Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Going Slow to Go Fast

Academic journal article The McKinsey Quarterly

Going Slow to Go Fast

Article excerpt

Product life cycles continue to shrink in "fast" industries like fashion and personal computers, where new products roll out the door every few months. Even "slow" industries like steel have quickened their pace. Speed is of the essence - but so are quality and cost. Companies in all sectors know they must deliver on all three dimensions simultaneously.

Yet world-class product development is still by far the exception. Even the most disciplined and creative product development processes can be plagued by schedule slippages, "firefighting," and inferior quality. Often, the problem is a failure to consider product development as a dynamic whole. Managers try to improve performance by breaking the process apart.

Want to get new products to the market fast? Don't troubleshoot

A common mistake: setting aggressive commercialization targets

Development is not a process. It's a system with subtle feedback loops

The lure and danger of "best practice"

But isolated improvement efforts (such as the best practice themes listed in Exhibit 1) can actually have a negative effect on performance when they are implemented without regard to the multiple interrelationships that drive the product development process. Setting aggressive commercialization schedules, for example, often has just the opposite effect of what was intended: namely, longer delays with lower quality. And many other cherished management beliefs, such as "lean and mean" staffing, can also inadvertently contribute to product development problems.

Best practice themes in product development

Theme                                    Examples

Methodical screening processes        Technology attractiveness
                                      Market/business attractiveness

Milestone-driven planning and         Phases and gates
performance measurement               Quick kills when deviation
process                               exceeds limits

"Over-resourced" crossfunctional      Number (critical mass, few
project teams                         projects/person)

                                      Sufficiently skilled

                                      Limited hand-offs


World-class design practices          Design for x (where x is
                                      assembly, service, etc)

                                      Design reviews

                                      CAD/CAM integration

Information systems to measure        Resource scheduling tools
product development performance
(white-collar MRP, quality
feedback)                             Process feedback loops

Organizational mechanisms to ensure   Centers of competence
functional excellence

Consider three company experiences from different industries:

* An electronics company bolstered testing procedures and management reviews of new product programs, but experienced chronic design delays and high rates of product returns due to subpar quality.

* A major automotive company created crossfunctional teams and highly developed project milestones, but suffered massive schedule and cost overruns on an early trial of their new system.

* A biotechnology company used state-of-the-art project scheduling software to plan development and rollout of a sequenced set of disease assays that had to be integrated into an overall system for hospitals, but saw 50 to 100 percent commercialization delays with habitual resource switching across programs.

What's needed instead is an integrated, holistic approach that captures product development as a complex system. It must recognize and account for the cascading sequence of causes and effects that determine how well a company delivers against the key performance metrics of speed, quality, and cost. …

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