How often have you heard that and thought it was just lip service? How often are you given a tight deadline, only to have the delivery date get moved up? How did you feel about your boss, your team, your organization and the quality of your work product when you got pushed to delivery early? Irritated I assume, along with a variety of other emotions. In the product development field I feel these emotions almost daily, and I hear these emotions verbalized from my team all the time.
Why are we in such a hurry all the time in business? Competition of course, doing things better than the next guy.
The reality of Product Development is that the products of today are the Ideas of yesterday. Good product concept guys are thinking 5-10 years out. Good Product Management guys are looking 1-3 years out to commercialize products. Good Product Development teams have design cycles in the 6 month to 2 year range to release products to market. Operations now require time to ramp up the supply chain to get the product to the end user; this may take 3-6 months or more depending on the product. In today’s world this is not a linear process, which means every stage of the product life cycle overlaps in order to crash the overall schedule. Supply Chain starts working before the product gets released; Product Development teams begin foundation work before Product Management gives the green light for development, and so on. AT the end of the day this means that innovative product ideas are old news by the time they hit the market.
What’s the problem then, every organization has to deal with the same cycle right? Wrong. Larger organizations may have the engineering might to overcome problems quickly, but have too much process to react quickly. Smaller organizations may have more flexibility to react quickly, but may have limited resources to overcome obstacles outside of their core competency. The key is that the first one to market has the advantage, either as the product leader if it is successful, or as a product killer if the product is rushed and fails to wow the consumer.
The old adage, “Loose lips sink ships” is a huge issue in the design cycle. As time goes on, information gets out. Through employee interactions within their community conversations, through vendor interaction, through supplier co-development, or a number of other innocent or nefarious means. A simple example of this is in prototype development. Most firms use outside companies to fabricate prototypes and fixtures for products in development. Guess what, other firms also use these outside companies, it’s not hard to walk through a fabrication shop and peek at other firms products in fabrication. It’s a reality that good ideas are discovered by competing firms, and if the idea is good enough it is almost guaranteed to be integrated into their next product.
Back to speed here, the best defense is a good offense. The risk of a product being copied, beat to market or missing the market timing gets significantly greater the longer the product is in the development cycle. Unfortunately this big-picture message can get lost to the troop on the ground, the engineer in the cube or the tester in the lab who is only hearing the whip get cracked. Hopefully this helps put a little bit of rhyme to the reason.
Remember, the first one to the finish line wins!
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