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HPMD Case Studies

Meeting Product Development Deadlines
By Edward Happ
Ionosphere1 is a small financial information provider, with approximately 100 employees and $20M in annual revenue. They recently completed a buyout of the firm from its former Swiss parent organization. Ionosphere sells primarily standard and custom financial market data feeds to "Wall Street" financial services firms.
The Problem
Ionosphere had significant problems delivering new and enhanced products, and meeting project deadlines. The President of the company described the issue as "not so much having a big enough pipeline of projects, but having any come out the other side of the pipe." Interviews with product managers and senior managers identified a desire to have a product development structure that delivered completed projects in a timely fashion.
What Was Done
HPMD was retained to complete a three phase project with the goal of developing a workable product management methodology. Phase One consisted of interviewing all product and senior managers in each department in order to gain a clear understanding of the issues, and the "connects and disconnects." A series of recommendations was then developed, including the implementation of a cross-departmental Product Review Board to be the "gatekeeper" of the project list. In addition, HPMD developed a set of decision rules, we called "yardsticks," to assess the priority of each project.

The goal of developing a company's yardsticks is to enable managers and staff at all levels to (a) make decisions about projects and activities with a more senior management mind-set, and (b) to constructively question all projects and activities to assess whether they are aligned with the firm's key bets, or strategic goals. When the goals and rules of the game clear, it is possible for teams to be empowered to accomplish objectives with a high sense of mission and ownership.

In Phase Two of the project, HPMD developed a detailed project list of all active and planned product development activities. Projects were classified into five categories, such as "revenue projects," "infrastructure projects," and "custom client requests." Product and Engineering managers were then asked to estimate the time and people needed to complete each step within the projects. From these estimates, HPMD developed a model to forecast the implied people resources required on a quarter-by-quarter basis to complete each project within its expected timeframe.

In Phase Two, a full day meeting with senior managers and the product managers was held to complete an exercise HPMD developed called the "Post-It Note Exercise." The objective of this exercise was to (a) gain a clear sense of the magnitude and timing of the product development activities, and (b) to "resequence" projects so that the higher priority items could be completed near-term with the available resources. Different color Post-It notes were used for each project to indicate the originating department (Marketing or Engineering) and type of project (revenue generating, cost savings, revenue retention and longer-term bets). The Post-It notes were arranged on flip-charts where each one represented a different calendar quarter, extending out three years.

It was immediately apparent that an inordinate number of the projects were clustered in the first quarter. In addition, The HPMD model suggested that a doubling of the Engineering and Marketing staffs would be required to complete them. The next step involved managers negotiating with each other to move projects out to future quarters. At each juncture, HPMD recalculated the implied resources, and encouraged managers to make the tough decisions on delaying more projects in order to live within their allotted budgets. At the end of the day, the group had reached consensus about the priority of the projects and their timing. The exercise allowed them to reschedule the project list without losing any, so that the probability of completing near-term projects was vastly improved.

In Phase Three, the Product and Engineering managers formed teams to tackle each of the top priority, near-term projects. They discussed ways to streamline processes, cutting out unnecessary paper work, and shortening development cycles. The book Flying Fox was used as a case study for streamlined product development and became the model for project teams. Once the project teams completed their work, they presented their project plans to the new Product Review Board (PRB) for approval. The PRB then used the yardsticks they developed earlier to assess each project and approve it, reject it, or send it back for additional work.
By using this process of rationalizing the project list and clarifying the yardsticks, managers of Ionosphere gained a clear picture of the product development process, and a greater sense of ownership. The HPMD model was refined and used as a continuing measurement "scorecard" to track projects and rebalance project steps where needed. New projects could also be assessed and "sequenced" into the development stream, making trade-offs where necessary. Ionosphere's president commented: "HPMD was clearly the most value-added of the consulting firms we recently engaged."

1"Ionosphere" is a fictitious name of an actual client of HPMD. This project was completed in December 1995. The company has since been acquired by a larger financial information provider.
© Copyright 1996, 2000, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Document last modified on: 02/10/2000