What to Do When the Product’s Late

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Your new product development program has been hitting all of its commitments. For months all the signs point to an on-time, on-spec market introduction.

Program execution seems flawless, and there’s already market pull for your exciting new product.

Given the market demand and product development progress, management has already made pre-launch delivery commitments to customers. Management and customers alike cannot wait to see this product start rolling off the production line.

Then it happens.

In a final round of system testing, you discover a show-stopper design flaw that will keep you from meeting a key performance specification. The team has looked at the issue from every angle. There’s no avoiding it. Fixing the problem will push the launch date out by two months.

Now what?

Alert Management

Anytime your program is headed for a material breach in schedule, product performance, or budget commitment, you must alert management so that they can avoid making a difficult situation worse and evaluate options for recovery.

Provide Options And Outcomes

It follows then that you must provide those options. A schedule slip or specification miss late in the program is a challenging but not impossible situation to work through. Your options for recovery will usually boil down to some flavor of these three:

  1. Finish the product to its original specification; ship on a revised schedule.
  2. Launch the product with a revised specification; ship on time; put the original specification on the roadmap.
  3. Commit to the original specification; ship on-time; retrofit in the field.

When you present your options to management, develop a complete scenario of potential outcomes for each, including the impact on:

  • Revenue & profit,
  • Budget,
  • Critical talent,
  • Time to market,
  • Competitive position, and
  • Customer commitments

When a substantial program unexpectedly slips late in the game, you will get a lot of pressure to make a decision and do something fast. And you should. Be sure to analyze each option’s potential outcome before you do. If you don’t, you run the risk of unintended consequences.

Involve the Customer

If you are in a situation where customers have already worked your on-time, on-spec product into their plans, you’ll need to involve them in your recovery planning. Your decision for the best go-forward option won’t just affect your business; it will also affect theirs.

Your combination schedule-slip/specification-miss results in a broken promise to your customer. There’s more than an even chance your customers will have a different perspective on the best remedy.

For example, suppose you’ve already committed a ship date to a customer outfitting a whole new factory. Yours is one of many equipment types they will need to move in. The ballet of loading a factory with a new equipment set is a very tightly choreographed event. If one dancer is out of step and the whole show comes apart. Don’t be surprised if this customer insists that you ship on time and finish the product at their site.

There’s nothing routine about developing capital equipment. Things will not always go according to plan. What matters is how you react when they don’t. In the case of a surprise delay late in a new product development program, remember to alert management, provide recovery options, and involve customers in your recovery planning if the delay affects them.