Pipeline Accelerator Blog

“Save the Date” With an Early Warning System for New Products

New Product Early WarningAre you confident that you can “Save the Date” for your important new product launches? If not, the following story offers some important insights into the importance of an early warning system for new product development.

The Dilemma

Joel slouched down in his chair at the leadership team meeting as his stomach knotted. Maybe Barb, the CEO, would skip his status update. But he knew that would only delay the inevitable. The launch of Ultraflow, their most eagerly awaited new product, was going to be late—by another quarter or more depending on which estimate you believed. As the head of product development, Joel knew he was on the line.

Sure, there were all kinds of perfectly justifiable reasons for it being late. One of his team members had been pulled off onto an even more urgent project. Marketing had changed the specifications well after the design freeze. Manufacturing was too busy to run trials. Key end-users had been slow in providing feedback. Testing had found an unexpected problem. The list went on. But Joel knew that neither Barb nor the board was interested in excuses.

Before he could say anything, Barb said, “Save the date.”

An awkward silence settled in, and Joel realized he was sitting there with his mouth wide open not knowing how to respond. The other managers, nervous for him, tried not to make eye contact.

“In case you’re wondering,” Barb continued after the awkward silence, “My youngest is getting married next year. And while it’s way too early to send out invitations, we’re notifying guests so they can save the date.”

Joel wondered where she was going with this; so did the others judging by the looks around the table.

 “I’d have to be pretty checked out not to realize that we’re going to miss the launch date for Ultraflow,” she continued. “But I’m not blaming any of you.”

Joel felt his tension ease a notch.

“After all, it’s my role to make sure we are all aligned on the right stuff.” Barb continued. “Am I upset? Absolutely, and I expect us to move heaven and earth to get it done sooner. But it’s more than just that.”

Looking uncomfortable she said, “What I don’t understand is why our projects always look like they’re tracking fine until the last third or so – then they go off the rails when it’s too late to do anything about it. That has to change for all of our programs! I want to be able to put product launch dates on my calendar and know that I can save the date.”

Did I just dodge a bullet, thought Joel, only to get hit by a bazooka?  Sure, he could lead a recovery effort to cut scope and finish closer to the due date. But, that would only cascade the delays to other projects furthering the cycle of chaos and fire drills. He knew the real issue he had to address was the underlying problem of on-time performance.

Joel’s problem may seem complex. But it is far from rare…

The early warning that Joel needs is something that eludes many companies. Without good real-time execution data, no one wants to admit their part of the project is running behind. Eventually, the truth comes out, but usually not until it’s too late to do anything about it.

Critical Chain Project Management as the Solution

The solution to get an early warning for product development is Critical Chain Project Management (Not to be consumed with critical path). Critical chain strips the safety out of each task and instead places a buffer at the end of the project. Anytime a task takes longer than planned (about 50% of the time if you are using “touch time” estimates) you consume buffer. Anytime a task is done early (hopefully 50% of the time if your team is effective at running the relay race) you recover buffer.


The big benefit is that the buffer acts as a real-time early warning signal.  Any time you consume buffer faster than you progress along the critical chain is an early warning situation. It’s telling the project team they need to take action to get the project back on track and recover buffer. 

That’s the kind of real-time intelligence and early warning system for new products that your team needs to “Save the Date” for every launch!

Want to explore how critical chain could make your new product projects faster and more reliable?

Book a Zero-Pressure Chat to Discuss Your Situation 




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