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What’s keeping your innovation projects waiting?

What's keeping your projects waitingSo how much time do you think your projects spend waiting on resources and management attention? What if you found out that, even ignoring evenings and weekends, your projects spend 50% or more of their time waiting?

Recently over a cup of coffee, a coaching client of mine recently explained how he found himself in that exact situation. He analyzed several projects and here’s what he discovered.

“Mike, I’ve got to tell you what just happened with a post-mortem (his words, not mine) we did on several key projects that we struggled to finish last year. I was absolutely shocked by what we found.

Initially, I was encouraged to see that the amount of work charged against each lined up pretty well with the estimates,” he said while fiddling with the paper jacket on his cup. “Then I realized the discouraging part—each task could have finished much, much earlier.”

“Really?” I said recognizing a pattern I’d heard elsewhere. “How so?”

“Well, when we started looking across multiple projects, it was obvious that  to keep everything moving, each engineer was splitting their time across multiple projects.”

“So what undesirable effect is that causing?” I asked.

“It means that all of our projects are taking longer than they should.”

“And why is that?”

“Wait time.” was his immediate answer. “We’re actually spending more time waiting for tasks to be worked on or approved than it takes to complete them!”

“And what impact is that having on your company?”

After thinking about it for a moment he replied, “I think it means that we’re making less money on new products than we should.”

Surprised because he’d been so emphatic just a moment ago, I asked “Why do you seem hesitant about your conclusion?”

“Because the same amount of work is still getting done. So I’m wondering if it’s really reducing new product output.” The look on his face made it clear that it was more of a question than a statement.

“OK. I see your dilemma,” I said as I walked over to the conference room’s whiteboard. Let me sketch something out that you might recognize.”

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