|The PPM PostScript (Table of Contents)|
|012||Zen and the Art of Lifecycle Maintenance||December 2, 2011|
|Sorry for the lapse in posting lately; first I was under the gun, and then under the radar, followed by a stint under the weather. But to quote the ‘First Rule of Italian Racing’ in the Gumball Rally, “What’s behind me is of a no concern.” (…while breaking off the rear view mirror of a Ferrari with a flourish.)
Reading yet another book on agile during recent travels, one of the topics that piqued my interest was the professed value of using such techniques to speed up the value chain. Included was an example of how a cloud-based software provider is able to do multiple production releases a day, get immediate end-user feedback, and determine whether to further refine or abandon a new capability.
That’s powerful stuff. Cycle times that range in hours instead of months or years isn’t too far-fetched for those with the luxury of such a compact value stream. They do not have to deal with pesky issues such as material sourcing, tooling up manufacturing lines, marketing, inventory and other nonsense that cloud the blue sky of continual innovation for most of us.
Yet, continual innovation is the current Holy Grail for most organizations, regardless of the type of product. All of us have experienced the joy of buying the latest and greatest gizmo, only to be crushed soon after when it is rendered obsolete by the next iteration. Today, we see agile, lean and similar iterative design and development approaches being employed in almost every situation imaginable, from cars to computers.
However, when circumstances involve a more complex series of events to go from concept to delivery, the application of such techniques becomes a more interesting and multifaceted proposition. Truncating the design and development phase of complex products and services introduces greater potential for unintended consequences. And, as the value chain increases in length the net benefit of shortening only a few links in the chain also diminishes.
Allow me to illustrate this by sharing a real world example. After years of threatening to get back in the saddle, followed by months of waffling and delays, I finally bought a new motorcycle this week. On the dealership floor sat two examples of the bike I wanted, several feet apart from each other.
At first glance, they seemed identical except for color; after all they were the same model and year. But as I compared the two bikes more closely, I noticed (to my surprise) quite a few differences; some subtle, others more substantial. The dealer explained that the manufacturer had done a mid-year refresh of the model; in one fell swoop, my paradigm that all vehicles of a given make, model and year were essentially identical was shattered. Triumph was practicing incremental innovation.
Besides the net value of the changes themselves, I found it interesting to ponder the implications from a manufacturing and supply chain perspective. How did these incremental changes affect part numbers and dealer inventory, documentation and marketing material, and a host of other elements as the change rippled through the value chain? I wondered if dealers would have more difficulty selling the earlier version of the model (probably not, given that this particular bike is already hard to find and pricing was unaffected). I wondered about how the updates were handled on the assembly line. Ultimately, I wondered if all the confusion was worth it versus just waiting to roll out the changes for the 2012 model.
Contrast this with a different but related situation. When Mazda restyled the front fascia of the Mazda 3 in 2010, reaction was mixed. Suffice to say, it was a very happy car, with its grill smiling widely from headlight to headlight. As cartoons (pun!) began to pop up highlighting ‘the smile,’ some immediately began to speculate that the overly exuberant grill might limit its appeal to male buyers. As the New Beetle and Dodge Neon can attest, being branded as a “girl’s car” constitutes a styling miscue of the highest order with huge sales volume implications.
Mazda has restyled the front end for 2012, but it is still mighty toothy. It makes you wonder: as soon as consumer sentiment raised a flag, could they – should they – have responded more aggressively with a new design or were they mired down by the model year paradigm? Would a mid-year revamp have been worth the cost?
All of this serves to illustrate that for many organizations, faster is usually, but not always better. Shortened design and development cycles by themselves are only of use when they can be ‘right-sized’ in the context of the overall value stream. So, as you consider deploying an agile approach to your product development efforts, be sure ask the bigger questions about how this affects other aspects of the product lifecycle, and whether a shorter design and development cycle can be (cost) effectively translated into faster time to market and competitive advantage.
~ Terry 12/02/11
Article 012: Zen and the Art of Lifecycle Maintenance
Welcome to the Project Portfolio Management (PPM) PostScript. The PPM PostScript is a blog written by Terry Doerscher (see bio), principal for the PPM practice at BOT International. Subscribe to have the PPM PostScript automatically delivered to your Microsoft Outlook RSS Feed folder inbox or equivalent. And, please send your comments, questions, tips and suggestions to email@example.com. We hope you enjoy the PPM PostScript and we welcome your feedback..!