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Doug Ringer
Product Development and Marketing Expert, Author of “The Product Rocket: Launching New Products to Out-of-this-World Success.”

I cannot think of an organization that is not looking to achieve results faster. Some are open to new ideas and concepts and these groups will probably be successful. Others continue down their heavily trodden path of “try harder.” They might succeed, but only for a while.

I’ve found these four steps helpful in achieving results in less time. They are not complex, but if used with intent, I think you will find them helpful.

Identify Needs

This process depends on knowing the result you want to achieve and how you will know it when you see it. It amazes me how often a project is started without a sound goal in mind, let alone a documented one. Many believe a general direction is good enough to begin a project and they will fill in the pieces as they move forward. This does not work very well.

In my work, I’ve found that having a well-defined goal at the beginning is very important to making rapid progress early. This works because the beginning of a project is the least-defined part of any project, and the focus allows rapid advancement.

A highly refined goal also provides for rapid decision making. Some decisions will move you closer to final goal through improved definition. Other times the project is moved quickly by removing options that add little value to the end product.

EXAMPLE

As the product manager, I had to make many decisions about product functionality and schedule during a recent product development cycle. Having a clear understanding of the market’s needs, the competitions’ capabilities, and our schedule requirements made it possible for me to make deliberate but rapid decisions that sustained project momentum.

Identify Barriers

The next step to increasing speed to results is to determine the most likely barriers to success you will encounter. Some examples would be: budget, lack of qualified personnel (your company or at a partner), and regulatory compliance. Once identified, you can find methods for overcoming these barriers to success.

Another barrier that is more difficult to overcome is one you may impose upon yourself. These barriers are caused by indecision and are highly destructive to schedule, costs, and morale. The best method for preventing this is to publicly set a deadline for a decision, and then make the decision on that date, or earlier, using the best information available at that moment.

There is never enough information to make a decision where all involved will be completely satisfied, and still have a project or product that is competitive. If you wait for perfection, your customers will leave you for your innovative competitors.

EXAMPLE

A project on which I was working had numerous technical and managerial challenges. Where these two challenges meet, there were significant schedule misses. During our project review, the project manager realized we had violated the two guidelines described above.

The first was not having a well-defined schedule with hard-and-fast decision points. The other was that the technical, quality, and supply chain departments wanted the perfect answer to every question before proceeding.

The first can be solved by diligent project management. The second only through culture change.

Establish Accountabilities

Each barrier you identify will be addressed by a person with a plan. Assign to each of these barriers a champion to ensure success. Assigning a responsibility to a committee or team (rarely do true teams exist) assures delays, at best and, most likely failure.

In the Old West, the Texas Rangers had a motto of “one riot, one Ranger.” In this case, I modify it to “one barrier, one boss.”

EXAMPLE

Projects do not fail in one large event. They fail in a death of a thousand cuts. Every action must have a single person responsible for its successful completion and a deadline. The management cannot effectively hold every team member accountable in a timely fashion. The team itself must hold each other accountable. If the team is waiting for management, project or departmental, to enforce deadlines, the team is more concerned with being liked personally than being professionally successful.

Planning

There are college degrees and international standards boards for proper planning of projects, so I will leave the gritty details of project scheduling to those experts.

In my career, I’ve seen many project schedules derailed by the unexpected, the unknowable, and by uninformed decisions made by those outside of the project. Little can be done to address the second and third causes, and a large portion of the unexpected items should have been anticipated by an experienced team.

What must be done to ensure success is to plan to complete 75 percent of the requirements by the mid-point of the project. If this is accomplished, then on-time completion is highly likely. If not, you will either be late or have many late nights achieving the schedule.

EXAMPLE

If you are not planning on failure, then you are planning to fail. Every decision must be made with the knowledge that I will do “A” if the plan fails.

In a recent project, we decided to add a firmware feature that would have been needed in six months anyway. It was the efficient decision since we were already working in that block of code. I knew that if this feature would delay the current release, we could remove the new feature and add it later.

Conclusion

Fast results are always in demand, and this will continue ad infinitum. The organizations that achieve results on time while reducing costs will survive while their competitors languish. The constraints of time and budget make the old mantra of “try harder” a losing proposition. Ongoing success is only possible through improved definition and accountabilities, better understanding of the barriers ahead, and a front-loaded plan that ensures early wins and on-time delivery.

Doug Ringer is a product development and marketing expert and the author of “The Product Rocket: Launching New Products to Out-of-this-World Success.” Doug has held global roles in marketing, R&D, and manufacturing at General Electric, Ericsson, Schneider Electric, and Honeywell. Follow his work at www.dougringer.com and @doug_ringer on Twitter.

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