Why You Should Always Be Optimizing
One of the standout moments of my MBA program was watching a video of W. Edwards Deming and his famous quote to constantly “optimize the system.” It became a constant reminder as a project manager, operations manager, and consultant — and has carried over into how I approach the product development lifecycle.
In a tight economy, an important part of remaining solvent is to continually review, assess, and maximize your product’s shelf life. To accomplish this, you must be able to do more than track the product’s progress while in production. Many decisions about your product must be made well before it gets into this kind of monitoring stage – the fact is, if you have not made key marketing, segmentation, pricing and placement decisions before your product gets to the shelf, you have likely already lost any edge you might have had over your competitors.
Manufacturing organizations must understand that they need to tightly control their product lifecycles – you cannot simply sit and wait for a product to venture through its life on its own. You must know when to introduce the product to the market, recognize the transition to maturity, and redesign or replace it with another product. The secret is to recognize where your product exists within the lifecycle, and how changes to industry and other operational factors can affect that lifecycle. To maximize your revenue opportunity, understanding the timing is key.
Nothing affects a company’s bottom line more fundamentally than positive adjustments made to the enterprise’s product development lifecycle – especially those changes that affect how a company manages the products already in the market. Companies need to better address the numerous ways to improve upon the operational aspects of products within the lifecycle – that is, the process of designing, building, and commercializing your product. But how do you gauge your product’s life expectancy? What are the indicators for determining when to move your product into the next stage, or when to replace it? How do changes to operational, marketing, or sales strategies affect your product metrics?
Once you have the ability to view and understand the operational indicators, and to generate scenarios and contingency plans based on these strategies, you will be more apt to more efficiently and effectively plan for obsolescence, as well as develop new product and feature strategies – and unlock unrealized revenue that had otherwise been lost within the shuffle of deficient lifecycle planning.
One of the biggest mistakes in any product or software development effort is spending too much time on the details of the first iteration, often referred to as analysis paralysis. The key to rapid prototype development is to not try to do too much at the beginning of your project – instead, follow an iterative model and move forward. There is always time later in the process to add detail to your requirements.
You need to employ a method for identifying and prioritizing tasks and risks for the project – i.e. understanding the big picture of the project – and determining early mitigation strategies for all of those risks. Use cases can help bridge the gap between the end user and the requirements of the system. They can be used to establish traceability between your various functional requirements – and the system implementation itself. Each use case is elaborated through one or more scenarios. Of course, in an iterative development process, this early phase of requirements capture and analyses of sequence diagrams, by necessity, is relatively simple and your wire frames and early designs will more than likely be incomplete.
That’s alright. One constant among all development efforts is change. The idea is to get the designs out, to start building, and to learn from the experience to rapidly improve.