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What Smell? – Noseblind to Innovation Problems

Dozens of cats lounge around the room. Some nap. Others groom themselves lazily. One tests its claws on a ratty couch plastered in fur. Most ignore you, but one rubs up against your legs purring as though it’s feeding time. The disheveled woman standing amongst them considers your question, and giving you a perturbed look demands, “Smell? What Smell?”

The stench is overwhelming. But she doesn’t notice it anymore. It’s a condition the air freshener makers call noseblind.  Smell something long enough and your brain tunes it out.

The same thing happens in new product innovation. If the problems go on long enough, some people become noseblind to issues like:

  • New product delays
  • Missed due dates
  • Projects that never finish
  • Fire drills when projects get derailed

People can come up with pretty creative ways to downplay the problems. One innovation manager I was advising had previously been finishing 0% of new products on time. But he was reporting 80% schedule accuracy.  His explanation was that they had “only” missed their due dates by an average of 20%.  Now there’s a metric created to cover up the smell.

At another client, the leadership had become quite frustrated with the delays and unpredictability in their new product programs.  Strange thing though. As managers within the organization started sharing metrics, it appeared that they were meeting their new product launch milestones 70% of the time. There it was in black and white with data extracted from their ERP/PLM system.  

I wondered to myself, could the leadership team be that out of touch?  True, 70% is far from stellar performance. But it’s far better than the 10-20% you normally see when companies are using conventional project management approaches. 

Scanning the spreadsheet that the innovation process manager had shared I asked, “What’s this column?”

“Well, that’s the original due date,” she explained.

“The original due date?”

“Sure. We usually don’t find out a project is going to miss its launch date until the final launch review. So at that point, the project team gets together and gives us a new estimate for the due date.”

I looked at her for confirmation, “So more than 30% of the re-planned projects must still miss those revised due dates?”

“Unfortunately, that’s true” she replied.

“Okay. Mind if we modify your spreadsheet?” I asked. With her help, we added another column calculating the on-time percentage versus the original due date. In reality, 80% of their projects had missed those originally estimated due dates.

They had been reporting 70% on time. The truth was 20%.

Smell? What Smell?”

Has your company become noseblind to innovation issues? Here are a few questions to help answer that.

  1. What % of your projects miss their original due dates by more than 5% without any reduction in scope – By the way 95% is quite attainable in product development
  2. What % of your cashflow is coming from new products (vitality index)?
  3. What % of your cashflow is coming from “Wow” or new to the world new products?
  4. Is that new product cashflow accelerating, flat or declining?

It takes more than air freshener to resolve these issues. But if you think your company might have become noseblind to your innovation issues, take our free Innovation Throughput Diagnostic to identify the improvement opportunities you may have.