There is no secret to, or magic involved in, achieving excellent results from your product development teams, yet many companies are not getting close to excellence.
Since management can be defined as getting the right things accomplished by using multiple resources, a lack of results is normally a management issue.
In this article, I will lay out six basic steps that, if implemented, will improve your team's performance and accelerate your business toward achieving excellence.
Set High & Firm Goals
The first thing to remember is that goals are golden. These requirements establish the framework and boundaries of the project. These required functions or features are what will make the project or product unique and profitable. If the feature will not make the product unique or generate additional revenue, then there should be some serious consideration about whether it should be a requirement.
Along with the requirements are the dangerous “nice-to-have” features, functions and features that usually come into a project by way of feature creep. These were not in the original specification, but are added along the way because they are easy to implement.
These are often the part of the project that creates delays and cost overruns. If there is a request for a new feature or function, then they must be formalized in an amended requirements document.
While setting the goals for your team, do your own research and make sure the goals are achievable within the given budget and schedule. Setting high goals are important for growth, but they must be achievable or both the team and the firm loses.
Case Study 1
A former colleague of mine worked on a program that may be the best example of scope creep that I have ever seen. The worst part of the scope change was not the features that were added (because none were), but it was the continual increase in quality requirements. Just as the product achieved the goal, the bar was raised. This delayed the project for more than a year, costing the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.
In this case, my colleague had no recourse. The legal and quality departments forbade shipment. There was no intervention possible but to continue to force the supplier to alter the product.
The product was finally released, but the competition had a one-year advantage and the increased product requirements had no effect on performance, safety, or profit.
The schedule of the project is not negotiable once it and the requirements are frozen. The discipline of freezing the requirements is critical for success. Missing a schedule is usually the worst thing that can happen to a firm: customer promises are broken, cost overruns occur, and revenues that are forever lost.
Cost is key as well. Schedule overruns will increase costs, as will feature creep and inadequately researched goals. Do your homework and determine whether increased project cost or increase piece-part cost is preferred if cost is going to increase.
Sometimes, you must settle for less, but only when the team agrees that your goal cannot be achieved in the time/cost needed and outside experts agree.
Offer & Provide Needed Support
Your team needs to know that you will provide them with the support they need to be successful. The level of support may have a limit, but your team needs to know that you will do what you can to back your people as they work to achieve their objectives.
A component of this support is working harder than your team. You may not be directly performing or creating, but you should be providing value to them and to the company. Some of the ways you should be helping them is:
- Supplying Tools
- Trend Analysis
It is very easy to miss or ignore those gory little details that seem so insignificant when compared to the big picture. Most people don't realize that a big picture or painting is composed of thousands of little brushstrokes. Working out, and then through, these details is what makes the difference between mediocre and outstanding results. Be aware that you must know which details to sweat and which to ignore, but knowing this is what makes for a great contributor.
Moments like these when one decides between attention to detail and moving at 80% ready are where great managers earn their keep. These are the skills that get passed to the team through mentoring and coaching.
Case Study 2
I was in high school when the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into the mission. The launch leader chose to continue the mission despite warnings from his engineering team.
The night before the launch, the temperature at Cape Canaveral dropped to about 37° Fahrenheit which was below the safe limit for the O-rings that sealed the sections of the solid rocket boosters. Engineers warned the leadership of the dangers, but the flight took off anyway. The O-rings failed a few seconds into the flight and ignited the hydrogen fuel tank, destroying the shuttle and killing all seven astronauts aboard.
The details matter – sometimes with drastic consequences. Pay attention to them. Pay attention to your experts.
The first mistake many managers make is to reward an employee who meets objectives. This simple act destroys the morale of the true high-achiever. Simultaneously, this behavior informs the poor performer that he is doing OK. This kills productivity of the former and the desire to improve by the latter. At best, this result in less than optimal team performance. At worst, the top talent leave the firm.
There is a cure for this. Set proper goals and judge team members by them. Reward them according to their performance and not according to ranking or in some deleterious attempt at fairness.
Leverage the Results into Other Successes
The easiest and fastest way to grow your organization is to apply what you have learned in earlier projects to new products and services. "Not Invented Here” can exist within a firm as easily as between firms. This type of thinking may create new ways to solve old problems, but these usually do not move the business forward as fast as desired.
It is good to try new ideas and techniques when required. If you need a series of quick-hit products, then leveraging what you already know is critical.
As the leader of many technical and marketing teams over the past 15 years, these six steps helped us achieve success. I urge you to implement some or all of them as the circumstances allow. Implementation is relatively simple.
Consistent follow-through is challenging, but rewarding both in the results and in the growth of your employees. As a recap, the steps are:
- Set high and firm goals.
- Don’t settle for “close enough."
- Offer and provide needed support.
- Details matter.
- Reward excellence.
- Leverage the results into other successes.
Doug Ringer is the author of The Profit Imperative and The Product Rocket. He works with leaders who want to think strategically, grow dramatically, compete successfully, and develop profitable habits within their organizations. He can be reached at 502-509-9746 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his work at www.dougringer.com and on Twitter @doug_ringer.