10 Years – 10 Biggest Mistakes – Part 2

In tribute to our 10 year anniversary and our 100th client, we’re posting our top 10 best and most colorful screw ups. The entire list of 10 mistakes is a bit long, so we broke it into four postings. This is the second part of this short series.

  1. Identify and Focus on Risk – It may seem counterintuitive, but identify and focus on the riskiest challenges first. There are many phases to developing a new product and the impact of unknown risks grows larger with each one.

    It may look better for the project to start a host of parallel tasks as a means to quickly get started and show progress. Instead, the project team can mitigate or prevent cost and schedule overruns by identifying those high-risk items that might have the biggest impact on the success of the project, even if they’re down the road. If some of the risk items spell doom if not successful, focus on these items as early as possible. Underestimating a challenge here can throw an entire project off-course. Better to understand a problem early, when the design is still flexible. Use your best people. You may take some heat for apparent lack of progress, but you will be rewarded in the end.

  2. Know When To Say When – If you’re in a car that is moving fast and heading for a cliff (and you can’t slow down or transform into a plane), get out…even if you have to jump. It is going to hurt, but not as much as staying in the car.

    We’ve been involved in projects when we didn’t heed this advice. One in particular comes to mind. The cost of the raw materials in the BOM was essentially the desired selling price point. The feature set was considered locked… no changes (reductions) were allowed. The project NRE costs were already over budget and climbing fast. Many man-hours had already been devoted trying to devise imaginative solutions and the client was unable to make rational decisions that could have mitigated the impending disaster. There was no plan going forward.

    The cliff was in sight and we couldn’t control the car. We thought we could help mitigate the crash if we stayed involved. In hindsight, it was time to jump… but we didn’t. Sometimes it’s just as hard to hear bad news as it is to say it (see #2); jumping can be the only way to send up the red flare that something is wrong.

  3. Don’t V&V with Early Stage Prototypes – Avoid the desire / tendency to start pre-clinical performance tests or verification and validation (V&V) before you have pre-production prototype devices with sufficient design controls and manufacturing pedigree. These devices need to use the same materials and manufacturing processes that will be used on the actual production product, at least for all critical aspects of the product.

    We have been pressured to start with earlier prototype versions and then reconcile (post-development) all non-production quality issues. This can lead to significant problems if your reconciliations are called into question or if there really are crucial differences between the prototypes and production units. One simple but classic example is when you have rapid prototyping plastic parts. For the most part, they will not stand up to the rigors of environmental testing.

    Granted, this still demands judgment since you wouldn’t ramp up to full scale production (with hardened steel tools) for V&V. At a minimum, define the critical parts and features of the device that need to be made with the final materials and production processes and go from there.

Remember, this is just the second part of a four-part series. Check back later for more on the topic.

Brian Lipford

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