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Time is money in product development

You have all heard the old saying, “Time is money”. Well, obviously, this one is very true. Especially in our modern, fast-paced world of rapid product development cycles and short time-to-market windows, every second lost in a product development cycle means lost customers, lost sales, or even business failure.

So, what are you as a project manager doing to speed up your team? And, please don’t tell me you are standing over them with a ‘whip’ to force more ‘productivity’ out of your already worn out group. Don’t tell me you are watching their every move and trying to micro-manage efficiency into each step. I mean, have you really looked at all the time bottlenecks in your processes and systematically shortened them, or better still, removed them completely?

In my many years leading development teams, I can say with certainty that time is wasted everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites that are relatively inexpensive to implement and that can have surprising affects on your team’s efficiency:

  1. Gather the team together in one physical space. If possible, given the global spread of teams these days, having your team sit within feet of each other speeds up decision-making and all forms of communication. Being able to lean over to Mary and ask her a question about a product feature is much faster than sending her a text message and waiting for a response.
  1. Provide the best virtual tools you can afford. If you can’t gather your team in the same physical space, do whatever you can to give them a virtual space that is as close to being there as possible. This means giving everyone a secure instant message tool, a simple-to-use, reservation-less phone conference system, accounts on a world-class desktop sharing tool (like WebEx), and an easy means to transfer large files quickly. Use an instant message tool that shows availability, so people can ‘pounce’ when the person they need returns to their desk.
  1. Get the bottleneck engineer(s) the fastest hardware possible. You probably already know who’s the most critical person on the team. If not, check your Gantt chart for the critical path and see who owns it. Then, be sure to get that person the fastest computer you can afford. Every second your best engineer has to wait for a computer to load a program or render a new 3D image is time thrown out the window. To justify purchases you need to make to your tight-fisted upper management, estimate the cost per hour of a delayed product release. For example,  if you expect to make $10M a year in revenue off of the product and you have a market window of one year, every second lost in getting your product to market is equivalent to $10M/(#seconds in a year) = $0.32 per second, or $1,140 per hour. For less than an hour in time savings, you have paid for a new computer. I’ll bet you can imagine just how fast an hour in wait time can accumulate with a slow PC. If you have no control over hardware, at least check your software.
  2. Upgrade services that provide central functions for your team. Examples include compiling/linking servers that build the product prior to regression tests, the regression test systems, networks that move large files from place to place, and shared printers/plotters for design-intensive teams. If you are a mechanical hardware design team, then look into rapid prototyping tools. They are worth every penny. Then, look for ways to streamline these systems so they are as fast and efficient as possible.
  3. Streamline short duration process steps that are repeated many times during the project.  Look for small things that add up because they are used hundreds or thousands of times. Standardize on a fast compiler for each of the team members. Even a few seconds shaved off of single compile will add up when repeated thousands of time in a project. If you are a hardware lab, find and stick with vendors that have short turnaround times, even if they cost more. Ditto for those that provide great quality.
  4. Watch out for time-wasting drop-ins. This one is related to bringing people together. I’m sure you can all name people  who seem to operate on a different time schedule than your team and wander around striking up conversations with each of your team members about baseball scores, movies and other non-project topics. Find a way to distance the team from these distractions. You many have to ask the problematic drop-ins to cool-it until after hours or after release. This, by the way, is one of the key reasons ‘skunk-works’ style programs work so well…they enjoy minimal distractions. You must be careful who is IN and who is OUT of the core team. For example, you probably want your key marketing/sales member to sit with the team to provide a constant ‘voice of the customer’, if the team itself is not well versed in the customer needs.

I’m sure you can all think of more ideas for now to shave a few seconds off here and there. Spend time on the big hitters first, but do make changes on the little ones too. As an added benefit, as you find and speed up process steps, the frustration level in your team will go down as things will tend to go more smoothly.

Remember, Time IS Money!

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About the Author

Loyal has more than 28 years of project engineering and management experience in R&D, manufacturing, and information technology. He has worked in the high-tech industry as a design engineer, R&D section manager and manufacturing engineering manager, and has led teams that included virtual and telecommuting contributors from all over the world. He is an expert in the use of collaborative technologies for virtual teams and has led advanced technology development efforts to improve the effectiveness of virtual workers. He is founder of calendarism.com and leads a blog site for virtual teams and collaboration tools at commutezero.com. He has a degree in Electronics and Computer Science and lives in California's Silicon Valley. Loyal can be contacted at loyal@commutezero.com
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2 Responses to “Time is money in product development”

  1. Thanks for these valuable insights into how to accelerate product development, Loyal! I’m a big fan of Don Reinerstein’s book “Developing Products in Half the Time: New Rules, New Tools”, which has lots of terrific advice to help such teams get to market faster. Knowing the LCPW (Late Cost Per Week) is a popular acronym these days, so that team members can easily convert any delays into the revenue impact to the business. This helps with justification to those “tight fisted upper management” people you mention. Projects slip months one precious second at a time. I always feel a sense of urgency on any deadline-driven project, and appreciate it when other team members share my sense of urgency. One teammate posted a sign at his desk “Pace yourself – 15 more years until retirement.” Pace yourself?! Hey, pace yourself on a project that doesn’t matter! I hope never on projects that don’t matter, nor to work with such teammates ever again.

  2. Excellent post Loyal! Companies that are introspective and continuously improve, put together the most productive and fun environments. Methods such as 80-20 analyses are your friend, and collective introspection is a great way to identify those ‘big bang for the buck’ improvements.

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