No matter how seasoned you are, every project is hard in its own unique way. You will need to rely on process, discipline, and rigor. Expect things to break and new issues to pop up. Be prepared to stay unflustered and find expedient solutions. In my experience, new product introduction delays for products are caused by at least one of the following seven factors. This applies to devices, software, and services.
- Lack of Architecture Integrity: The product architecture is a collection of building blocks organized in a framework to work synergistically. If this architecture is weak, the product malfunctions and can break when modified or stressed. Imagine building a toy house with wooden blocks. If you want to modify an intermediate layer of this toy house or build a taller house, you likely need to rebuild it from scratch, which takes additional time and effort. Also, if you stress the house by hitting it, it will fall to pieces. Products are not so different. When the product architecture is poor, it is unable to hold up when stressed by loads or when changes need to be made. Delays are caused by constantly trying to diagnose and rebuild the product to function as desired.
- Immature Building Blocks: Products are built with many components pieced together in an architecture. In such a structure, it is not enough that the architecture is sound. Every building block must be sound. Imagine a house that is built with a load-bearing wall that has half-baked bricks. The wall cracks frequently. The house owner will have to constantly monitor and shore up that wall so a larger part of the house does not collapse. When you build products with weak components, you experience delays caused by diagnosing and patching or replacing weaknesses. The quality of every building block you use in the product must be excellent.
- Poor Requirements Management: If product requirements constantly flow in as the product is being built, there is constant replanning and additional work created that delays product launches. Requirements must be managed. When you are working on a project that is two years long, customers will give you a lot of new requirements. I made sure that those requirements were vetted before they were introduced. If the requirement was going to be disruptive to the launch date or hurt quality, I would not accept it. I would tell the customer, “We cannot include the feature in the launch, but I can give it to you in a future iteration of the product (with a specific date). Of course, I am going to do it for you, but I do not have the capability to address your requirement in this release without delaying or breaking the project.” Customers who need your product on time with quality will understand and engage in a rational dialogue on such compromise. You cannot promise 20% more to the customer and then turn around and tell your employees to work 20% harder. But many managers end up doing just that.
- Immature Manufacturing Readiness: If the product is hard to manufacture or produce and has poor yield, it is likely that the product will be delayed until the yield is good. This is because selling products with poor yield is a loss for the company. For example, if the company plans for one hundred units to be produced each day and they produce only twenty-five units and must scrap seventy-five units due to manufacturability issues, it makes the product launch unsustainable because the cost goes up by a factor of four.
- Overly Aggressive Schedules and Priorities: Poor planning and unrealistic optimism result in overly aggressive schedules that cannot be met. Being pollyannish on product schedules must be avoided, irrespective of the fleeting kudos you may get for presenting an aggressive but unrealistic schedule. It is equally important to prioritize projects based on your resources. Trying to do more with less is good, but not when it is unrealistic. Multiplexing your expert engineers across many projects, hoping all get done, reduces the efficiency of the engineers and makes it very likely that every project will be delayed. It is better to do a few projects on time with high quality than it is to take on many projects that are all delayed and have quality issues.
- Inadequate or Inexperienced Staffing: From the beginning, projects should always be staffed fully and with experienced personnel to meet NPI schedules. This applies to internal resources and your contractors. This gives the team the best chance of hitting timelines. Hoping to start lean and add resources that are back-end loaded rarely works. You reap what you sow.
- Poor Process and Management: Programs that have loose development processes and weak program management often run into problems and have delays. Structured development that follows a proven process and rigorous program management that manages the critical path of every program are essential for on-time launches. Program managers must manage third parties contributing to the product as well as their internal teams.
This post is an excerpt from “Your Company Is Your Castle: Proven Methods for Building a Resilient Business” by business transformation veteran Sandeep Chennakeshu.
As former CTO of Eriscsson and President of Blackberry, Sandeep Chennakeshu has spent thirty-four years in three industries whose products have transformed all our lives. He was privileged to lead teams across fourteen countries that pioneered products in wireless (2G, 3G, 4G mobile phones, Bluetooth, Mobile-Satellite systems), semiconductors for consumer, automotive and medical electronics and mission-critical software for cars, medical equipment, nuclear power plants, high speed rail and industrial robots. Along the way he transformed businesses to grow profitably in a sustained manner using the principles outlined in his new book “Your Company Is Your Castle.”