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Late again? How to conquer the biggest challenge in product development

the greatest challenge in product developmentDelays are the biggest challenge for any product development cycle, they annoy clients, they sap the creative energy of a business, and they cost you money. In the high tech industry, the causes of these problems can seem many and various, from incomplete specs and misinterpreted plans, to difficult suppliers and tardy developers.

Ever-growing workloads, compliance issues and mushrooming mistakes can all lead to pipeline pileups and tensions between teams. They can add days and weeks to a project and, in the end, cost you hundreds of thousands of pounds.

However, away from the real-time pressures and finger-pointing of a failing development cycle, it might be worth taking some time to consider its underlying causes.

 “If I were given one hour to save the planet”, said Albert Einstein, “I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”

And he may have had a point when it comes to product development, too.

Investing the time to discover what your dev delays have in common may lead to a single, common solution that could be easier and quicker to implement than you think

4 reasons for delays in product development

1. Inadequate Planning

It sounds obvious, but a poorly defined and planned development process is at the root of many delivery delays. For some companies, particularly those who are scaling up rapidly, it is easy to lose sight of the principles of good project management.

Where a small company has been used to managing small projects intensively and organically, the shock of a new and sprawling development process with multiple dependencies and stakeholders can result in chaos.

Without the oversight and discipline of Project Management methods such as Prince2 and the tools to properly implement them, a product release plan can easily begin to drift and timelines slip.

2.Document Anarchy

In the manufacturing industry, inventory is physical, in tech development inventory is information. Masses of information. Sometimes it’s paper-based but more likely it is to be found on hard drives and in the cloud. Documents proliferating on your computer systems can cause huge headaches for a team struggling to bring ideas to fruition. These documents may include blueprints, functional requirements, tech specs, research materials and compliance forms. They may be stored insecurely on Google Drive, or Sharepoint. They may range from the trivial to the pivotal.

And as your business grows and projects develop it’s only going to get worse. As third-party suppliers are added to a project, and your own dev process throws up new iterations of existing documents, yet more documents will be created which can reside in multiple places at the same time.

Document anarchy in a fast growing business can lead to endless pushing back of deadlines with engineers caught in a constant process of clarification and correction.

3. Ambition

Ambition is a great thing. But ambition that ignores process or overreaches capacity can lead to delays, internal tensions and the collapse of entire projects. The Harvard Business Review has noted exactly this as a recurring problem for businesses in a state of transition.

Where the different phases of ideation, R&D and prototype building are allowed to overlap it becomes difficult to keep a project on track and timelines can slip.

Developers always want to add detail, make changes and improve as they build. Meanwhile, clients always want to add requirements to a spec after it has been finalised

But, without proper version control of documentation and a structured approach to document approval and release, these ad hoc changes can risk derailing a project.

Once third party developers are added to the mix and given designs to work on separately, the potential for siloed working without oversight becomes even greater. If a design process is still ongoing when work is being done away from the core business, there is a high risk that these external developer’s work will be rendered obsolete or duplicated elsewhere.

The ambition to over-deliver and commit to an agile, flexible development process is something every company aspires to, but this can quickly become a state of perpetual scope creep. Without the safeguards of proper document management and defined development stages the result can be severe delays and wasted resource.

4. Lack of Accountability

Ill-defined roles and responsibilities can also lead to delays in the product development cycle.

Documents need owners. If it’s not clear who should approve which documents and by when, timelines can suffer.

At the same time, if version control is not observed and document history cannot be tracked, it may be difficult to properly clarify changes and track project objectives against what is finally delivered.

Most significantly, If a computer system can’t be searched and audited quickly it may fail to win ISO certification and regulatory approval.

It is these kind of sprawling and chaotic approaches to documentation and business process management born from an organic process of development that can threaten the timely delivery of a product.

A single point of control

Many of these issues are typical of high tech company transitioning from a start-up into a larger operation. With success inevitably comes more pressure on your approach to product development.  Larger and more detailed projects increase the number of system users and create yet more documentation which puts more administrative pressure on an organisation as a whole.

A single digital management system that controls and organises all your business processes and documentation may be the common solution to all these recurring problems.

A secure document management system can very quickly bring order to the way your dev cycle functions and the way your documents and files can be assembled, stored and retrieved. It can speed up all your processes and ensure timely delivery against requirements. 

A DMS can help ensure:

It doesn’t take a genius or a Harvard research paper to tell you that delays in the product development cycle can cost you money and destroy relationships with clients. But it can take some joined-up thinking to appreciate there may be a common solution for the delays that are damaging your business.

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Tags: product development cycle