I interviewed Mike Dalton who discussed Unlocking Innovation Productivity.
Mike, can you first provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure. I'm happy to, Dustin. My background really comes out of industry. Originally started as an engineer and then moved over into the marketing and eventually business management roles actually within the SC Johnson family of companies, which is a pretty large consumer company in the U.S., and ended up running the industrial polymers business for the Americas as part of that. And that's really where I got interested in some very different approaches to new product innovation. We had tried a lot of things over the years. I studied everything I could on innovation. We had implemented Stage-Gate. I had also carried out an organizational transformation to move the business to very focused business units, focused on very market-driven business units.
Even after going through all that...
Can you talk about the strategies for dealing with these new product delays?
Sure, Dustin. I'd be happy to. There are seven strategies that I put together. And these are really based on my years of experience at Johnson, and I've sort of built it all into a system. I call it Guided Innovation System that I've been using for a number of years with companies in a lot of different industries.
What I'll do is I'll briefly describe each strategy. And one of the things I can offer is a white paper that goes a little bit more into each of those strategies so you get a better idea of what I'm talking about.
The first one is establishing governance. The key there is really being able to filter kind of the low-feasibility, low-impact work and force ranking your projects so that you know that you're working on the right projects.
The second strategy is building robust project plans that are realistic and have timelines that your people can commit to. The traditional, conventional project management tends to build multi-tasking in the plans. And we want to take the multi-tasking out of the plans. We use a methodology called critical chain project management for that. But the key thing here is that you need to be building plans that are much more robust and realistic.
The third strategy is regulating your pipeline entry to avoid derailing projects under way. You need to have a mechanism in place that doesn't just allow work. As soon as it's been planned, it doesn't just automatically go into execution. You have to look at it and say, "When can I let it into execution where it won't derail the work that is already underway?"
So think a little bit about the traffic meters that you see on highways that control the on-ramps and let traffic flow onto the roadway. Kind of the same idea. We're making sure there is room in the portfolio before we're letting projects in.
The fourth strategy then is executing with synchronized priorities for crystal clear work flow. We want to make sure is that organizations are not letting the loudest or most influential voice determine what is worked on in the pipeline. We already said that we're going to use governance to decide what we work on next, what goes on the backlog, what's most important. So in managing the execution pipeline, we want to make sure that what we're doing instead is managing the resources so that they're working on the project that's most at risk of finishing late. When I say resources here, I'm talking about shared resources — resources that are shared across multiple projects. Most organizations have some degree of that going on.
The fifth strategy then is visualizing flow for early warning while you can still recover. So using a daily stand-up meeting, using a visual board, and using some tools from critical chain project management software, we get a view of what's going on in the project. And every day, the team is communicating and talking about the projects, and the focus here is on the projects that are having problems. We don't need to worry about the projects that are flying through with no issues. But the team is talking about the projects that are. And in this 15-minute meeting, they are identifying them and identifying what resources are needed, who needs to be talking about it, and whether it needs to be escalated to management, if there's a special decision or something else that's needed. They're not doing the problem solving in the meeting, but they are making sure that it gets taken care of after the meeting. It's a really powerful 15 minutes of communication.
The sixth item is boosting your pipeline for better opportunities. And the idea here, governance, at the front end, is all about making sure that only good stuff gets in. Now, once you've gotten to think point and implemented the first five strategies, a lot of the chaos goes away. And now you begin to free up some resources. Now you can begin to get some of your technical resources working with your commercial resources to identify even better, more powerful, higher-impact opportunities that your organization ought to be looking at.
So this is about going out and actively finding those opportunities, versus just governance as to what comes in. They use a lot of the same tools, but one is proactive. The other is a protection mechanism. So this boosting your pipeline is really about getting out and doing it proactively.
And then the final on is structuring for continuous improvement from the start. A lot of transformation efforts make the mistake of trying to be perfect and taking a long time to develop and decide what's going to be changed. Instead, the approach that I find the most powerful is to figure out just the opposite. What's the minimum amount you can do to begin to make some changes and put some of these strategies in place. And then see how it works. Get some experience with it, learn from it, and then make the next series of changes. And then continue to... The first one might only get you a passing grade, but then you keep raising your grade on every iteration of the system.
About Mike Dalton
Advisor to Business Leaders Tired of Throwing Resources at New Product Delays I author Unlocking Innovation Productivity