Preston Smith's Corner

What major trends do your see in product development?

June 2004 Quick Tip

I see two trends – and they are on a collision course.

The first one stems from the relentless pressure to cut costs and from management’s inherent desire for predictability. It leads to our award-winning risk management technique and to popular phased-development processes, such as stages-and-gates or product lifecycle management, that control investments carefully.

The opposing trend recognizes that innovation is essentially unpredictable and that excessive control is an unlikely route to breakthrough products. Add to this the fact that our world is becoming more chaotic: lead engineers quit, management changes, suppliers go bankrupt, new technologies exhibit unexpected side effects, customers change their minds, and a competitors launch products that exceed the ones we have under development.

Rather than an emphasis on controlling development, managers following this trend instead find ways to deal with change more cheaply and less disruptively. They enhance their organization’s agility by

  • Obtaining direct customer input early and often – and use it to guide their designing
  • Applying technology to automate design and testing (automating change, so to speak)
  • Carefully deferring, staggering, and avoiding decisions that close doors
  • Employing small, empowered teams
  • Failing early – and learning from these failures

To learn more about leading the flexible organization,  read Stefan Thomke’s book, Experimentation Matters.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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