The first step to reduce your development time is to build a strong knowledge of your schedule. Once you have built your schedule, you can begin to analyze and evaluate.
There are great reasons to reduce your development time:
Understand the reason each development task takes the time it does. Track the actual duration of each task versus the expected duration from the schedule. Most software scheduling tools will allow you to record the actual task durations and allow you to see if the schedule is staying on time.
If tasks are consistently early or late, by how many days are they early or late? Talk to those responsible for the activities. Why were they early or late? You can learn a lot by sitting down with the people responsible for completing the tasks.
Pull-off the bandages. You know they exist. Tasks that originated as a short term fix to a problem. Does that problem still exist? If it does, can you solve the root cause? It may take more time initially to solve the problem, but will smooth out the development process in the long run.
Are any tasks redundant? Are there departments doing the same task? Are there any tasks that both you and a supplier are doing? For example, is the supplier sending information which you are entering into a PLM or ERP system? Can the supplier enter the data directly?
Focus on the critical path
Once you have eliminated unnecessary or redundant tasks, identifying improvements gets harder. The tasks on the critical path add up to your total schedule. Eliminating or reducing the time each task takes is necessary to reduce your total timeline. You will need to address real issues that are slowing you down. These issues could be related to processes, staff, corporate structure, or environmental.
Eliminate Capacity Bottlenecks
Guess what? Some bottlenecks are people, but not in the way you think. Sometimes the problem isn’t the people who can’t get things done, but the people you can’t get things done without. If one person has to sign off on every idea that goes into development, that person is a bottleneck. There is a limited amount of work that person can review in a day. What happens if that person is out of the office unexpectedly due to an illness?
Make people more flexible and interchangeable. Everyone wants to be indispensable, but if that means work stops because one person is not present that is not good for the well-being of the company. Most leaders are familiar with the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. You may recall that part of what defines great companies are humble leaders who set their companies up for success beyond their tenure. If you are a leader, trust your staff to make good decisions. If you have to review everything, you are a bottleneck. Also, place value on the individuals who offer creative solutions, not those that crank out the most work or look the busiest.
You may find some tasks are late because one department or group is behind. Is it a long-term problem or due to a recent change. Analyze if a particular department needs additional resources or training. Has turnover been high and there are more new staff than usual? Is one group full of recent hires and would benefit from additional training?
The role of technology
Technology can eliminate tasks or reduce the duration of tasks. However, you will not understand the impact of technology without going through the above evaluation steps. Technology can solve issues with communication or reduce the burden on people. Understand the issue it is you are trying to solve before trying to solve it with software. Implementation of new technology is usually accompanied by process changes.
There are always improvements to be made. Hopefully, you have thought of a few you can implement as you read through the article. If you have had a great idea, share it in the comments!