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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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Product Development and Golf: An Analogy for Success

Eric Graves- 10/17/19 02:59 PM

Golf. It’s a wonder anyone ever keeps playing. Sure, the greens are often in captivatingly beautiful locations. The views, fresh air and time with friends are a bonus, and often inspiring. But let’s get back to the actual game. The premise is to hit a 1.7-inch ball, with a 34 to 45-inch long club, into a 4.25-inch diameter hole, that's 200 to 600 yards away...

That’s hard enough, but then to do it consistently, while avoiding the various strategically placed, anxiety inducing, obstacles along the way, that’s tough and requires a combination of physical and mental skill and fortitude.

But yet we persist. Why? Because we know if we acquire the physical and mental skills needed, we just might master the game.

Product Development Process and Golf

So, what does golf have to do with product development? To get good results in golf, you need to be consistent and accurate, effectively moving the ball from tee to cup. However, too often we try to hit the ball farther, and we swing harder, frequently leaving us plodding through leaves and grass trying to locate the ball.

It’s a simple matter of risk and reward.

The bigger the risk we take to hit the ball farther, the more likely it is to not find the fairway, but ‘going for it’ is much more appealing than taking a nice, steady swing, methodically advancing the ball from one landing zone to the next till it finds the bottom of the cup.

Much like in golf, in product development we think applying force is going to get more products through the system, faster. The end result, however, is completely the opposite.

Pushing work through a product development system causes overloads. Much like our experience on the course, the system has constraints and the more you apply force, it’s more likely that you will cause a break in the system and less likely that you will achieve the speed to market that you were hoping for.

What does applying force look like in product development? Due dates that are scheduled too soon and working on too many projects at the same time. Both cause overloaded resources which result in multi-tasking, a lack of focus, shortcutting and rework. What seem to be small issues at the beginning of the project are left unattended to in order to adhere to unrealistic deadlines. Usually some of those cause delays later. Ultimately, projects are late and team members that weren’t given enough time to do it right the first time become disgruntled and frustrated as they embark on rework and late hours. 

There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over.”  – Jack Bergman

So, how do we change the game so that we consistently deliver on time and on budget? Or better yet, we deliver products that customers love in less time, and with less budget. The answer is in adopting the correct product development process and principles.

Product development process

  • Reduce the amount of work in the system

    This is where less, really is a whole lot more. Reducing resource loading to under 70%, as well as reducing the number of projects underway, enables individuals to focus on priority work, decreases multi-tasking and most importantly, improves work-life balance and overall personal satisfaction at work.

  • Adopt Visual Project Management

    On the course, obstacles are visible and therefore can potentially ;-), be actively avoided. In product development, where teams are often dispersed, or large, issues need to be visible to be actively avoided or managed as well. Visual management (we prefer the software vs. manual variety for a number of reasons) are invaluable for making knowledge work visible. 

  • Pay attention to the Critical Chain

    We believe in critical chain project management where all work is subordinate to the work that is on the critical path. In other words, if it's not on the critical path, it can wait. When choices need to be made in regard to where resources are applied, top priority is always given to the items on the critical path.

  • Let the people who do the work, plan the work

    Let’s face it, product development projects proceed a lot better when there’s a plan. But let’s be clear. We’re talking about a plan, not a schedule. Details in the plan are best provided by the people that are actually doing the work. The additional benefits of having the team members participate in planning is that the plans are not only more accurate, but everyone is bought-in and knows what’s going on.

  • Ensure everyone has correct and clear priorities, daily

    Most projects have hundreds of tasks that need to be completed. And people are often on multiple projects. So, how do they decide what to work on each day? They usually guess. And if they guess wrong, the project could slide a day without anyone knowing. One day might not sound like much, but if you only choose the correct priorities half the time, the project will double in length! (PS Playbook is the only visual project management tool that automatically prioritizes work, and updates the project plan, using a proprietary algorithm.)

  • Hold frequent standup meetings

    High-performing systems require fast feedback. Short, frequent standup meetings do this by uncovering blockages and communicating issues as soon as they occur.

  • Plan with a frequent, regular cadence

    High-performing teams must be able to quickly adapt to change. Weekly rolling wave planning sessions help the team course correct and prepare for what’s next, to make the project move forward smoother and smarter.


From experience, we've learned that applying less force makes the system perform better, and teams can achieve their product development goals with accuracy and consistency. So, put down that driver and go with the 3-wood instead. You may not hit it as far, but ultimately, you will reach your goal under par.

Watch this video on the number one cause of project delays. It's not what you think.

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Guide to Lean Product Development
Guide to Lean Project Management
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Lean project management methodology
Lean project management Kanban
Lean project management principles
Lean project management resource management 
Lean project management Pull vs. Push
Lean project management task management
Lean project management and shared project buffers
Lean project management and decentralized planning
Daily stand-up meetings