If you are a manager of an organization developing products or IT solutions, you might feel like you are drowning in a sea of missed deadlines and emergency meetings.
How Did You Get to This Point?
Here is an example of how managers often arrive at this situation.
David is a senior manager that runs an organization developing custom systems of software and hardware. The CEO told David two years ago that revenue needed to increase 30% and that three new sales people were being added. David nodded to the CEO and immediately felt a bonus looming.
The sales group did indeed sell more systems, and initially for each sale they asked David, “Can you deliver this by date X?” David said, “Yes” because at that time his staff was glad for the work (and of course there was a CEO sales directive).
After 12 months, the sales group didn’t see a need to ask David any more about commitments since he always nodded when asked, implying that his team could meet the schedule.
Sales volume increased, and David was given more deadlines. After some sloppy coding and testing, rework and customer questions increased causing a 10% support tax on the engineering group.
For the past 6 months every sales request was labeled “Urgent.” In response, David established daily sessions with the CEO and sales group to discuss the priorities for that day.
David and the sales group noticed that testing took 30% of the schedule, so they jointly decided to limit testing to 15%. More systems were delivered, but the support tax on the group increased from 10 to 20%.
Now, all projects are late by at least 6 months, and each month, fewer systems are delivered compared to the previous month.
What are the likely causes driving the deadline problem?
- There is no mechanism in place to check that commitments can be met before they are made. When David says, “Sure, I can do that,” the sales group hears, “It’s free.” Now, David does not insist on being asked.
- David does not develop a plan, estimate or schedule for the project work on his team’s plate. David and his team have no reliable data to know their capacity or the effort needed to fulfill each request.
- As soon as quality is compromised, the support tax increases. Since there is less time for work, there is less time for quality. This is a downward spiral.
What to do next?
The situation can be fixed (and stay fixed) by some careful detective work to pinpoint the causes, and some carefully planned improvements.
Typical solutions include:
- The installation of a simple system to continually align requests to capacity.
- A reduction in defects from beginning to end of a project to reduce the support tax.
- A reduction of the transition time spent when staff members move between numerous “urgent” projects in the same week. The “urgent” label indicates not enough decision on priorities.
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