Book Review: Developing Products in Half the Time: New Rules, New Tools (2nd Edition)

Review published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management

Preston G. Smith and Donald G. Reinertsen
1997, 298 pages (0471292524).

This second edition of the authors’ popular book retains the clear message that a time-based new product development process is usually (but not always) more fruitful than the historical cost-based approach. The authors cite four areas of substantial change in this new edition:

  1. Increased emphasis on economic analysis as a tool for guiding all decisions.
  2. Frequent specific examples of practical acceleration tools.
  3. Expanded treatment of incremental innovation, product specifications, and risk management.
  4. Case studies showing the value of combining various tools.

If you did not read the first edition (or the recent soft-cover updated version of the initial book), you should read this book; and if you read the first edition or the soft-cover version, you will find much that is new and more clearly presented. For example, a more liberal use of figures improves the readability compared to the first edition. The authors also use three icons (a wrench, magnifier, and caution sign) in the margin to highlight, respectively, text that provides a tool, an example of a particular company’s practice, or a potential pitfall.

The book is written for practitioners, especially those employed in companies manufacturing discrete high-technology products. It will be most useful for readers who already have some experience and can appreciate the significance of key points, which can be extracted quickly by skimming. Newcomers to new product development will benefit by studying the book more closely. To remain brief, the book has a somewhat narrow focus, which is appropriate but limiting:

“When management decides to develop a new product, two basic issues arise. The first is deciding on the product to be developed (doing the right product), and the second is deciding on how development is to be executed (doing the development right). Because this is primarily a book on execution, we focus mostly on the second issue here, assuming that the first is handled adequately.” (p. 19.).

The chapter titles, sub-headings. and much of the text is crisper than the original book. For example, chapter 1 is now Faster and Still Faster (was The Time-to-Market Race), chapter 2 is Putting a Price Tag on Time (was Wrapping it in Numbers), and chapter 4 is The Power and Pitfall of Incremental Innovation (was Innovating Incrementally). The other chapters are: The Fuzzy Front End, Capturing Customer Needs; Using System Design to Compress Schedules; Forming and Energizing the Team; Organizing for Communication; Designing Fast Development Processes; Controlling the Process; Preventing Overloads; Managing Risk Proactively; Bridging the R&D-Manufacturing Gap; The Role of Top Management; and Making Changes Faster.

Some quotes illustrate the authors’ wise counsel:

“Consequently, most practitioners who emphasize cycle time use an abbreviated form of QFD…… “(p. 103.).

“In fact, excess capacity is critical to making a development process work. If you fail to have excess capacity you will pay the price in cycle time.” (p. 199.).

“Value-added time considerations suggest that two simultaneous projects per engineer is the best solution . . . However, if speed is the objective, then two projects per person is not the best solution; one project per person is.” (p. 207.).

“The permanent solution to the overload problem must be in the discipline to not start more projects than current resources can execute quickly.” (p. 220.).

Some of the illustrations are very helpful. Figure 9-4 (p. 174), for example, clearly conveys the potential opportunity to save time by overlapping activities that might normally be done sequentially. Figure 10-1 (p. 195) nicely illustrates possible cycle time metrics.

There are some weaknesses. There is occasionally an annoying commercial intrusion. Each chapter ends with suggested reading, but 60% of the citations are to books or articles from before 1993. Finally, given the emphasis on schedule, wise use of resources, and the benefit of a multifunctional team, it is surprising that project management and the software tools to facilitate it are not discussed. Despite its limited focus and weaknesses. this is a helpful book that deserves wide readership.

Milton D. Rosenau, Jr., CMC, FIMC
Rosenau Consulting Company
July 1998

See more about this book

(c) Copyright 2008 by Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.