NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

Stand Up

There are times in some NPD projects or moments in the development of a specific team dynamic where there are a multitude of concurrent activities, a large number of people involved, interactions between tasks and most importantly many ways in which the whole thing can go off the rails.

Indeed there are some organisations where that is the norm…

In such a dynamic multi-faceted scenario even a weekly review meeting is just too infrequent.  But many project review meetings turn into long winded talking shops that preclude them being held any more frequently.

A daily stand up meeting might just do the trick – here’s some pointers on how to create value out of a short review meeting.

• Stand up, no chairs

• Same place and time every day

• Fifteen minutes, no more

• Control the attendee list – only those who are directly involved

• Each participant answers three questions

- What did you do yesterday?

- What are you going to do today?

- What obstacles stand in your way?

• Focus on removing obstacles

• Stop long winded discussions before they get going, note and action them for resolution outside the meeting

Most engineers have a dislike for review meetings simply because most review meetings aren’t run like this…

Increasing NPD Productivity – Project (3 of 5)

The ‘Project’ aspect of increasing NPD productivity is initially concerned with building a strong plan.

The foundation of a good project plan is a clearly defined goal, a well constructed work breakdown structure and accurate timescales.  Weakness in any of these is amplified into a very weak plan that will soon be of no use.

Even though these simple methods are practised in many organisations, they are only one side of the coin.  The other side is concerned with maintaining and using the plan to drive progress.

The key concepts to effective project control are regular reviews and management by exception.  There’s little point in having large event driven review meetings that cover every task in the plan in detail – a smaller regular review that quickly identifies tasks or activities that are not going to plan and identifies corrective action is a much better use of everyone’s time.

In almost all organisations, one person is responsible for the planning and control of projects.  However substantial increases in NPD productivity can be gained by introducing collaborative project planning and control.  The value that a well facilitated exercise in developing a work breakdown structure or defining task durations is well established, but more collaborative, multi-input methods of controlling projects can be very effective.

See Project Plans, Visual Project Management, Lean Product Development – Cadence and Planning Poker for more ideas on how to revitalise your project planning and management and hence increase your NPD productivity.

Lean Product Development – Batch Size

In an earlier post I introduced the idea of cadence in product development activities.  Of course if you’re going to introduce the concept of reviewing work on a regular basis instead of event or content driven reviews you need to think about the time period between the reviews or in lean manufacturing parlance the batch size.

Obviously there is a balance to be struck between reviewing a large amount of work (with the associated risk of amplification of errors) and having engineers spending too much time reviewing their work.

One important factor to be considered is that frequent regular reviews become a simple low overhead task compared to infrequent irregular reviews where there is a tendency to settle down for a day of coffee, biscuits and talking.  In general, your batch sizes right now are likely to be much larger than optimal.

Lean Product Development – Cadence

One of the key aspects of Lean Manufacturing is Takt Time.  This is a heartbeat of the production process that ensures your production meets demand (but not exceeds – that’s wasteful overproduction) and enables pull scheduling.

Of course trying to precisely transfer lean manufacturing tools across to product development is invariably inappropriate.  But if you think about the concepts behind takt time it can reveal ideas to help in the non-linear non-repetitive world of product development.

For example many existing processes have a small number of review stages that are event or content driven (i.e. at a particular stage in the development).  This results in large amounts of untested or unverified work building up with errors being detected far too late.  In addition if one facet of the design doesn’t meet the milestone for the review point it can cause knock on delays to the whole project.

Consider instead reviews that are scheduled to occur at regular intervals that cover whatever work has been done over each time period.  Errors and deviations from the plan can be detected early and action can be taken to reduce the wastes associated with amplification of errors and waiting.

Project Plans

When you think about the project plans in your organisation do any of these scenarios have a familiar ring?

•    Created once in a flurry of activity and initial enthusiasm, then forgotten about because something more important crops up
•    Created once, then forgotten about until an important milestone is missed at which point they are dusted off, used to point blame and updated
•    Created in great detail and frequently modified so they are only accurate for tasks that will be completed in the next two days
•    Created in isolation by an individual who doesn’t understand the design process, task dependencies or the accuracy to which each engineer can predict task timescales
•    Completely ignored because they are not understood or trusted

The solutions to these all too common scenarios are simple but you need to apply some effort.  Try these ideas for starters…

Train everyone in project planning
Clearly define and communicate the scope and goal of each project
Create a comprehensive Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Break the generation of the plan into multiple smaller batch exercises
Intelligently generate accurate timescale estimates
Communicate the progress and status of the project against plan on a regular basis