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Eric Graves

Aerospace and mechanical engineer turned NPD systems engineer, Eric spends his time engineering better product develop systems, using PLAYBOOK as his tool of choice!

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8 Tips for Achieving Flow in Lean Product Development Projects

Eric Graves- 04/21/16 05:00 PM

Achieving project flow is what enables project teams to have greater confidence task completion and launch dates. At PLAYBOOK, we have found that projects flow when they incorporate the following 8 principles and have a tool that supports them. Here are 8 principles worth investing in to achieve product development flow.

1. Adding resources is not always the answer

Adding resources to meet the launch dates isn't always effective. When you add people, you also add work to train individuals and share information. When it is late in the project, adding resources may actually cost you more time than it gains you. Adding work to an already overloaded resource is not a game worth playing.  People work more effectively with a utilization rate equal to or less than 70%. 

2. Understand the availability of critical resources 

Let's look at the numbers. If you plan for critical resources to be working on their critical tasks for 6 hours a day and they only get to work on them 4 hours a day (33% less availability, on average), the project will take 50% longer than planned. In short, knowing who is critical to the project and making sure your availability estimates are correct is key. Take the time to get clarification, understand what other projects they are working on, and use a tool that tells you automatically who and what tasks are on the critical chain, across the enterprise.

3. Actively manage risks and learn early

Implementing project risk management and early learning principles will help your team identify roadblocks and issues before they occur and either eliminate them, or manage them effectively. There has been a lot written on early learning (iterative development, Agile, fast feedback, modular design). But no matter what approach you choose, the purpose is the same - learn early and the impact can be either entirely avoided or managed. Learn later, and it will cost the project time and the organization money.

4. Have a clear definition of "done"

Make sure tasks have a clear definition of done, use test-driven development, and don’t buffer each task but instead, use a ‘right-sized’ project buffer. We must let go of things before we are ‘done’ to get feedback. When is the right time to stop working on something? There is a formula for that! We will delve into this formula in a future post.

5. By failing to plan, you are planning to fail

Good planning mitigates risks and promotes learning early. While planning, teams consider, talk through, and eliminate ‘flow’ blockages before they occur. The ROI on planning is huge. A good plan (project model) has enough detail for it to be predictive of how much work is really going to be involved, and therefore when you will be done. Records of past plans can also help, as an input into how much work will really be involved in the various tasks, and how much unpredicted work there typically is in a project.

6. Focus on the right work, at the right time

A good plan also determines what and who is really on the critical path and what the best priorities are for the shortest probable schedule for a given project. Combine this with Cost of Delay, and you can get clear priorities across projects. 

7. Be flexible and modular

Be flexible on the scope from the beginning of the project, and stage the low-value ‘features’ to the end in case some need to be cut to meet the schedule. This takes good up-front planning and architecture, especially in hardware development projects. In general, modular product architecture allows you to distribute the work more effectively, across more resources and make faster changes.

8. Ensure the entire team can see the work and manage it in small batches

Two other methods are key to have confidence in your project completion date – well run daily meetings and visible work. Daily meetings are critical to maintaining flow and enable the team to see the queues, manage the queues, identify where team members are multi-tasking and eliminate all of the above. The old adage is, "you can't manage what you can't measure." By the same token, you can't manage what you can't see, either.

In summary

To create flow in Lean product development, you must minimize work, manage or remove risks altogether and maximize the availability of critical resources to complete critical chain project tasks. Learning early is a critical component and making work visible is a no-brainer!

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