Today’s design cycles get shorter and shorter. The old adage of “good, fast, cheap: pick any two" is no longer acceptable to companies who need to get to market before their competitors. Customers are expecting 100% quality at the lowest cost possible, leaving developers and manufacturers with lead time as their sole competitive advantage.
So what could possibly go wrong? There are many reasons why project schedules get delayed and critical deadlines are missed. Here are six bottlenecks that should be addressing during the initial planning process to minimize impacts to the delivery plan and get your product or service to market on time.
1. Unclear Requirements and Specifications
Regardless of whether you are developing hardware, software, or services, if you haven’t taken the time to create a master plan and vision of your creation, you will probably be chasing completion forever. By spending time to define the requirements, you can avoid scope creep and make sure the teams are working on features and results that move the project ahead. Clearly defined requirements and specifications focus the efforts of the team to solving specific problems, and let you as a project manager know when you have met a deliverable and can move resources to the next set of challenges.
2. Unrealistic timelines and Schedules
It’s been said “Without a deadline, nothing gets done.” What’s worse, however, is when your timelines and schedules are created to factor in success-oriented results and do not provide any slack for equipment failures, vendor delays, testing anomalies, or paperwork delays. You should build in realistic expectations of processing times for placing orders, writing reports, account for vacations and holidays, and even factor in weather delays if shipping critical parts during stormy winter months or hurricane season.
3. Conflicting Priorities
Face it, today’s design teams are stretched pretty thin. Despite fantastic design tools and access to collaborative features available over the internet, engineering and designers are working on multiple projects, often with overlapping schedules and deadlines. An adept project manager should be aware of commitments being made on behalf of the design team and be careful to not schedule in a vacuum – that is, don’t create deadlines thinking that the assigned tasks are the hottest and only thing on the design team's plate. Other managers may have set priorities ahead of yours.
4. Limited Resources
Sometimes it may seem there is never enough money, people, materials, or equipment to get the job done on time. Good planning will identify holes in the implementation plan and let the team adjust as needed for scarce resources. For example, the sales guy or project manager might say, “Hey, while you’re making those prototypes, can you build one more as a sample?” But you only have enough materials to build exactly what you need, and can't spare an extra for a sales demo. Requirements for extra samples for trade shows or qualification/validation testing should be planned for well in advance. The same applies to special tooling that may have long lead time to procure or has to be shared at multiple production sites. Finally, good planning can identify high cost and nickel-and-dime expenses that could be incurred during the development cycle.
5. Design / Process Failures
Despite high-tech tools such as 3D CAD modeling, finite element analysis (FEA), and other scientific analysis software, it’s still possible that the real-world results don’t go as planned. Poor design (do the parts even fit together?) can be rooted out using these tools, but without a robust validation strategy in place prior to testing, or poor process or quality control during manufacturing, even the best planned project is not immune to failure. Taking time early in the project to plan the quality and test requirements can help streamline the features and testing that are critical to function. Design for Excellence (DFx) techniques such as Voice of the Customer (VOC), risk ranking, and failure mode effect analysis (FMEA) can insure that opportunities to root out critical failures occur early in the process, hopefully minimizing any impacts to schedules.
Ah, yes. “Waiting” is the bane of a project manager’s vocabulary. With email, text messaging, video conferencing, and other social and electronic connectivity it seems impossible that we are still waiting for each other – for critical information, documents, approvals, or status updates. Waiting is often the symptom of inefficient underlying processes, such as internal approval cycles or external lead times for tools and materials. Waiting for information may be an indicator that your team members are simply overloaded and need to have time to focus and complete the critical tasks at hand, instead of switching from one priority to the other as deadlines constantly change.
Hopefully by being aware of these common pitfalls of the product development cycle, you can bring your product or service to market on time with a minimum of crisis management due to avoidable circumstances.