Get your ducks in a row and your objectives aligned to ensure speed in development

In an earlier blog post, we established the objective of the Development Organization is to optimize Throughput or deliver speed of Development.  If we agree, then we might ask ourselves, “How should Development operations be setup to do it?”  As I reflected on my experience, moving to a focus on how to setup operations, did not work unless the whole business was aligned to delivering an optimized Development Throughput objective.  I believe the next question should instead be, “How does the objective of delivering optimized Development Throughput align with the overall Business Strategy?”

Depending on the organization, there may be a focus on the top line OR the bottom line OR a healthy balance of both.  If there is a focus on the Top Line Sales growth, then the organization is probably pulling for innovation.  Speed of Development becomes a key foundation, because getting ahead of the competition by being first to market, combined with successful and successive innovation, is what drives Top Line Growth.  However, when the business is focused on the Bottom Line, there are strong influences to reduce costs.  Cost reduction in a Development Organization is tricky because, by the nature of cost reduction objectives, which tend to be short-term focused, a direct conflict can exist with long-term Development objectives.  As you may know, Development, through top line growth, has the highest impact on the long-term viability of the business.  When the business leadership team has a cost reduction mindset, Development often falls under the same expectations as the rest of the business.  Suddenly, the ability to innovate and provide that long term viability is challenged.  Objectives become unclear and conflicting, there may not be enough people causing gaps in resourcing and reactionary resource shifts impacting other aspects of development, there may be layoffs and significant impacts to intellectual capital, there may not be enough budget to support proper research or the needed tools for innovation, Development time may be deprioritized on the production assets, etc.  Development basically struggles to just function, let alone with speed.

Important to reflect

If the business leadership team is focused on reducing cost and there is still a desire for Development to deliver speed, then an understanding of the big picture and potential conflicts is required for creation of a thoughtful plan to deliver that speed.  It is important to reflect on the climate in your business.  If the objectives for Development can successfully be built to dovetail with the overall Strategic Business Plan, and the objectives in the broader business teams, there is a huge head start.  It is much easier to build the objectives for Development to deliver top line growth, when the other business teams are on board.  In addition, depending on how well the objectives for Development are crafted and how well Development operates, there is an opportunity for speedy Throughput and long-term, sustained and significant impact to the bottom line.  To reinforce that point, crafting the objectives for Development must include an understanding of these conflicts and a plan to address them which dovetails with the rest of the business.  However, if the objectives of Development are in conflict with the overall Business Strategy as well as the objectives of the broader business teams, very time-consuming management of resistance will be required, high levels of frustration in the teams will develop, as well as the resulting distractions and daily firefighting, allowing for ineffective execution and ultimately, inefficient and slower Development Throughput.

The mindset of the leadership team

In reflecting on your situation, consider the mindset of the leadership team.  Are they aligned to the speed of Development objective or too caught up in the cost reduction pressure?  Is customer value understood, is there an consistent focus on delivering it through the Development process? Do the leaders have the capability to adopt new thinking and processes?  What are the Development processes?  How well do they execute individually and work together?  Are they being followed?  Is the work with suppliers, such as Marketing to define product concepts, or research teams who provide fundamental knowledge, delivering the needed information?  Is the work being delivered to customers such as Specifications and Equipment for Manufacturing meeting their needs? Does the scope of Development work align with the resource capacity of the organization?  Is the original product concept being delivered to the consumer?  Are the business objectives being met? Understanding the answers to these questions as well as others, will enable Development to understand where they are setup for success and where the challenges exist.  It is important your leadership team is willing to address these obstacles head-on and build a plan to address them and enable effective alignment with the business teams for efficient delivery of Throughput. 

How to improve

So before working on “How” to improve the organizational and process aspects of Development for throughput, time should be taken to build a solid strategy for the Development organization which dovetails with the rest of the business.  We often call this process, Strategy Deployment.  Look for the key business obstacles preventing speed of Development and build plans to address them first.  This time spent up front to reflect and conduct a Strategy Deployment will put Development a giant step closer to clarifying objectives which align with the business and ultimately deliver speedy Throughput!