues that are of a broader functional area scope is where many organizations stumble, latch-up or fail miserably. They meet, they discuss, they add tools and they attempt to persuade for what seems like an eternity. These broad based issues often evolve into something that is deemed unfixable, although admission of such a defeat is never uttered, only displayed by a quiet pullback of focus on a real solution. New Product Execution (NPE) paralysis results from a culture that blindly promotes solution by committee, an approach directly enabled as a byproduct of the matrix methods used for product development.

While ideal for tactical management of project activities these same matrix approaches fail at developing solutions to broad scope systemic execution barriers, primarily due to a lack of specific accountability. If a particular problem does not have an explicit name associated with developing a solution for it, advancement towards a solution lacks focus. Review your most painful issues with NPE. How long has resolution been sought for this? Is there a singular owner identified and is this owner aware of this responsibility and it's objectives? Without an owner of these systemic barriers in place, solutions will remain elusive; it's really that simple!

What's that, there are not enough resources available to assign a specific individual? That's nothing more than an excuse to keep things as they are, a somewhat unconscious means for inhibiting change. Estimate the recurring cost of the most glaring barrier to NPE and the rationalization for finding and assigning an ideal resource will present itself. Failure to do so will strengthen the "work harder, not smarter" philosophy that drives a misused sense of urgency, further eroding efficiency in new product development.

Pause, take a deep breath and assign resources to fix issues that feed the insatiable new product frenzy that focuses more on quantity than quality. Reliance on a matrix approach for solving systemic issues will continue the quantity frenzy while individual accountability will enable competitive new product strength through quality, efficiency and working on the right things. It is absolutely a choice, one that many organizations fail to make.

GM --> Focus on new product quantity, Apple --> Focus on new product quality. Where is your new product organization? Think about it!