Projects share a common set of issues
All of the development programs and products I’ve managed share a pool of issues that had to be addressed during the life of the product. I have selected 5 topics to discuss broken down into 2 segments. Last week I focused on the customer and creating the right products for them. This week I am focusing on the internal product teams and how to improve their results.
3. My last 2 projects were late. Is my team up to this new challenge?
I am definitely familiar with this problem. I have had as many as four products in process at one time, and all of them were behind schedule. There are many legitimate reasons for the delays, but the fact is that they were late and that affects the business’ results.
Here are a few questions to pose to your development and production teams early in the project to help prevent delays.
1. How confident are you in hitting these dates?
2. Have you designed other products using components from this supplier or this family of parts?
3. We want to make sure we build enough prototypes to thoroughly evaluate the design prototypes and to support manufacturing test development. How many is enough?
4. When in the development process will you be able to lock-down the bill of materials (BOM) on the high value parts with long lead times?
4. My manufacturing lead time is 120 days. How can I shorten it?
The manufacturing lead time can be a major contributor in the introduction of a product. Once in steady state production, the lead time is typically only a problem when there are spikes in demand. Since that is the case, I will focus on the introduction of the product into the factory.
These are some things I have done that helps shorten the introductory phase.
1. Referring back to Issue #3 above, order the high value, long lead time parts as early as possible. This is a low risk to your budget because typically these parts do not change once the first prototypes are complete and their performance verified. Also, if the design completely fails at the first prototype stage, the project will be late because the developers have to start over.
2. Build more prototypes than you think you will need.
– Engineering will need plenty of products to test the repeatability of their design (especially the second or final prototype)
– Test engineering will need plenty so they can see product to product variations
– The regulatory compliance tests can be done in parallel with multiple samples
– The quality department will need products to test
– Finally, samples will be needed for field tests and early customer demonstrations
3. These extra prototypes can be expensive and you may get pushback on the quantities. If you can show that extra prototypes reduce schedule risk and that each month of schedule is worth $XX,000 in revenue, the prototypes should be approved.
5. Sales of my product have peaked. When should I start developing a replacement product?
Simple answer is as early as possible. I start thinking about the next product while the current one is in development.. This is the only way to keep product line momentum and to keep focused on the market and the customer. As the product manager, we are to remain focused on the market, not on the internal development.
A good place to start the next product requirements document is with the list of items that could not be included in the current product for cost or schedule reasons. The list gives you a good starting point and helps generate conversations and new thoughts. It also is a good place to acknowledge the customers who gave you the idea. It provides an easy conversation starter…
”Hey Joe, remember last year we were talking about the new product that was in development? Well, I am starting to work on the next product and want to include the idea you gave me then. Would you like to talk about it in more detail?”
Also, waiting to start development until you need new revenue is a recipe for disaster. It puts too much strain on the development team and introduces unnecessary risk to the business in general. I am currently 2 months from a major product launch and I am already thinking about products that will not be released until Q4 next year. That’s 14 months and that is not a long enough horizon.
I coined this last night. I hope it helps.
Look forward so you can set your course.
Look back and see what you can learn.
Look down and do what is in front of you.
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