EG-GILERO says: Getting the Most out of Your Product Development Process

Today we have John Donohoe, Senior Product Development Engineer with EG-GILERO with some thoughts on a recent pertinent industry article. Each company approaches their product development process differently. Variations in the type of industry and the product itself have a major effect on how a company structures their development process. However, most companies aim to streamline their development process to bring products to the market quicker. The challenge is bringing products to the market quicker without adding unnecessary resources or affecting product quality. I recently read an interesting journal article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Getting the Most out of Your Product Development Process” [1]. I wanted to summarize and share some interesting points outlined from this article.

This article evaluates how a process management approach can greatly streamline your product development process without stifling ingenuity. Process management is a collection of activities, which are planning and monitoring a process in order to reduce variability and eliminate bottlenecks. Process management can be very helpful to companies which undertake multiple projects at once and share staff and equipment across those projects. Process management can do this by applying standardization and process enhancements to tasks or activities which are common or repetitive across all projects.

This article comes to three main conclusions after studying multiple companies which have applied process management to their product development process. The first major conclusion is that companies get projects done quicker when they take on fewer projects at a time. By taking on fewer projects at a time, a company can not only allocate resources much more effectively, but can eliminate wasted time caused by jumping back and forth between multiple projects. Process management can be implemented here by establishing a companywide project plan. A project plan is a valuable tool for eliminating or delaying lower priority projects and focusing on higher priority projects. This ensures the organization is united behind higher priority projects, allowing for them to be prioritized through product development activities.

Second, relieving bottlenecks within the development process greatly reduces the development time. This conclusion will not come as a shock to most, however a lot of companies still have multiple bottlenecks in place which can greatly hinder the product development timeframe. Process management can help a company identify and solve these bottlenecks within the product development process. For example, if a particular group or employee is dedicated to a limited task or activity this can lead to a bottleneck, even if the entire company or project team is coordinating effectively. Where possible, having multi-disciplined groups or employees can alleviate these bottlenecks, as task can be more evenly distributed.

Lastly, getting rid of unnecessary variations in work load and work processes cuts down on project delays and disruptions. Variable workloads come about because companies take on new projects whenever good market or technical opportunities present themselves. This results in multiple projects starting in a short time frame, which is a pattern that can create bottlenecks at crucial points in the development process. Often times, managers take on projects aiming for around a 90% utilization of their development teams. However, variations within the development process can lead to week-to-week fluctuations ranging from 80% to 150% utilization. Had the utilization been slightly reduced, the overall development times could have been disproportionately reduced. A process management approach can help reduce variability in how tasks or processes are accomplished. An example of this is by creating dedicated project teams, each of which work on only one project at a time. However, this method can be costly, as resources are duplicated rather than shared. Nonetheless, by reducing the high variability in work load, one not only reduces the delays for a single project, but all the projects which subsequently follow.

[1] Adler, Paul S., et al. “Getting the Most out of Your Product Development Process.” Harvard Business Review, Mar. 1996, https://hbr.org/1996/03/getting-the-most-out-of-your-product-development-process.