How living by the plan can kill your product

How living by the plan can kill your product

You have a new project, and you're energized and excited. Your team is in place, has done its market research and established a pricing structure. The product development plan you've put together is tight and well-thought-out. As your people get to work, there aren't any reasons to adjust it - or are there?

The reasons may be many and varied. At any stage of development, your competitors, your customers, or the state of the world market may change. Your company may develop unexpected demographic data. Business customers may implement new requirements.

A similar product may hit store shelves. When polled during the research phase, customers may have found it difficult to define what they desired in a product. If they are satisfied with or familiar with a present offering, they may subscribe to the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" philosophy and be resistant to a more advanced one.

Consumers may also alter their preferences as they are intrigued by new trends or fads. New materials or devices may emerge. Experimentation and testing may reveal that some of your components won't work. Even changes in the political climate may upend the most robust plan.

If you are unable to adjust to disruptive influences, you may be dooming your product to failure.

Internal insights spur change

As your architecture and designs develop, your team may uncover previously unknown information about your product. These discoveries may lead to a better understanding of how to update the existing requirements for your product or even reveal the need for new requirements. The re-examination process may also expose a risk attendant to your product of which your team had not considered.

You may find it advisable to implement a side project not included in your original plan, in order to mitigate that risk. Failure to do so will complicate later stages of your project when the design is much costlier to change.

Outside forces strike

A stark example of a global challenge to supply chains is the recent imposition of new tariffs. Companies that had seen China as a cheap and reliable supplier are now scrambling to find domestic sources. While tariffs on steel and aluminum have been well publicized, thousands of products are involved.

For many manufacturers, the duties on some plastic resins may be particularly crippling. The rise in prices will affect the cost of producing a host of products for both business and consumer use. Companies seeking alternative materials will have to do both additional research and testing to establish quality, effectiveness and customer acceptance of prospective substitutes.

Another element that is of increasing concern is data breaches. With hacking on the rise, software development must be protected from intrusions and theft. As new threats appear, software developers must continually ensure that their coding procedures are secure. Your team may find open doors early and implement whatever new methods it may take to close them.

You must continuously monitor the handling of data and make any changes required to increase security as the cyberspace environment evolves. If weaknesses are discovered in any third-party code you may be using, you will either have to correct them or find a different provider.

Your team may also encounter difficulties with the procurement of parts. Recently, problems have arisen in the sourcing of components for printed circuit board assemblies (PBCAs). While these are standard commodity items, our company has had to devote time to find alternative suppliers. Unexpected problems can develop in the months before delivery of items with long lead times, such as liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Your plan should be flexible enough to accommodate necessary changes in your supply chain.

Staying agile

How do you encourage a product development process that is robust enough to weather any changes that become necessary to make to your plan? If your team approaches product planning as a single series of events, they will regard the outcome as dictating every feature of your product. Your strength will lie in developing an organizational culture that views the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions in a favorable light.

In many companies, developing that outlook will require a paradigm shift. Your first step will be to encourage frequent communication throughout the development process, both with you and with other team members.

When you make it clear that whatever decisions you make in the early stages of development are subject to updating when necessary, your people will know that they are free to explain any new insights they have gained and suggest ways to incorporate improvements and adaptations to changing conditions. One way to accomplish this is through daily standups to communicate the most recent findings.

Biweekly Sprint Reviews and Retrospectives will allow your team to discuss product backlogs, accomplishments, potential changes in priorities and directions and commitments for improvements. Formal Design Reviews take a system view of the product and the project and will aid you in confirming that the team is headed in the right direction to meet requirements, identify and mitigate risks and align the team and stakeholders' viewpoints as to the priorities and goals of the next phase of the work.

Embracing change

When alterations to your path are discussed frequently with full participation of your entire team, they will be less likely to feel overwhelmed when challenges arise. They will internalize the principle that making adjustments to your product development plan as new data develops is not an admission of failure; rather, it is an embracing of the latest information to open the door to greater success.

Sustaining engineering for medical devices

Sustaining engineering for medical devices

Smaller batches speed product development

Smaller batches speed product development