High-growth electronics company halves its Innovation time-to-market
Developing new products and introducing the industrial production processes to support them is highly complex, especially when you’re at the limits of manufacturing technology. Increasing market demand only raises the pressure further, since each and every product manufactured can be sold. Also, demand for new product types was growing very fast. It appeared a toxic combination.
We had already worked with this business unit to solve its manufacturing problems and enable it to become a more reliable supplier, now the management team asked us back in to help them improve their innovation reliability and reduce their time-to-market for new products.
The situation in the innovation-to-market department was complex. There was strong demand for additional product types and the market was shifting from B2B to B2C, which meant a shift in product requirements. On top of that, additional resources were required to address problems in production, and the department was constantly hiring additional new product development resources. Competition was growing, so speed was of the utmost importance, and the improvement targets were extremely high.
Our analysis, which we conducted in close cooperation with the client, revealed three main problem areas:
1. Portfolio management
The innovation portfolio was too big, its content was inconsistent and the priorities were regularly changing. This situation had developed because of poor business and operations planning and, as a consequence, poor technology and product roadmap planning.
2. Resource management
a. The organisation had created a self-inflicted resource bottleneck. The problem was caused by trying to manage too many portfolio projects at the same time and by allocating too many projects to limited resources. The result was plummeting productivity.
b. The constant inflow of new hires was creating a skills issue. There was no time to train them, and knowledge was not readily accessible for the new hires because very little had been documented.
3. Project management of innovation projects
A project management process had been defined for only 2 out of 5 project categories. And because of time pressures, people were cutting corners in projects and tollgate discipline was poor. This behaviour was creating rework and thus project delays. Project quality was suffering, and this in turn was causing production problems and an increase in customer complaints.
We worked with the client to set clear goals to increase innovation output by reducing time-to-market and improving project reliability. The time-to-market target was a reduction from an average of 23 months to just 9 months. We set an aggressive 6-month timetable for achieving these goals and formed joint teams to drive the changes. Because the three main problem areas were very much interdependent and the lead time was short, we ran four workstreams in parallel: (1) single project management, (2) portfolio management, (3) business planning and roadmapping, and (4) knowledge capture and design rules. We selected six pilot projects to introduce the new ways of working and deliver actual results.
We set up a project governance structure, including a review team, a project team and several workstream teams, and established milestone deliverables. We used a combination of “waterfall” and “agile” approaches to get things done.
Performance improvement programmes must carefully balance human and technical aspects if they are to deliver significant, sustainable results. A critical aspect for sustainability is the development of a deep local ownership of the solutions to the problems. Therefore, we approached the challenge by ensuring the solutions were found by a process of co-creation right from the start.
The developers just didn’t have any time to spare, but speed was essential, so we started by slashing the volume of projects in the portfolio. Next, we set priorities and reduced the number of projects allocated to the developers. This was a tough process as there were many invested interests. However, this reconfirmed the analysis finding that the business had to get its strategic and operational planning right.
During the project we identified five different project categories, ranging from large, complex innovation projects down to factory support (crash actions). For each category, we designed and implemented project process maps, which included the project management methodology with team meetings, tollgate reviews, tollgate criteria, along with tools relevant at each stage in the project.
We designed and implemented a portfolio management process and system with clear roles and responsibilities, set up review teams for various project categories, established criteria to allow / refuse projects into the portfolio and encouraged an attitude of “killing” projects as early as possible to eliminate waste and maintain a manageable portfolio. We also designed a process for allocating resources.
In parallel, we implemented five different business planning and roadmap processes, including a technology roadmap, a product roadmap and an application roadmap. To support the development of knowledge and skills, we established a process to capture and document learnings from all projects, regardless of whether they had been successful, unsuccessful or ditched.
The results were impressive. Time-to-market dropped from 23 weeks to 11 weeks within 6 months, with plans in place to meet the target level of 9 weeks. Equally important, the results were sustainable because the root causes had been identified and eliminated, and the solutions locked into the Performance Management Systems (PMSs) developed during the project. The PMSs also included key performance indicators to give managers and employees ready access to the quantifiable information needed to make fact-based decisions, both as teams and individually, and to take pro-active and predictive action.
Throughout the implementation, a balanced combination of human and technical aspects drove the successes, and solutions were added to the PMS to support sustainability. By creating and communicating the right culture from the very start, we helped the client establish and communicate roles and responsibilities for employees at all levels. As the project progressed, employees began to see the value of their own contributions and to understand how their own performance influenced that of others, both within their discipline and beyond. As this understanding grew, a culture of accountability and collaboration evolved. Clear goals were communicated in a common language that everyone could understand, and employees embraced the new systems, processes and ways of working as their own.