Tricks for Creating a Structured Work Day at Home

Tricks for Creating a Structured Work Day at Home

I have two high schoolers who have been doing remote school since last March.  It has been an exercise in patience, diligence, but most of all, it has been a lesson in managing time.   It seems that now that there is more time at home, structure is more important than ever.

For me, I run my own business while playing teacher, dog walker, Uber driver and chef, and especially during Covid, I feel like there is not enough time in the day.  I was falling behind, even though I was spending more time at home than ever.  So what was the answer…a self prescribed, good old fashioned, structured schedule.  

Here are a couple of tricks that are working for me:

  1. After every hour of hard core work, I take a 10 minute break to gather my thoughts and regroup.  This really helps so that I am not constantly draining my brain and getting overwhelmed.
  2. I am a list master.  Lists help me to prioritize and remember what I need to do, personally and professionally.  Nothing more satisfying than crossing things off of a big list.  I am a progress junkie, so seeing things finish, helps to motivate me
  3. Don’t forget to schedule time to decompress.  Whether it is exercise, watching your favorite Netflix show or playing a sport, it is really important to have rigor and religion around what you like to do…for you.  

By keeping a schedule, albeit of my own making and governance, it became possible to make decisions about when to move on, how to pace myself and helped me to make progress.  So, think about making progress by developing your schedule and sticking to it and you will drive through your list of “things to do but never finish”.

Is Real R&D Dying? A Look at Strategy and Innovation Falling Behind Timelines and Checklists

Is Real R&D Dying? A Look at Strategy and Innovation Falling Behind Timelines and Checklists

As I work for different industries, developing the next new thing, I’ve noticed that the work style of our developers has changed a bit.  It seems to be moving back to being more of a service organization, worried about check lists and hitting a timeline developed by others, rather than thinking through the most strategic approach.  I worry that we are losing the value of real R&D.  Losing the expertise and the ability to offer more than getting the next task completed.  We are losing R&D value when it should be a competitive advantage.  It is a competitive market out there.  You cannot afford to have mediocre R&D.

For R&D to be a competitive advantage for companies, it needs to deliver high value.  Value consists of three major inputs that deliver better products in a shorter period of time, at the right cost: Better Design, Better Development and Better Leadership.

Better Design enables R&D to develop the products that stand out in the market.  For design to be excellent, the R&D team must be able to translate the consumer struggle into design criteria.  This helps the R&D team to prioritize attributes and eliminate over engineering and excessive cost of goods.   This translation could even offer up more effective and efficient product development, shortening development cycle time and delivery because the focus is so crystal clear.  Better Design also results in an organic formation of differentiated pipeline opportunities.

After you have the design right, you now need to implement skills and tools that enable Better Development.  This means that you are making the most progress possible by testing product parameters and understanding where products fail and why.  This is a key output of Taguchi Methodology.  By testing the interaction of variables at different levels under controlled and uncontrolled situations, you end up with a product that has options, parameters and flexibility under several different conditions.  This parallel path style of development and thinking results in product quality and consistency, shorter development cycles, and better margins.  

With the Design and Development on point, the only thing that is left is the responsibility to drive and sustain this new culture, supporting the use of the correct tools and solutions and nurturing the learning process through celebration of success and failure.  Better Leadership is needed from the top of the house.  How do you support the change?  First you live the change yourself and support it as others practice.  Whether it is asking questions of your team on the tools used during a project or helping them to work through mistakes, you are showing that you support moving to a new way.  When that leadership goes away, people will revert back to their old habits.  Leadership is about role modeling the outcome that you are expecting.

These may seem like big endeavors for a company and function to take on, but R&D can be your connection back to the consumer and the fuel for your company growth.  R&D should be leveraged as a competitive advantage. 

Creating Better Technical Leaders in 2021

Creating Better Technical Leaders in 2021

I love this time of the year.  This time of year represents a new start. The ability to start something from scratch, with a clean slate. Just like with many things, this time of year is relevant for both professional and personal life. The opportunity to cleanse and start over is significant as we roll into 2021. However, while we cleanse, it is important to stay true to who we are and look to make ourselves, and others, better. Along with vowing to work out more and lose weight (my annual resolution BTW), this year I will also begin to focus on creating better technical leaders in the new product world. Centauri Innovations believes in building the most efficient and effective product development and innovation organizations!

I find that the best technical talent tends to feel that they need to move to the management track in order to gain promotion, more salary and notoriety.  This is a sad concept for me, as I feel like we are forcing the proverbial square peg into a round hole. Some technical experts are just that, and we need them in product development, desperately. I learned this while leading several technology innovation groups, in different companies and different industries, that were staffed by the top genius scientists. As we would have career development discussions, I would always be astounded by these folks sharing that they needed to manage people in order to get ahead. In many cases, they had accepted this challenge and were failing…mainly because it was not their passion or purpose in life. So, as management, we would penalize them for being poor people leaders and we would lose their expertise, interest and passion in the process. They would end up broken and uninspired or worse yet, would just leave. A lose/lose, don’t you think?

In 2021, let’s be better leaders, managers, executives and work to help each individual be the best that they can be by leveraging their expertise and passion and letting them participate in growing their own future. Our job as leaders in an organization is to “grow” talent and “develop” people, not to reform, reconstruct or redirect people.  To me, this is true leadership vs management.  Top leaders are the owners of the vision.  How does their expertise further your progress towards the vision of your company? That is what we are being paid to figure out. We must connect these dots to achieve today’s stretch objectives.

Technical expertise can help drive technical strategies, technical skills development and provide mentorship for up and coming technical experts. Not everyone was cut out to conduct end of the year reviews!  Leverage their expertise and coach them on how to fit their genius into the strategy to benefit the company. You will see productivity, morale and results grow.  How is that for a NEW year? 

Happy New Year from Centauri Innovations!  

Achieving Quality and Speed in 3 Easy Hacks

Achieving Quality and Speed in 3 Easy Hacks

In my 31 years of product development, I have seen the struggle when developers are asked to trade off quality for speed, only to have issues in the back end of execution.  Product developers are faced with many decisions on what to develop and how to deliver the consumer experience, which is a big task.  However, developers also need to consider where and how the product will be sold and the cost of the product fitting into the business expectations. How do developers make the best choices and ensure that they get the best product in the shortest amount of time? This is a source of stress, confusion and frustration for developers across all industries.  Well, I am here to tell you that you no longer need to choose quality or speed, you can have both!  

Becoming an expert in these practices is a journey, but I do have three easy hacks that can get you on your way to developing better products, in a shorter period of time for the appropriate cost.  Remember that practice makes perfect with any tool, process or shift, so stick with it and improve on it as you go.

Choosing speed over quality is becoming a chronic problem in product development, but why is this happening?  Companies are under stress to develop the next best thing and to continue to generate excitement over and over again as markets become more saturated.  As the never-ending cycle of continuous “wow” factors becomes the norm, companies are forced to put out products that are over engineered.  There is a misguided notion that more features and benefits sell more products, and this is wrong.  Features and benefits do not solve life struggles for consumers, they just make the product more expensive to produce.  In addition, quality issues can be damaging to a product, brand and company, but tend to be a second thought to the initial launch.  Quality issues are costly from both a financial perspective and a reputation perspective.  However, this is not measured in a P&L, so it tends to be a hidden consequence.

Let’s talk about three simple opportunities to improve your probability of success as it pertains to quality and speed.

The first opportunity is to better understand your consumers’ struggle.  I have sat in many strategy conversations and ideation sessions where the team believed that the secret to the next big growth opportunity was to add features and benefits to a product.  Usually, adding more features and benefits ends up in a margin or pricing problem, but rarely does it end in the next big “thing”.

What is a struggle?  It is a time when a consumer is in a certain context and needs a solution.  In most cases it isn’t the perfect solution, but it solves the issue in the moment.  This offers the opportunity of white space, space where another product can come in and solve the product…better than what they are currently doing.   You must understand “better” so that you can develop with accuracy and efficiency.  The best way to do this is to execute a true “Jobs to be Done”.   

Hack 1: At the Rewired Group, we execute the original, complete JOBS exercise, however, for the purposes of this summary, I will give you a quick hack to figure out if you are truly considering the struggle of your consumer.  If you can fill in the following sentence, “When I am ________, I do ________, so I can ________.”  This sentence helps to check if you are looking at context and behavior versus features and benefits.

The second recommendation is to have a great Kick Off Meeting.  This may sound remedial because of course your team will get together to talk through the check list of the project.  A Kick Off Meeting is all about discussion, debate and alignment of the project.  It helps to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language.   “Healthy” to a Marketer is translated by a R&D person 1000 different ways.  The R&D person runs off to make the product that they have put through their personal lens, all while the Marketing person believes that they explained exactly what they are looking for…result: launch date delays, missed milestones and frustration amongst the team.

Hack 2: Execute a comprehensive Kick Off Meeting.  This should could be as long as a full day, depending on the complexity of the project.  You should invite every function that will touch the project so that there is a clear, homogeneous understanding of the project and expectations.  All of the functions will not be included in weekly updates, but they should participate in the Kick Off.  Here are some questions that should be asked and aligned upon in the Kick Off Meeting: 

  • Are the expectations achievable and ownable by the team and its functions?
  • What are going to be the risks for your team?
  • What gaps does the team have in terms of people, budget, etc…
  • How will the team communicate with each other and how often?

Thinking in a system is a critical part of building a successful product.  As a product developer, it is easy to get enamored with your amazing design and engineering work…in a vacuum.  At the end of the day, if your fantastic creation cannot make it through your manufacturing process or distribution, it is worthless.  If it doesn’t work when the consumer uses it in their way, it is worthless.  System Thinking requires you to think about the project from the raw materials until the product’s package is thrown away.  What experience are you trying to provide for the consumer and does each part of the system enable that to happen?

Hack 3: Green Line Development is a philosophy that requires you to think proactively and systematically about the product development process.  It is rooted in principles and tools that are anticipatory in nature.  Green Line is critical because 80% of a product line’s life cycle costs are fixed by the decisions made in the first 10% of the program’s development time.  Understanding your system early in the development process, keeps time, cost and resource needs, down.  The cost of reacting late in development results in cost and time escalating in an exponential way as the work advances.  This also breeds crisis behavior and hero mentality which are dangerous for an innovative culture.

Utilizing these three hacks will get you closer to success with your product development, regardless if you are working on innovation, core business, quality improvements or cost savings.  These are all hacks that help to shift the culture to be more holistic and proactive, leading to products that have a better probability of success in market.