NPD Tales

Ideas Thoughts and Comments on Product Development

You Can’t Control What You Can’t Measure?

During my time immersed in Six Sigma culture this phrase became a mantra for the Black Belts.  I wouldn’t deny its validity for a second.

What I do challenge is the validity of so many common measures that people apply to product development.

On a strategic level it is valuable to measure how much of your sales are associated with products introduced in the last ‘x’ years.  But that’s not going to provide you with rapid feedback to help you control your NPD activities at a tactical level.

Software engineers are an easy target, the amount of work they produce can be easily measured at a microscopic level (lines of code anyone?), rapid iterations and automated tests add to the picture with bug production rates…

With electronic hardware and mechanical design it’s much harder to quantify how much work has been done.  Cycle times of several weeks make it harder to devise actions based on the performance of prototypes.

From a project management perspective I often found that a business wanted to feel more confident in the timescales and milestones associated with a project so I would focus on accuracy of plan and task durations provided by the engineering team.  But this can feel artificial and removed from the goal of developing successful products.

Some have suggested more subjective measures that tap into a team’s psyche (’How do you feel about…’).  I’m intrigued by this approach and would also suggest that if your aim is to increase customer feedback (both internal and external) then it could be extended to include an ongoing external assessment of a project’s ‘health’ – with potential for providing evidence of problems yet to surface…