Preston Smith's Corner

How is flexibility beneficial in developing new products?

July 2005 Quick Tip

Product developers are being squeezed from many directions: lower-cost products, lower headcount, higher quality, more product features, and faster to market. With all this pressure, another important factor has gone relatively unnoticed – except in software development: flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to make changes in the product’s design, marketing, sourcing, or other factors relatively late in development without being too disruptive.

Flexibility is becoming important for the same root reason that the other factors – time, cost, etc. – are important: the world in which we live is becoming more competitive and chaotic. Changes are occurring faster than they did formerly. With quick changes, there is greater value in being able to react quickly but smoothly. Research shows that the companies that can react to customer requirement changes, evolving technologies, market shifts, political and regulatory turbulence, and management shuffles are the ones that win in the end.

However, this isn’t easy. Management techniques generally place value in stability, for instance in finalizing product requirements before starting design. Resource planning systems, six sigma programs, and most metrics approaches emphasize a plan-your-work then work-your-plan style. Consequently, managers unwittingly work toward stability at the expense of flexibility.

You can enhance flexibility in several ways: teamwork, product architecture, decision-making strategies, and prototyping approaches. I will discuss these in our next Quick Tip.

For more, see our 5 March 2004 Quick Tip “What can we do to “freeze” our product’s specifications?” or plan to attend our first workshop on flexibility in Shanghai in December.

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

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