In the modern technology-driven economy, change is the only constant. For organizations that want to remain competitive, product innovation must keep pace with customer demands. This especially rings true across the microelectronics and embedded systems industries, which are at the beating heart of rapidly escalating technology advances. In such highly competitive markets, the margins of operation have always been tight, with little to no room for error.
Quality and maximizing yield remain key drivers, allied to the acceptance and adoption of new materials, architectures, and manufacturing techniques that have seen research and development intensify as the scaling of devices has moved to smaller nodes, but with increased demands on functionality and robustness, along with shorter product development cycles. This increasingly aggressive timeline brings with it a new set of challenges throughout the supply chain as product developers face the accelerated pace of, and relentless drive for, innovation.
The rise of the machines, the age of the customer
According to a May 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report on disruptive technologies, the number of of connected machine-to-machine devices has increased 300% since 2008. As software becomes more embedded into technology, the rate of innovation accelerates. Software can do so much more, so much faster -- and it can evolve faster. What's more, according to Forrester Research (subscription required), the top three drivers for acceleration are the need to reduce costs, improve capabilities, and meet the escalating expectations of customers.
This new dynamic reality means that just about every large company, across almost every industry, is a technology company to some extent. However, many organizations are having a hard time keeping up with the rapidly accelerating pace of change, especially when their teams are working in silos using outmoded systems. Product delivery is plagued by (what should be) preventable delays.
Obstacles to optimized product delivery
In a survey conducted by Forrester for Jama Software, "unclear or changing requirements" was the most common reason cited for product delays. Communication issues within organizations and teams were also seen as significant obstacles to product development. Reasons such as delayed decisions, coordination problems, and shared resource conflicts are preventable, but they happen all the time. In many companies, collaboration occurs only when the right people finally find time in their overscheduled days for a one-hour conference call -- and then, half the time is wasted going over why past decisions were made without everyone's approval.
Product teams often lack a clear understanding of customer needs. Unclear/changing requirements plague product delivery. Not being able to get timely feedback on possible solutions results in delays and wasted time, effort, and money.
Conflicting priorities caused by stakeholder disagreements put product delivery teams in an unfortunate bind. Lack of clarity about objectives, assumptions, and possible solutions leads to a lack of focus.
Effective collaboration spans roles, teams, and geographies. Modern products are complex, requiring a wide variety of expertise to deliver successfully. The reality of the global marketplace means that co-located development is rare; globally distributed teams are increasingly commonplace.
Unnecessary handoffs and delayed decisions reduce speed and impair quality. Rapid delivery is increasingly a competitive differentiator. Any delay in making decisions or obtaining feedback needlessly hampers product delivery.
Delivering winning products requires unprecedented collaboration across diverse roles, from executives to operations and from marketing to quality assurance.
Excellent post Eric. I retired from GE Appliances and in that organization; we had QFD (Quality Functional Deployment) exercises. These are basically focus groups involving potential customers and users of products produced. In this fashion, we could gage the desirability of features associated with the DG (design guidance) models. Many times we discovered what we thought was a good or even great idea did not make the cut with our customer base.
I really like your idea of promoting more individual effort involving decision making. Right now, most decisions are made as a group effort and not by individuals. Too much fear associated with making an incorrect decision.
There are a few companies that do embrace change and not resist change. These companies will be the ones to beat competition to market.
Many good points in this article. One area which needs to also be expanded on is the problem of obtaining adequate resource levels throughout the project. With today's companies becoming leaner and leaner, a frequent project management problem is securing the proper, dedicated resources needed to complete the project on time, on cost and on schedule. In many cases, upper management will either under-staff the project, or assign under-developed or shared resources to the program and still expect project goals to be met on time. All too often, shared resources cause conflicting priorities which will delay the project when critical path tasks are not completed on time. Before a project begins, all stakeholders should use historical data from similar, previous projects to accurately predict the actual proper resource levels needed throughout the project.
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